Kosher Foods Prepped And Ready For Passover Seders

March 30, 2018 GMT

WAVERLY TWP. — From Scranton to Toronto, hundreds of people will spend their Passover Seders feasting on kosher foods prepared in the Abingtons. Staff at the Jewish Discovery Center in Waverly Twp., prepared and sold about 2,000 portions of food over the past week for Passover, which begins this evening. The prepared food includes an estimated 150 pounds of brisket, 60 pounds of cucumber salad and 200 pounds of roasted red potatoes. They used hundreds of pounds of potatoes for kugel and six cases of apples for strawberry apple kugel, said Rabbi Benny Rapoport, a director of the Jewish Discovery Center. “Hundreds and hundreds of people all across our community, greater Northeast PA, Philly, New Jersey and Toronto are enjoying having an enriched Seder, thanks to the Jewish Discover Center,” he said. About 40 people picked up their food on Wednesday, and the center delivered meals for those who couldn’t make it down, even driving six hours to Toronto. The center started selling kosher Passover foods seven years ago, but it only began selling the meals outside of Northeast Pennsylvania in the past few years, he said. “It started with the local community,” Rapoport said. “That’s a very important part of what we do — help people celebrate the holiday.” Since then, the center’s Seder meals have grown in popularity through word of mouth in the Jewish community. Seders are traditional feasts held the first two nights of Passover. Passover concludes April 7. As part of the tradition, members of the Jewish community avoid all traces of leavened grain, or chametz. Chametz is anything that has leavened or fermented grain, Rapoport said. That means no bread, pasta or beer with one exception — grains baked into matzah, specifically shmurah matzah. Wheat used in shmurah matzah is monitored from the moment its harvested to ensure that no moisture is introduced. The flat, simple bread only takes about 18 minutes to bake, Rapoport said. Matzah holds dual meanings in Passover tradition, representing both freedom and slavery. First, it represents freedom and the exodus of the Jews when they hastily left Egypt after hundreds of years in exile, he said. “When they left, it was like the miracles of miracles,” Rapoport said. Second, matzah represents slavery and poverty. It’s a “poor man’s bread” that Egyptians fed to the Jewish slaves, he said. “The Seder experience is going from slavery to freedom,” he said. “We’re not just commemorating exodus, we’re experiencing exodus.” Rather than experiencing exodus from geographic Egypt like their ancestors, modern Jews “are experiencing the exodus from anything spiritually that is holding us back,” Rapoport said. Eating a plain bread like matzah instead of leavened grains also represents humility, he said. Preparing for Passover “requires a tremendous amount of labor,” Rapoport said. Everything has to be cleaned to remove any trace of chametz. At the Discovery Center, it took a week of cleaning to prepare the kitchen. “It’s actually a great feeling because I know that every speck of the kitchen is cleaned,” said Chany Rapoport, the director of catering at the center. “When we come in here to prepare Passover food, it’s like a new kitchen every year.” Some customers purchase their entire Seder meal from the center while others use it to supplement their own home-cooked meals. For Sandy Epstein, of South Abington Twp., the center’s offerings allowed her to share the Passover tradition with her son, Jake, who goes to a boarding school near Philadelphia. Jake is attending a Seder at a friend’s house with other Jewish students at the school, so his mom delivered kugels, soup, sweet-and-sour meatballs and eggplant from the center. “I feel like I’m still helping feed him and be part of the Seder with him even though I’m not there with him,” she said. Orna Clum, of Scott Twp., buys food from the center every Passover. This year, she bought potato, vegetable and strawberry apple kugel, cucumber salad and moussaka — a rolled eggplant stuffed with ground beef. “I know the food’s good, I know where it’s being cooked, and it’s just a nice way to supplement your meal and have some extra sides for the week,” she said. At home, Clum plans to make brisket, chicken soup with matzah balls, kugel and other traditional foods, she said. By carrying on the Passover tradition passed down from her parents, Clum said she feels connected to her siblings, even though they’re spread out across the country. “It’s always the same,” she said. “I’m doing my Seder here. My sister is doing her Seder in Atlanta. My brother is in Texas. But, we’re all doing the same thing at the same time ... it keeps you connected to your religion, and to your heritage and to your family.” Benny Rapoport said he is honored to have the opportunity to share his center’s cooking with so many. “It’s a wonderful thing being part of so many people’s Passover Seder,” he said. “I’m not there personally, but I feel like I’ve been welcomed to join.” Although the center is no longer taking orders for Passover, you can order a variety of takeout kosher foods on the center’s website, http://www.jewishdiscoverycenter.org/. Contact the writer: flesnefsky@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5181