Thursday, March 29, 2012

end of aisle five

This morning, I drove over the Bay Bridge to pick up a few things at my favorite East Bay grocery store, Berkeley Bowl. They have such a wonderful selection of fresh produce at great prices that it's worth the schlep. And since I was shopping avec vehicle, I decided I'd also take the opportunity to stock up on some matzo for Passover.

I filled my basket with fresh kale, sweet potatoes and handmade tofu before I set out to find the matzo, but it wasn't obvious to me where it was located. Most grocery stores have a half-aisle or an end-display of Jewish items, usually a random year-round combination of yahrzeit candles, dreidels and plastic menorahs, and often matzo is among them. I saw no such aisle or display, but I knew it had to be somewhere.

I asked a clerk where I might be able to find matzo. "Masa?" he asked. "You want to make corn tortillas?"

"No, matzo. For Passover!"

He looked at me blankly, saying nothing, so I thanked him and moved on.

I approached a young woman stocking a shelf with pickle jars.

"Hi there. Can you please direct me toward the matzo?"

"What is that?"

"It's a jewish bread..."

"The bread is on aisle 7."

"Well, it's not really bread, it's more of a cracker."

"Crackers are on aisle 9."

"It's not really--never mind. I'll ask someone else. Thank you."

I found myself wandering, seemingly endlessly, in search of matzo (the irony of this was not lost on me). Each time I saw someone with a name tag, I asked them where the matzo was, and, to my surprise, nobody seemed to have any idea what I was talking about. How was this possible? There are a lot of Jews in Berkeley! I can't possibly be the first person to ask this question.

Just as I was asking a young man who was sweeping near the bulk section if he had any idea where the matzo was, I was interrupted by an elderly woman, who was barely taller than the very full cart she was pushing.

"End of aisle five, honey!" she enthused with a thick New York accent.

I looked down and noticed her cart was full of nearly every product made by Manischewitz--matzo, matzo farfel, matzo meal, gefilte fish and macaroons. Clearly she knew what she was talking about.

Suddenly, I heard another voice. "And there's a special on kosher-for-Passover wine!" Said a young-looking father whose little boy sat gurgling in his cart. "Six for the price of four!"

We stood there chatting, three total strangers. The woman asked me what I was making and I described the matzo crack I had planned for today. She told me she wanted to set me up with her grandson. We talked about our seder menus and brisket recipes. The man talked about how he's attempting to make gefilte fish from scratch this year. We probably spent a solid eight minutes having a friendly conversation, mostly about food, in the middle of the grocery store while others hurriedly shopped around us.

Sometimes, I admit, I question the extent of my Jewishness. I'm still in the process of discovering and defining just what exactly I believe in, I rarely go to synagogue and I gleefully eat pork and shellfish. But every so often, I'll have an interaction like the one I had this morning and I'll remember--oh yes--I am very much a part of a cohesive, schmoozing, helpful, food-loving, talking-over-one-another, friendly-argument-having group.

Religious or not, these are my people.

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