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By Jonathan Rubin
2008 Religion News Service

Passover is a time of celebration for Jews, but this year an old foe — expensive Passover prices — is putting a damper on the festivities for some Jewish families.
Rising corn and grain prices, fuel increases and a sluggish economy are putting the squeeze on some Passover consumers. Shoppers are seeing holiday staples like matzoh and gefilte fish costing up to 20 percent more than last year.
“The timing is so bad for people of fixed income,” said Menachem Lubinsky, CEO of Lubicom, the kosher food industry’s trade and marketing group.
Ingredients like oil, flour and shortening have seen their prices skyrocket just in time for Passover, which commemorates the Jewish exodus from Egyptian slavery and starts at sundown Saturday (April 19).
The Jewish slaves left Egypt in such a flight that “the people took their dough before it was leavened,” according to Exodus. Modern-day Jews mark the holiday by shunning all foods that contain leavening, or “hametz.” That includes products that have fermented (with yeast, for example) or that can cause fermentation (like sourdough). Corn, rice, nuts and other legumes are also no-nos, ruling out corn syrup, rice flour and soy.
As a result, observant Jews must replace just about everything in the refrigerator and pantry with kosher-for-Passover, or non-leavened, items. Those products have always been expensive, but never like this.
Many observant Jews say they know what it’s like to be held captive– at least by high prices for the limited Passover food choices.
Macaroons, formerly a little more than a dollar, are two for $5. Jars of gefilte fish are about $6, kosher-certified shredded mozzarella is going for $5.50 for an 8-ounce package, according to merchants and Lubinsky’s group. Machine-made matzoh, traditionally a “loss leader” used to get customers inside stores, has soared from $1.99 a box to $3 or $4 in some areas.
A typical meal for the more ornate Seders held on the first two days of Passover could include brisket, chicken, soups, salad, wine, numerous vegetable dishes and mounds of deserts. The estimated cost for a family of four to keep Passover: about $1,200 for the eight-day holiday, according to kosher marketers.
Poorer Jews feel the pinch the most. “It’s impacted everything that we buy,” said Lea Luger, development director at the Yad Ezra kosher food pantry outside Detroit. The weak economy has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of clients requesting food in her area, she said.
Yad Ezra donates food baskets to help make the holidays more festive, but the costs are often staggering. A single Passover meal for a family of five might cost $100. By comparison, some soup kitchens can often serve people at a $1 a meal.
Ultra-Orthodox families, some of whom have large families, are also becoming more common clients at food pantries.
“For people who are observant, they have absolutely no choice…They have to buy the Passover items … and the cost is always more,” Luger said.
In recent years, prices sometimes became so high that consumers felt they were being had. In New York, it turned out they were right, and the City Department of Consumer Affairs created a Passover hotline to monitor “unscrupulous price-gouging.”
Harriet Tolve, public affairs manager for Coca Cola, said while the cost of corn syrup and other sweeteners has been increasing, the price of Coke has remained steady.
Coke has been making a kosher-for-Passover soda since 1935. Tolve said Coke produces 168,000 cases of kosher-for-Passover Coke each year.
They can be found in supermarkets with their signature yellow caps.
However, there is some relief from cash register rage. In addition to those products that are labeled “Kosher for Passover,” other year-round products without the label are often acceptable as well.
Consumers just need to check the ingredients.
“Of course, with a few exceptions such as matzoh, special `Kosher for Passover’ manufactured foods are unnecessary,” said Rabbi Mitchell Levine, former head of Rhode Island’s kosher supervisory organization.
“Kosher meat, cheeses (and most) fruits and vegetables … are already kosher for Passover.”
This year might be a good time to try to keep things simple, he suggested.
“Remember, our ancestors managed to leave Egypt with just the `Bread of Affliction’ (matzoh), and maybe a roasted lamb with a few cups of wine.”

Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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