Escape from North Carolina – A Passover Exodus

As many of you may know from personal experience or from my 2017 blog post, The Holiday Where We Enslave Ourselves to Celebrate Our Freedom from Slavery, Passover is….. challenging. The cleaning, turning over your kitchen, food shopping, and meal planning contribute to a distinct level of stress not present with the celebration of any other Jewish holiday. It really is such a challenge that this was actually a factor I considered when we were talking about moving to North Carolina. That might seem ridiculous, but let me explain….

First, to really grasp the black hole that is preparing for Passover if you are not already familiar with it, I truly do have to refer you to my past blog post (link above). It is sincerely a lot of work and much more than just, “Get rid of the bread!”

Second, the market in New York (especially New York City and close-by areas like Five Towns) is generally aware of and prepared for that craziness. In New York, cleaning people know that this is going to be a busy time of the year and Passover-observant people are looking for an intense, deep clean of their home.

And their cars:

(Yes, I unabashedly pulled off to a side street from the main road to get out of the car and take a picture of this sign when I saw it. Safety first, friends.)

Also, besides for the fact that there are full-on kosher supermarkets in New York that completely convert their entire operation for the holiday, your regular, run-of-the-mill grocery store is also hip to what is going on and generally has a more extensive selection of food for the holiday. 

North Carolina, just by combining the simple law of supply and demand with the fact that there are significantly less Jews here, is not. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to put it together that your already difficult holiday is going to require more planning, creativity, and oomph than ever before after the New-York-to-North-Carolina transition. 

With that being said, I can freely admit that we wimped out for our first North Carolina Passover and schlepped up to the New York tundra for the holiday. This was one of the best decisions we have made in a long time and this led to pretty much the best Passover ever. No cleaning. No prepping. No stress. (A million shout outs and thanks to Hubs’ family who hosted us for the holiday. Truly, truly thankful for you all for making our trip possible. And if you have a spare moment, you can check out the blog’s Instagram here which has pictures of the delicious food we were treated to made by my mother-in-law.) 

However, just because we weren’t here this year, doesn’t necessarily mean this will be the norm for us going forward.  As such, prior to our exodus, I kept an eye out and took notes about what our future could hold for Passover prep in the Triangle. I normally have a few grocery stores I visit in the area for our food needs – Publix and Trader Joe’s primarily, but also on occasion Kroger, H Mart, and Walmart. The selection, except for the notorious Kroger in Raleigh on Falls of Neuse Road, which is close to the Raleigh Chabad and has the best selection of kosher food in the area, was pretty abysmal. I think the most “exotic” thing I personally was able to find in a supermarket’s Passover section was Passover cereal (winner is Publix at Bradford Plaza). 

Hubs has some very strong opinions about Passover cereal and so, of course, I had to send it to him. Needless to say, his response was, “That’s really what they think we want????” followed by many unhappy emoji faces. 

Another barometer that was helpful was a Facebook group I am part of called “Kosher in Raleigh.” People in the group posted helpful updates both about the Raleigh Kroger (when it was getting its shipment of Passover items, what exactly they had, when they ran out of things, when new items miraculously appeared) as well as what other stores in the area had. However, it was also a place people were lamenting about the troubles they were having with items selling out extremely quickly at the Raleigh Kroger and subsequently looking for tips to find the things they still needed for the holiday. It was both heart-warming and saddening to follow along in this group leading up to the holiday because it really showed a community working together and helping each other out, but it also painfully highlighted the fact that, in the grand scheme of things, this is still a small Jewish enclave nestled in the vast sea of the Bible Belt which is, not shockingly, unaccustomed to our community’s needs for the holiday. I think every member of that Facebook group let out a sigh of “if only” when someone posted a promotional video of the kosher for Passover selection at ShopRite in Livingston, NJ, haha.

Besides for these local options, there were a few other less appealing options that could have been utilized. The first is that there is a kosher co-op that delivers to the area I believe twice a year. The problem with this, though, is you have to do some advance planning and also, it is not economical for a small family like us because you have to order a lot. It’s not just, “Oh, I’ll have three chickens, two packages of flanken, one box of matzah farfel, a jar of tomato sauce, and a package of shredded mozzarella.” (Can’t have Passover without matzah pizza, am I right?!) You need to order something like 2 dozen chickens. From what I understand, families do work it out and go in together on an order and then split up the meat, but that is a lot of legwork. Also, I think I heard that something happened with the co-op this year where people might not have received their KFP products with the shipment. Eek. 

The other less appealing option was loading up your coolers and ice packs and schlepping to the nearest kosher grocery store in Charlotte, NC, which is approximately 2.5 hours away. I think someone on the Kosher in Raleigh group brought up a good point about this, though, specifically that people in the Triangle should aim to shop locally rather than head to another place like Charlotte because it shows the retailers here that there is a demand for the products. More demand this year can lead retailers to have more product next year because they have some assurances that what they order will sell. If everyone carpools to Charlotte for their needs, less will be purchased here, which could lead to less options next year, and on and on it goes. (Also, for what it is worth, I guess people like me are also probably not helping this situation by leaving the area for the holiday as that leaves less people in the vicinity to buy the KFP goods. Sorry, neighbors.) 

Overall, I am sad to say that my main thought leading up to Passover this year was, “Phew, glad I’m not having to fight THAT battle.” But then again, the other side of that coin is I am extremely thankful that, for at least this year, I really got to enjoy Passover. In Judaism, you’re suppose to try to follow the mitzvot (commandments) with joy, seeing them as a gift rather than a burden, but I (and I think many others, too) struggle with this concept when it comes to Passover. I think Passover could objectively be said to be the most important of all Jewish holidays – if you look at the main narrative, we wouldn’t have any of the other holidays without the Jews being led out of slavery and bondage in Egypt. Whether you’re looking at the base story of Passover or the overarching concept of freeing yourself from the things that enslave you, it is a meaningful holiday, and I am glad I got to have a little freedom this year to enjoy it properly.

Anyway, now that we’re back, I’m looking forward to chatting with some fellow community members to see how their Passover was here. And who knows, maybe next year will be the year that we ride out the holiday in North Carolina, and if so, hopefully I can carry some of the positivity from this year’s Passover into the next.

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