Pesach means bite-sized sweet kidney mangos and the return of the longon. Shavuot brings back the pomelo. Chanukah means miniature Mandarin oranges. And its always star-fruit for Rosh Hashanah. While our palates might have changed, along with our knowledge of Southeast Asian fruit, when it comes to Pesach it’s really all Osem and Yehuda Matzot for us.
I have worked hard to develop a neatly refined talent at being able to rid our apartment of chametz pre-Pesach. Nothing is left and little is wasted. I calculate and know just when to stop buying, what to purchase in smaller quantities and what we can do without for a day or so. Where my shortcoming lies is in my ability to predict how much matzah we will need. I am always grossly short. The kids always seem to eat ten times the amount they did the year before.
It is day three, a few years ago, and my supply is already running critically low. I work out, based on our current rate of consumption, what our needs will be.
It is still early. I am confident there will be an ample supply in the Koshermart, our small but well-stocked market in the Jewish Community Center. The market opens at 10. I am there at 10:15. The parking lot is crowded. This can’t bode well. “Matzah!” I simply exclaim to the clerk. “No more. Maybe you choose something else. Some gefilte fishes? Potato chip?” she responds.
“No matzah?” I confirm.
I let out a frustrated and exasperated long sigh. Then Grace the cashier approaches. She leans close to me and whispers “meet me in the parking garage at 7pm tonight.”
It was very cloak and dagger. We met in the parking garage at the aforementioned time and she approached my car with four boxes in hand. Constantly looking over her shoulder.
“I thought the Koshermart was sold out,” I offer hesitantly.
“Yes, all sold out but restaurant upstairs have enough for whole Chinese army. I charged your account.”
And so I was to bring my matzah home with a clear conscious.
And while the excitement of this episode might perhaps have been slightly enhanced, it is not altogether overstated. We are not in New York, Los Angeles or Jerusalem. Our supplies are limited. Living somewhat off the radar clearly requires more careful planning.
As the story above shows, by day three of Pesach, the store is stripped of its supply save for perhaps a random sampling of Egg Matzah, Gluten Free Matzah, Onion Matzah and the new High Fiber Matzah. And since I continue to grossly under-buy, the same family has had to bail us out nearly every year for the past few years, passing their extra boxes of matzah to us. This has now become almost part of our Pesach tradition.
By day five, our Synagogue will typically email an announcement asking all those who will have extra boxes to please drop them off at the JCC and they are redistributed accordingly to the families that are running low. It is a comfort to know I am not the only one who can’t seem to get it right and that the demand for matzah is never unmet with a bit of communal cooperation.
When I think matzah, I of course also naturally think mohel. This association, for me, was forged because my eldest son’s brit milah was on the first day of Pesach 11 years ago. This was hardly an accident though. Having worked in the legal medicine field, I was perhaps a bit controlling when it came to things medical.
When I realized I could, if left to natural processes, potentially give birth on Pesach and miss my sedarim, I explained to my doctor in New York that as 38 weeks is full term, I could induce early and we both could have stress free chagim. Dr Goldman, also intent on making it to a family bar mitzvah around the same time, was quite amenable to the plan. And when it came to finding a mohel who would be able to walk to us, it was again not an issue.
When it came to the birth of my second son in Hong Kong, five years later, I learned that while matzah is sometimes heard to come by, a mohel always is. Though as a community we have a fairly high birth rate and our demographics are disproportionately young, we are small. And though we are rich in many Jewish institutions, we are without a mohel.
We must import our mohalim from the UK, Australia, Israel or the US. And like with our matzah, this is a communal effort and we share when we are able. Many “shidduchim” are made between expecting mothers. It is always welcome news to hear that another family is expecting a boy within days of yours. Flights, hotels and the other mohalim-associated costs can than be split. Some also require money to replace their salaries while they are away, some insist on business class seats, while others simply request a donation to a charity.
Potential complications to brit milah planning include, though a source of joy, the festivals. Mohalim must be willing to forgo celebration with their own communities for a lengthy stay in the Far East. As my second son’s due date coincided with Shavuot, I again (as with my first son) tried to take control of the situation. Explaining the need to induce pre-Pesach to my Jewish doctor on the Upper East Side of Manhattan was considerably easier than explaining Shavuot and the potential difficulty in arranging for a mohel to the local receptionist at my doctor in Hong Kong.
In the end, I either charmed or frightened them, as I unleashed a bit of the New Yorker in me, into inducing eleven days before my due date. And fortuitously, just two doors down from my hospital room, another Jewish mother delivered a boy the next day.
We were able to arrange for our mohel together and we had our kumquat-adorned cheesecake too.