Passing Over Religion

A prominent sign displayed proudly in Trader Joe’s market last week read, “In observance of Easter we will be closing Sunday, April 20, at 5 p.m.” Are they trying to be funny or do they really think they are acting in a religiously observant manner? I’m not a Christian but I believe most Easter services are long over by 5 p.m. on Easter Sunday. I know that many faithful go out for brunch after Easter services in the morning, and many others have early Easter suppers usually by 3, 4, or 5 p.m.

So what good does it do for Trader Joe’s to close at 5 p.m. on Easter Sunday when the holiday is actually winding down and almost over? Seems to me that T J’s is trying to have it both ways: acknowledge the holiday but stay open for business at the same time. You know what? Sometimes in life you just can’t have it both ways. So either close the stores all day for Easter Sunday, or ignore the holiday altogether. At least that would be honest.

Now that I’ve demonstrated how Trader Joe’s has “passed over” the Easter holiday, let’s move on to Passover. As a devoted Jewish husband I have for years been accompanying my wife to the market to do our Passover grocery shopping. Passover products have changed over the years.

You can now find boxes of “breakfast cereal” and packages of “pasta” (even Passover pizza), waffles, flapjacks, and other silly things that normally are not considered kosher for Passover. Of course these items are made with matzo meal, not wheat but the idea of them is still pretty dopey. The whole idea is to eat differently at Passover; certain foods are eaten and not eaten for a reason. To my way of thinking, it is disingenuous to mimic non-Passover foods for this holiday.

While the stores are full of the new silly stuff, many of the traditional items have been eliminated altogether. My wife’s biggest gripe is the disappearance of onion flavored Nyafat. Made by the Rokeach Company, Nyafat was a Jewish staple in Passover cooking. A vegetable shortening that gave fried foods a delicious sweet onion flavor. It was the perfect shortening to use for fried matzo and matzo brie. Everyone used it once upon a time, now you can’t find it anywhere.

I’ve searched the internet and I can’t get a solid reason why the company stopped selling the stuff, but my hunch is that it probably was considered a “bad food” in today’s health-conscious world. Nyafat was a hydrogenated shortening made with transfats, you see. And, as everyone knows, transfat is considered only slightly less harmful than say strychnine or arsenic.

Mother’s Margarine (sweet, not salted) in easy to use quarter pound sticks is another Passover staple that has been missing in action in recent years. There are other Kosher for Passover margarines of course, but every margarine has its own flavor and when you’re dealing with traditional recipes changing margarine makes it hard to achieve the same taste that you had originally.

Sad to say not too many people care about any of this business because there are less and less Jewish Americans who actually keep Passover. And Trader Joe’s can make a farce of Easter because there are fewer and fewer active Christians in this country. Religion in American life is dwindling. In a Pew study done in 2013, when asked to describe themselves religiously, one-in-five American Jews described themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.”

An extensive survey (conducted in 2007) by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life detailed statistics on religion in America based on interviews with more than 35,000 Americans age 18 and older. More than one-quarter of American adults (28%) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion – or no religion at all.

The survey found that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

In a recent study of all religions, according to MIT Technology Review, back in 1990 only eight percent of the U.S. population did not have a religious affiliation. Twenty years later in 2010 that number was up to 18 percent. That is a jump of 25 million people.

If Trader Joe’s closes its stores on Easter Sunday will it bring Christian people back to Easter? I don’t know. But I know this, bringing back Nyafat will make Matzo Brie taste better.

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