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Passover Shoppers Finding Local Groceries Well Stocked for Holiday

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In Israel, some grocery store owners drape sheets over products that aren’t eaten during Passover so customers won’t mistakenly grab bread or leavened items during the holiday, when those foods are forbidden.

Although that custom is not played out in Ventura County, many supermarkets are doing their part to cater to their Jewish clientele.

Some residents say they appreciate the effort.

“In general, things have improved,” said Chabad of Ventura Rabbi Yakov Latowicz, who has lived in the county for a decade. “I’ve noticed more types of items that you used to only find in the Valley.”

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And what the stores provide for Passover in the United States now is a huge improvement over what his grandparents used to find in European stores 40 years ago, he said.

Store managers say it’s their job to please their customers.

“Our stores serve all shapes, sizes, religions and races,” said David Hollister, manager for specialty foods at Ralphs. “And we do what we have to do to serve them. . . . Passover is important to the Jewish community, and it’s up to us to step up to the plate.”

For the weeklong holiday, which begins Friday night, the Ralphs in Camarillo offers a front-door display of matzo boxes, macaroon containers and potato kugel mixes. In the back of the store, a second display case offers deli meats, horseradish, gefilte fish and cheese.

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Certain Ralphs and Hughes stores also are offering discount coupons and giving away haggadot, books of Passover songs and prayers.

Vons began an ad campaign Wednesday offering discounts on certain Passover products. And select stores are giving away Passover cookbooks along with prayer booklets.

“We have a significant Jewish customer base,” Vons spokesman Brian Dowling said.

Passover commemorates the exodus of the Jewish slaves from Egypt thousands of years ago. When the Israelites fled from the pharaoh into the desert, they only had time to bake cracker-like matzo, or unleavened bread. Today, many Jews symbolize their freedom by refraining from all products made with yeast.

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In addition, many observant Jewish families also refrain from eating a host of other everyday food items for fear they might have been made with utensils or machinery that was not cleaned in a proper manner for Passover.

To decipher some of these complex dietary rules, Ralphs is making available a “Kashrut Conscience” magazine near the Passover aisles featuring Rabbi E. Eidlitz of the Kosher Information Bureau. The booklet includes a detailed list of what the Orthodox branch of Judaism deems acceptable for Passover.

For example, Millers cheese is OK, but Kraft is not.

Hughes stores, which merged with Ralphs in mid-March, also are getting into the spirit of the Jewish spring holiday.

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Select markets are passing out special bags to keep Passover items separate from other products. The bags read: “Why is this market different than all other markets?"--a play on words from the Passover ritual of a child asking: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The answer: The Jewish people used to be slaves, but now they are free.

“It’s nice that these stores are serving the community,” said Rabbi Shimon Paskow of Thousand Oaks’ Temple Etz Chaim. “It’s good business for them.”


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