Daffodils sprouting in bright yellow bunches always have always signaled for me spring and Passover.
Matzah plays a big role here, the unleavened bread symbolic of the Jewish exodus from enslavement in Egypt about 3,300 years ago. (“Hurry up, Sadie. We don’t have time for the bread to rise. Grab your hat and let’s go!”) Matzah serves as the overall canvas for the Passover seder, spread at different points of the service with horseradish, choreset (a combination of fruit, nuts, and wine), and as the afikomen, hidden for the benefit of younger members at the table with a promise of a prize (usually chocolate or money).
This spring, like many other, daffodils sprouted around the oak tree outside the house. But unlike every other year, being that this is northern Louisiana and not my usual home in northern California, I had not a clue where to buy matzah. I considered asking my sister in New York to mail me a box, but paying ten dollars for what is essentially perforated crackers, seemed extreme. Surely I could find some. But the number of Jews in this part of the country is minuscule; demand for Passover specialty items a mere dot on a sales chart.
Walmart, a store that purchases items in quantity, was out of the question. The only other major grocery outlet in town, Brookshires, knew nothing of matzah or gefilte fish, the predictable opening act of many a Passover meal.
A person can travel two miles around where I live and count any number of churches of various denominations, even a church for bikers, but there is only one synagogue. Southern congregations, I’m told, have steadily hemorrhaged membership to urban centers. Children grow up and move away to where there are jobs and cultural diversity.
So what was I to do? I found myself in Ruston, a city about 35 miles to the west of where I currently live. After meeting with some new friends, I drove to the local health food store, hoping to strike matzah in this university-based town.
A cheerful young woman wearing a white apron, looked at me doubtfully. “Mat-what?”
“Matzah,” I said. “For Passover seder. They’re like crackers.” Passover was as far from this young woman’s experience as the Golden Gate Bridge.
“We don’t have any of those,” she said. “I’m sorry.” She did retrieve a package of matzah meal.
I thought about a recipe Chabad house had given me many years ago to bake matzah at home. If it came to that, I guess I could find the recipe online. Before giving up completely, there was one more place I wanted to try. The local synagogue where I was now a member advised that a health food store in Monroe, closer to where I lived, was another possible candidate. The salesperson there wanted to sell me a close cousin kind of cracker, not the real thing.
In the back of my head, there stuck one more address. It had been shared with me by another Temple B’nai Israel member. A wine shop owned by a local Jew who stocked Passover items. His store was open on Sunday when almost every other local enterprise was shuttered. I found the spot, Tonore’s Wine Cellar on Louisville Avenue in Monroe. I walked in and saw a slim man with grey curly hair. He would’ve looked at home on a golf course.
“I was told that you carry matzah here.” My voice trailed off into desperation. He nodded and pointed to a shelf in the front of the store. I had found it! I had found matzah! I went home and spread the cracker with horseradish and bit in.
Now I knew it was spring, a time of regeneration. Horseradish and matzah pleased my mouth into a smile.