That Time of Year
The dread kicks in for me around late February. It's not just the
onslaught of my spring allergies. It's also the anticipation of
Passover - that unwelcome time of year when I curse my ancestor,
Izzy Greenblotz. I couldn't avoid the stupid holiday even if my
cousin Jake would allow me to skip my annual obligations in the
factory. In my prewar apartment building's elevator, Mrs. Minsky
from Penthouse A launches the annual Inquisition as she tugs on her
Majorica pearls in glee." Whose matzos are you buying this year?"
Every year this is the funniest question she's ever asked, and her
powdered face flushes with self-satisfaction. There's no need to
answer her. Greenblotz Matzo is not only the number-one-selling
matzo in the United States, it's the leading brand in Canada and
England, even in Venezuela and South Africa. Wherever there are
Jews, there is Greenblotz.
I handle my widowed neighbor with a diplomatic smile.
Even though it's weeks too early - Passover is not until mid-April
this year - she wishes me an anticipatory happy and healthy
Pesach when we stop at our floor.
Soon, someone will ask the question I despise most: "How does the
Greenblotz family celebrate Passover?"
Since "Greenblotz, Heather" is the only Greenblotz listed in the
Manhattan phone book, when reporters from New York or
Hadassah Magazine can't get through to the factory, they
call my home line. I never deny that I'm from the Matzo
Family, which would be too weird.
This year, when a reporter insists on specific details on our
upcoming seder, I'm stuck delivering the family white lies that
Jake usually spins from the factory office.
Why haven't I gotten my damn home number unlisted already?
"We have a quiet evening together," I say. "Just family."
How can I ever tell the truth?
Can you imagine the family that makes the millions of artificial
trees for sale in Kmart not celebrating Christmas, or the Cadbury
family not celebrating Easter with a basket of chocolate eggs? I'm
too mortified to admit that come Passover I'm home alone in my
apartment, chugging down a liter bottle of Diet Coke and stuffing
my face with a Panini 2 from the Italian deli around the corner on
Second Avenue. That's prosciutto, red peppers and Swiss cheese - a
quadruple no-no as far as the traditional holiday is
My take on what's kosher has always been a little hazy, but even
the most wayward Jew knows that pork is never ever kosher. When I
was about training-bra age, eleven or twelve, I asked my father if
pigs weren't kosher because they love mud. This made perfect sense
to my preadolescent mind: dirty equals not kosher. Grandpa Reuben
and Dad were padlocking the metal gate on the factory
Wilson was waiting patiently by the open limo doors in the
late-winter sleet. Dad, who my mother insists is very, very smart,
too smart for his own good - she claims he has an IQ of 150 - shook
his head and said, "No, kid, pigs are not kosher because they don't
chew their cud. Only plant-eating mammals with multichambered
stomachs are kosher. Ruminants do not carry as many
"What's a ruminant?" I asked, but Grandpa Reuben interrupted.
"Some say that God didn't want us eating animals that eat other
animals. Some say that God didn't want us eating the more
intelligent animals. I say a bunch of people made up a bunch of
rules to give a desert tribe something to believe in." Grandpa and
Dad had a rare shared laugh. They forgot that my follow-up question
was left hanging, and I quietly climbed into the black limo, so out
of place on the (then) low-rent Lower East Side.
Secondly on the kosher affront, eating ham and cheese together is
mixing meat and dairy. Such a combination is strictly forbidden to
the observant, because, as Grandpa continued his religious lesson
in the limo, "If you didn't watch what you ate in the desert
without a Frigidaire, you got sick."
Then there's the panini bread itself, which our customers would
call hametz. Bread is not allowed for the entire eight days
of Passover. This custom honors the Jews that didn't have time to
wait for yeast-leavened loaves to rise the day Moses rushed them
the hell out of Egypt and away from the Pharaoh's rule.
Observant families prepare for Passover by burning any
hametz that may still be in the house, every last crumb.
It's a curious sight to see the handful of remaining religious Jews
on the Lower East Side carrying their half-finished loaves and
frozen waffles to a communal bonfire raging in a Grand Street metal
trash can. Sometimes when I speed by in a cab, I spy a happy teen
stoking the hametz fire with a broomstick, smiling broadly
at the joy of tradition.
The plate my sandwich rests on is my fourth sacrilege. A properly
observant Jew would have one set of plates for meat, one set for
dairy, and a third Passover set to use once a year. But this is a
dish from the same Mikasa "Tulip Time" dinnerware I bought at
Bloomingdale's my first year out of college and I still use all
year long. Somewhere in my mother's colossal apartment on Park
Avenue is a set of special Passover dishes given to my parents as a
wedding gift. They were by Rosenthal, hand-painted a gorgeous
pastel turquoise blue with open-petal fuchsia flowers. Wasted
beauty. Now the dishes are bubble-wrapped and tucked away in a
closet. Or maybe Mom gave the dishes to charity, since we only took
the set out once or twice for company when I was really young. For
keeping up appearances.
As long as I can remember, the Greenblotz Matzo factory has been
kept kosher under the supervision of Schmuel Blattfarb, a devout
rabbi with a sweaty forehead and startlingly wide hips. I had heard
about him for years, but I first met him in the ground-level office
of the factory the day I got my final marks for the first half of
ninth grade. My mother and I waited patiently across the desk from
my father and the rabbi as they completed the paperwork for the
As Rabbi Blattfarb got up to sign off, his chair rose with him. He
then awkwardly prized it from his hips, lowered it back to the
ground and announced that his fee had just gone up to ten thousand
dollars a year.
After the rabbi sheepishly said goodbye to all of us, Dad raised
the window and called to our handsome Portuguese driver, Wilson,
that we would be right out. We were Brooklyn bound. My mother and
father were in one of the better stretches of their marriage, and
she had uncharacteristically telephoned Dad with the news of my
exceptional marks. Dad uncharacteristically responded with
spur-of-the-moment reservations for a congratulatory communal feast
at Peter Luger's Steak House right across the Williamsburg
"What does Rabbi Blattfarb actually do to deserve that kind of
money?" I asked Dad at our artery-clogging dinner.
"Just ridiculous!" my mother marveled.
"Long answer or short answer?" Dad asked me.
"Short," Mom said.
"Long," I said.
"To begin with," Dad said, "the flour and water going into the
factory must be certified one hundred percent kosher, which
basically means a few phone calls. Then, since Moses and his
followers had no time for leavening as they left Egypt, the matzo
that's specifically kosher for Passover cannot be baked longer than
eighteen minutes, which is the longest time flour and water can go
without self-fermentation. It's not Blattfarb's time we're paying
for though, it's his name."
MATZO BALL HEIRESS by Laurie Shapiro
Published by Red Dress Ink
Copyright (c) 2004 by Laurie Shapiro
The Matzo Ball Heiress
- Genres: Fiction
- paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Red Dress Ink
- ISBN-10: 0373250533
- ISBN-13: 9780373250530