I was standing in the Kosher market muttering under my breath. It had been three weeks since they had diagnosed my son, Ari, (age three at the time) with severe food allergies to eggs, nuts, and peanuts. Passover was just around the corner and its overriding theme of freedom felt like a total mockery.
How is one with food allergies supposed to feel free when they can’t partake in the matzo balls, charoset, cake, or anything else that may contain a lethal food allergen?
Suddenly my three-year-old was thrust into a new world where the innocent act of eating a holiday food item boiled down to life and death.
Preparing for Passover without food allergies was already a monumental task.
While I was no Martha Stewart, I managed to produce respectable fare without breaking open the infamous Manischewitz coffee cake box. Successfully, I enlisted the foundational heavy lifters-eggs, almonds, and walnuts for matzo balls, charoset, baked goods, and macaroons. How was I going to pull off a kosher eight-day, two seder holiday without the regular staples and keep my child safe?
As I perused the aisles of the store, I mentally began ticking off all the things we couldn’t eat.
There were the matzo balls (eggs), desserts (eggs & nuts), charoset (nuts), not to mention eggs as a breakfast staple. It was staggering that probably 80% of what we normally consumed on Passover contained almonds, walnuts, and the star ingredient…the egg. Every boxed item, candy container, and chocolate bar contained nuts, eggs, or required eggs in the recipe.
I was wearily leaning over my shopping cart letting gravity pull me down until I felt my head resting on the handle. The cool metal felt good on my forehead as I was sweating under my winter coat, which only added insult to injury.
Another name for Passover is Holiday of Spring. It represents rebirth, a new beginning, the promise of spring, and all its warm weather possibilities. There I was in my heavy winter coat and boots. Passover was right around the corner, and yet there were no signs of rebirth. There were only dingy, black traces of snow in the parking lot, and bare-branched trees that weren’t ready for their debut.
I use to love Passover. Now, I resented it.
At that point, I didn’t care who saw me. Nothing could penetrate this invisible force field of negative energy. I was alone in my misery with my head in a shopping cart.
As I slowly pulled my head up, I noticed an older woman in the aisle beside me. Her cart was loaded with huge blocks of bitter and semi-sweet chocolate, along with a buffet of white, dark chocolate, and butterscotch chips in a variety of sizes.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing correctly. I took another look and when I say loaded, I don’t mean five or six bags, I am talking enough chips and baking chocolate to feed dessert to a third-world country! I must have been gawking at her because she nervously laughed before launching into an unprompted explanation.
“Passover chocolate doesn’t contain any soy lecithin, so, I stock up on it to bake all year round for my grandson who is severely allergic to soy. This looks funny, but at least I can make him his favorites all year long.“
Admittedly, to the general onlooker, a cartload of chocolate would look funny, but to me, she was a real-life Willy Wonka, making her allergic grandson’s wishes come true. I almost bawled right in front of her and all her chocolate.
She got it. She understood.
I wanted to tell her about Ari, and how I was a wreck and didn’t know what to do regarding his safety, food, and Passover. I wanted to cry out of relief that someone on this planet understood- but I didn’t. Instead, I held my tears in check and managed to squeak out, “Your grandson is a lucky boy.”
I was moved by this grandmothers’ resolve to help her grandson by focusing on what she could do, rather, than what she couldn’t.
It was a huge shift in mindset for me. If I just focused on the foods we could eat on this holiday, I had a chance to turn things around to feed our Jewish selves again and restore our sense of holiday. I rolled up my sleeves with renewed vigor and started to shop, and for the first time in weeks, I finally felt…free.
Adapted with permission by Rachel Packer.