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Local market helps set the Seder table

A Carrollwood shop that opened 16 months ago stocks kitchens for Passover.

By SHERYL KAY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


CARROLLWOOD -- It is a springtime holiday that commemorates freedom from slavery -- a time to sit back on pillows and rejoice in relaxation.

And yet preparing for Passover, which begins at sunset Saturday, can be an arduous task for observant Jews.

In addition to organizing enormous dinners called Seders for the first two of Passover's eight nights, Jews the world over cleanse their homes thoroughly and prepare for the holiday's special dietary restrictions.

The central restriction bans leavening agents, such as yeast. Such items should not be present, in any amount, in the house.

"It is a commandment for us in the Torah, and we view this as a part of our covenant with God, and part of divine will," explained Joel Wasser, rabbi at Congregation Kol Ami. "We also do it to relive the experience of our ancestors who were slaves and had to leave Egypt in haste. Hence there was not enough time for their bread to rise, and so they had to take matzah (unleavened bread) instead."

On the surface, dropping bread from one's diet for a week may seem simple. But the laws require almost all food products, other than a few items such as fresh fruits and most vegetables, to be marked "Kosher for Passover." This emblem means the manufacturer not only adhered to standard laws of kashruth, but that the food was thoroughly cleaned and certified by a rabbi to be free of even the most minuscule amounts of leavening.

"From A to Z, the production is scrutinized with the most exacting standards," Wasser said.

For observant Jews living in north Tampa, following these Passover regulations has been difficult because only a few groceries carried items marked Kosher for Passover, and none carried a full array of items.

This year Jewish shoppers can stock up for the holiday at Jo-El's Delicatessen and Marketplace at 11727 N Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood. The deli, which opened 16 months ago, will offer more than 1,500 items that are certified Kosher for Passover before closing Thursday evening for the duration of the holiday.

From the traditional matzah, horseradish and macaroons to the more unusual baba ganoush (eggplant salad), salsa and chocolate-covered pistachios, Jo-El's inventory is extensive. There are fresh meats, cheeses, even special soaps and scouring pads for the holiday.

"We started bringing everything in at the end of February, and by the second week of March we had our full complement," said Sharon Goetz, owner of the Carrollwood Jo-El's. The store is named for Goetz's parents, Joel and Ellen Goetz, who have long operated a kosher grocery in central St. Petersburg under the same name.

"Last year was our first Passover here and we didn't know what to expect, so we brought over what we felt were key Passover items," Sharon Goetz said. "Well, the community let us know they wanted more, so this year we brought over everything."

The effort has paid off.

"We're 20 percent over what we projected in sales, but the real surprise is that we are drawing people from outside the community, and even outside the state," Goetz said.

In addition to food and household items, the store offers an international assortment of Kosher-for-Passover wines. A Passover wine tasting is planned at the store from noon to 2:30 p.m. today.

Wine is a significant component of the Seder, including one cup that is set aside for the prophet Elijah.

A less pleasant Passover ritual is grumbling about the high price of Passover foods.

Goetz acknowledged that a few Passover items are more expensive than similar items sold the rest of the year, which are not certified Kosher for Passover. For example, a six-pack of Dr. Brown's soda costs $4.59 during Passover. Year-round, it's $3.99.

But others are bargains. Turkey, for example, costs about $1.89 per pound year-round at Jo-El's. Turkey marked Kosher for Passover is selling for $1.59 a pound.

"We don't mark up the products just because it's Passover," Goetz said. "If anything, some of the companies give us price breaks at Passover, so some of the products I'm able to sell at lower prices right now."

Prices aside, local Jewish shoppers are enjoying the ease of stocking their kitchens without having to travel far.

"In the past, if you wanted everything Kosher for Passover, you had to make the drive to Jo-El's in St. Petersburg," said Beth Gagne, the store's operations manager. "Now people are thrilled. We're right in their back yard, and they love it."

Jo-El's in Carrollwood is open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The store will close at 7 p.m. Thursday and remain closed until April 16.

If you go:

A Passover wine tasting is planned from noon to 2:30 p.m. today at Jo-El's Delicatessen and Marketplace, 11727 N Dale Mabry Highway, Carrollwood. It's free.

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