"We need to look at this as an opportunity to have this unique special time with our families and basically take lemons and make lemonade."
In a normal year, New York resident Beth Feldman has anywhere from 12 to 25 people at her house in New Rochelle for Passover. Needless to say, in light of the coronavirus and social distancing rules, that's not happening this year.
Instead, the mom of two teenagers (one home from college, the other a high school senior) will be cooking solely for her immediate family of four.
"It's the first time, ever, I'm going to celebrate Passover without my parents," she said.
It's the same for Sarah Ludwig of Nyack, New York. Last year she rented a tent and had 30-plus guests for the first night; on the second night she had another family seder in Boston.
"I was very disappointed to have to cancel this year, but have shifted gears and will be hosting a Zoom seder," Ludwig said. She's even working on a collaborative Haggadah, the Jewish text used at seders which tells the story of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt.
The holiday, which begins April 8 and lasts until April 16, is indeed looking different for a number of Jewish Americans across the country.
For many, some of whom have never cooked a Passover seder before, it's especially daunting. The same for those who keep kosher and are worried about getting all the right ingredients.
Plenty of matzo
According to two of the largest manufacturers of Jewish items– Kayco, which counts Manischewitz as well as Yehuda matzos among its offerings; and Orangeburg, New York-based Streit's – there should be plenty of products on the shelves.
According to Streit's co-owner Aaron Gross, the company always prepares for a high demand, offering 120 different Passover items such as soup and cake mixes, along with matzo. What's changed this year, he said, is people's buying habits. In light of the coronavirus, many have already stockpiled and bought what they need.
"Everyone wants soup these days," he said, referring to his company's chicken soup and matzo ball mix, both of which have been "flying off the shelves."
"It's Jewish penicillin."
Gross and his staff remain on top of supplies, keeping stores stocked with everything they need to get shoppers through the holidays.
They're also working extra hard, he said, to keep their drivers and workers safe by eliminating a night shift, cutting down to only essential workers in the factory and maintaining strict social distancing rules.
Harold Weiss, executive vice president of Kayco, said his Bayonne, New Jersey-based company is also doing the same in terms of safety. In the New York metro area, the company is its own distributor — meaning no third-party businesses are delivering product to stores.
In terms of available items, Kayco has been planning for Passover for the last three months and has had product in stores since Feb. 15.
"More people will be staying home this year," he said. "So it remains to be seen how that changes on the retail level." He, like Gross, anticipates a higher demand as more people prep for smaller family gatherings as opposed to traveling to larger groups.
Keep it simple
The main message Rorie Weisberg, a kosher health coach/chef from Monsey, New York and the founder of Full 'n Free, wants people to know is that this is not a time to go crazy and worry so much about creating the perfect meal.
"People are nervous," she said. "Many are doing Passover for the first time who have never done it in their lives and have lots of questions."
The stores, Weisberg stressed, are well stocked; there are also online options if you're having an issue finding something (though she suggests the earlier you order, the better, especially if you have special dietary needs). Primarily, though, she hopes everyone understands that they can create a beautiful meal by sticking to the basics.
Keep it simple with produce and proteins, along with other flavoring essentials such as apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, honey, spices, garlic and onions. "You really don't need a lot of ingredients to make a nice entree," she said.
Kosher.com is one helpful source Weisberg recommends with plenty of easy recipes. She also offers plenty of tips on her website. If you need more guidance, she suggests speaking with your local rabbi.
Bouskila, who shares much of her family life on her Instagram page The Mommy Dictionary, said at first she was "freaking out" about how she'll pull off a meal she's never made in her life (she normally goes to a big family event in Florida for the holiday), but has since tempered her expectations.
"I sat down with my husband and discussed the fact that this will not be a five-course gourmet meal," she said. In fact, the two decided, because they have a grill, that instead of the traditional brisket, they'll cook steak, hamburgers and hot dogs along with (possibly) matzo pizza.
"It is what it is," she said. "We're keeping it very simple," she said of the seder that will include her husband, her 4-year-old and 1-year-old.
Seconds Weisberg: "This year is making us all stop and think and reprioritize. We need to look at this as an opportunity to have this unique special time with our families and basically take lemons and make lemonade."
Bouskila couldn't agree more and said she's lucky to be able to spend time with her immediate family. If all goes well, however, she prays this is a one-time deal. Of her seder she said: "Hopefully this is my first and last year."
For your seder
For those who need a humor lift — as well as something sweet — there's now a limited edition kosher for Passover Manischewitz "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" tin full of coconut macaroons. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine the Amazon characters Abe and Rose Weissman retelling the same old story with their daughter Miriam (Midge, for those in the know) while Midge's manager Susie Myerson sneaks brisket into a bag for later. The tin is available at amazon.com.
Jeanne Muchnick covers food and dining. Click here for her most recent articles and follow her latest dining adventures on Instagram @lohud_food.