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Pre-Prepared Food Simplifies Passover Celebration for Many American Jews

April 2, 1996

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Ellen Van Ness remembers Passover seders from her youth, filled with traditional matzo ball soup, cakes and kugels made from scratch by her mother and grandmother.

Now the 48-year-old working woman holds her own family seders _ but the food is from someone else’s kitchen.

Like a growing number of Jews around the country today, Van Ness finds it hard to juggle family, her job and the tedium of preparing for Passover. So she orders Passover fare from a kosher catering company, which gives her more time to actually enjoy the weeklong festival of freedom.

``I want to make most of it myself. I just don’t have the time to do it,″ said Van Ness, a toll collector from suburban Richmond. ``I make a horrible potato kugel, so I order that. Also, the cakes. I’m a horrible baker.″

Passover, which commemorates the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, begins at sundown April 3.

Many Jews spend weeks preparing for the holiday, which forbids any foods made with yeast or other leavening, such as bread, biscuits, crackers and cereals. Jewish custom also requires the kitchen to be scoured of any trace of leavened products during Passover.

The restrictions come from the Biblical story in which the Israelites hastily baked unleavened bread called matzo before they fled Egypt.

Kosher catering companies have seen Passover sales grow recent years as families have less time to prepare for the eight-day holiday.

Customers also include those who don’t know how to prepare the foods themselves, don’t have access to the necessary ingredients at their local markets or are highly observant Jews whose kitchens are not properly cleaned for Passover.

Orders for traditional fare such as gefilte fish, chicken soup and potato blintzes can run up to $1,000 for large families, said Danielle Mosse, owner of Danielle’s Bluefeld Caterer of Baltimore.

``More and more people don’t want to cook on a regular basis, so why cook on Passover?″ Mosse said, adding that her company also takes many orders in September and October for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

Local Jewish community centers have started organizing programs to help members find kosher catering companies that can provide them with food for the holidays.

While fresh holiday fare may be readily available in New York or other places with large Jewish populations, other areas of the country offer little variety at the grocery store, said Tammy Glasser, adult and cultural arts director at the Jewish Community Center of Richmond.

And other groups are organizing food sales that will let members buy Passover goods at one convenient location.

``We are finding more and more stress on our families due to general life in the ’90s,″ said Susan Zemsky, director of children and family services at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md. ``This really provides a whole array of possibilities.″

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