A Comedian Wanders the Desert for Dessert

Most of Christendom is celebrating Easter Sunday today, but let’s not forget that Easter Sunday is preceded by the Celebration of Passover in the Jewish faith.

Steve Hofstetter is a comedian, broadcaster, and owner of the website, Comedy Soapbox.

Steve is also Jewish, and as a comedian, he has some trials to deal with when working on the road during Jewish holidays.

The following story is reprinted with Steve’s permission; and it gives me cause to think that sometimes my fellow comedians have more to worry about than just getting to the gig on time, or making sure you are funny on stage. One more thing, Don’t Shop at Abe’s.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover.

A Comedian Wanders the Desert for Dessert
By Steve Hofstetter

While I have no idea how hard it could have possibly been for the Jews as slaves in the land of Egypt, I now have an idea how hard it is to keep Kosher for Passover outside of New York.

I had spent my 26 Passovers in New York City, even though I moved to Los Angeles three years ago. I find it’s much easier to fly across the country than it is to clean my apartment, so I use Passover as an excuse to visit my family and get free dinner. Okay, the round trip costs about $400, but my mother’s matzah brei is worth it.

Travel is nothing new to me – I make my living as a standup comedian, and thus I’m on the road eight months out of the year. But I always block out Passover, taking Hol Hamoed gigs within a few hours of New York City so I can bring enough food to last me through the night.

This year started as no exception, with shows in Syracuse and Trenton. But I got a call from a school in Dayton asking if I could make the trip. And once I said yes, I figured I’d also swing by a club in Bay City, Michigan.

“Sure,” I thought. “I’ll just bring a little extra food.”

The way the routing worked out, it made no sense to come back into the city between Syracuse and Trenton, and by the time we were in New Jersey, we may as well start heading west to Ohio. So I had four days on the road and only one days worth of supplies. How hard could it be to find a few days worth of kosher food on the road?

What I wouldn’t have given for some manna.

After I ate through my first night’s rations, Google directed me to Scranton’s “Abe’s Kosher Delicatessen.” Great – I could get a nice pastrami and Matzah sandwich, and from someone named Abe. As an American Jew, the name Abe conjures thoughts of both honesty and piousness. As it turned out, that specific Abe now conjures a few thoughts not fit for family newspapers.

On Abe’s window, there was a sign that read “Lent Specials.” Suspicious. I was distracted, however, by thoughts of a new joke. “I used to keep kosher, but I gave it up for lent.” I went inside.

It is not typical to see cartons of milk in a kosher deli, which raised a second red flag. An unmarked container of apple juice raised a third. By the time I was done with this place, I had seen more red flags than on Chinese New Year.

I asked if they were Kosher for Passover. The man behind the counter argumentatively said, “Yeah, what’s the problem?” I pointed out the apple juice, and he replied that apple juice doesn’t need to be marked. So I asked about his hashgacha, purposefully using a word that only kosher people would know. I felt like I was asking him for the password to my secret tree fort.

“The password is Rabbi Fine.”

Actually, he said, “We don’t have one. But everything is kosher.”

As much as I wanted to gamble on a Pastrami Lent Special, I left. Abe’s Kosher Delicatessen wasn’t kosher, was barely a delicatessen, and I’d be surprised if anyone there was named Abe.

Luckily, a local Wegman’s had some Breakstone’s cottage cheese and bananas for lunch, and a hunk of processed turkey for dinner. That would be enough to get me to Ohio. But I got increasingly worried about finding anything kosher once I got there.

My first attempt was at a Meijer Supercenter somewhere east of Columbus. Meijer is a solid Jewish name; it’s the last name of the Jewish lawyer that emancipated the Dutch Jews in the early 1800s. But he didn’t emancipate any pastrami, and their Kosher for Passover section consisted of a box of Matzah and a few jars of gefilte fish. Matzah I had, and gefilte fish is not meant to be taken on long car trips.

My second try was the next morning in Toledo at a Kroger, another Jewish name. I had run out of supplies completely, and would have settled for another hunk of turkey or more cottage cheese. But when I asked a woman if they had a kosher food section, she answered no in a tone as if to say “why would we have something as silly as that?”

It was a good point. The store was very poorly stocked. They barely had a food section, let alone a kosher food section.

My laptop aided me by directing me to a Hiller’s an hour north in Ann Arbor. Turns out Hiller’s stocks plenty of Kosher for Passover food, including everything from prepared meals to packaged meats and I bought plenty of it. I found my manna, and it tasted like pastrami.

And the most incredible thing happened – during my trip, the weather dropped to record lows. I was able to buy enough food to last through the next 36 hours, because I could now use the trunk as a refrigerator. Had Hashem provided Hillers to guide me through the desert, dayenu. But having a trunk fridge was certainly appreciated.

I am now thankfully back from my journey through the desert. This year taught me that, while horseradish clears your sinuses, maror doesn’t fully do the job of reminding me how bitter our ancestors had it.

So I encourage you to take one Hol Hamoed and experience what it’s actually like to be a stranger in a strange land. Go camping if you have to. Because then when you say, “Next Year in Jerusalem!” you’ll realize just how easy it will be to find a kosher meal there.

I’ll even settle for next year in Queens.

Steve Hofstetter is one of the stars of hit Jewish comedy show, “The King Davids of Comedy.” For more, see myspace.com/jewishcomedy

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