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The Great Matzo Panic

On Monday, my roommate sent me an article about a matzo shortage in the Bay Area.  Matzo is “unleavened bread” – basically a kosher cracker – that observant Jews are supposed to eat in place of bread for the week of Passover.  Even unobservant Jews, like myself, eat it during the holiday, usually (in my case) during Seders, which are ritual dinners celebrating the holiday.  Matzo is an integral part of the Seder: you eat it, you talk about it, you point to it, you hold it in the air, you hide a piece and make someone find it, and then you buy it back from that person.  

We are giving a Seder tonnight, so the possibility that there might not be any Matzo sent me into a panic.  To steal a phrase from “Little Women” (with slight alterations): a Seder isn’t a Seder without any matzo.

I called supermarkets: all out.  I looked on craigslist: lots of requests for matzo, nobody selling it or giving it away.

I told my aunt and she offered to send me some from Seattle.  This seemed slightly ridiculous, but also like a perfect solution: family coming together to save a thousand-year-old holiday ritual via FedEx.  It’s like a commercial come to life.

Of course, it does raise some issues, starting with: is it really worth $30 to overnight matzo?  If you get past the monetary cost (anything for family and tradition, right?) you are confronted with the less-obvious environmental costs: the gas expended on the airplane used to fly it down, the cardboard used to package it.  It is definitely not eating locally.  Did we really want our Seder to contribute to global warming?  Not to mention the social implications of being able to ship boxes of matzo around when there is a worldwide wheat shortage and people are actually starving in developing countries.

Being terrible at making decisions, I passed this one off to my uncle, who went ahead and FedEx-ed the matzo.  It arrived yesterday, to my office.  The Seder was saved!  Tradition trumped environmental and social guilt!

Of course, a half an hour after I received my FedEx tracking number by email, I got an instant message from my roommate saying that her grandmother (who lives in San Francisco) had gotten some matzo from a friend.  This was followed twenty minutes later by another instant message from a friend who is coming to our Seder saying he has extra matzo he can bring.  Then I went to my brother’s Seder, where they ended up with two leftover boxes of matzo, one of which I took home.  Now, instead of no matzo, we will probably have too much.

To make the whole situation even more ironic, I was asked to drive to Sacramento yesterday for work, so I did not go in to my office.  I asked my brother to pick up the FedEx-ed matzo, but he might not be coming to my Seder, and it is possible it will never arrive.

What is the lesson to take from all of this?  I can think of a few possibilities.

One: Exhaust all local options before turning to outside help.

Two: Murphy’s Law holds – as soon as you don’t need something, it will appear in abundance.  If Doug had never FedEx-ed the matzo, no one would have found any, and we would have been matzo-less.  Since he spent the time and money, we ended up not needing it.

Three: Shop early for dinner parties, especially when they involve unusual foods.

Four: God will bring you matzo one way or another, even if you are not really an observant Jew.


Apr. 26th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
Another possibility: rumors of matzo shortage resulted in a feedback loop in which people were buying more than they needed, which both exacerbated the shortage but actually created localized, hidden surpluses.

Probably not what happened, but it's always interesting to see feedback loops between perceived and actual shortages. Like when people think their bank is in danger and lots of people withdraw their money... economics is full of examples of this kind of problem.
Apr. 26th, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
I think that is at least partially true - partly because people panicked but also because matzo is often sold in packs of 5 boxes, which is enough for a family for a whole week - but if you just want it for a night, or for one person, it's way too much. So people often end up with more than they need, even though the store is out.