update: my boss makes us all keep the office kosher for Passover

Remember the letter-writer whose boss makes everyone keep the office kitchen kosher for Passover? Here’s an update.

First of all, thank you for explaining why my boss must do what he does during Passover. Even if he wasn’t the sole owner, his business partner would probably be Jewish too, like his wife or brother. He’s 76 years old and this is routine for him, which is probably why it hasn’t crossed his mind to explain himself.

The boss’ son is even more observant than his father – wears a kippah every day and keeps to the laws of kashrut even more tightly than his parents. But he is a little more even handed when it comes to accommodating us Gentiles, maybe because he’s much younger, or perhaps because we accommodate his kosher observances much of the time when we lunch as a group. (There’s only one certified kosher restaurant within a reasonable driving distance.) I broached the fate of the refrigerator come Passover, because we don’t want to inconvenience the 78-year-old Jewish grandmother (who is a sweet heart) and let her lunch sit warm at her desk. We discussed buying a small fridge to be the kosher for Passover fridge and I volunteered to find it. I’m looking for a fridge large enough to accommodate those two liter kosher for Passover Coca-Cola bottles they bring. It may only be used for four days this year and next year, but it’s the little things that make a difference.

As for coffee, there’s really only three coffee drinkers, one of them being the boss and one of them being me. The third drinker makes coffee at home, so he can bring it to work, and I’ve found a favorite breakfast joint that makes a good mocha, so I can bring it in too. We all suffer by making do without snacks. I think we’ve found a suitable compromise where everyone wins.

I’ll update you should something not go according to plan come Pesach. Thank you!

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. Gentile employee

    Glad you found a compromise that works! I’m a gentile employee of a Jewish organization and I struggle during Passover every year to figure out what to do about food since the whole building has to be kosher for Passover. Usually what I do is just eat lunch outside the building that week after exploring recipes and then rejecting them! The rest of the year, we have a strictly kosher kitchenette on one floor and the other floor’s kitchen is for non kosher food. Works for all of us!

      1. KSM

        Any property owned by an observant Jew must be entirely kosher for Pesach (Passover cleaning is seriously intense, house-wide, takes days… you can look up youtube videos about it, often funny ones. It involves lots of tinfoil).

        Often people will ‘sell’ a single chametz-y (chametz: the main thing that is forbidden for Passover) cabinet to a Gentile for a nominal sum for the week, and then after Passover buy it back (minus a ‘tip’ for the signatory Gentile).

        This becomes significantly more complicated when one is attempting to sell entire buildings, especially businesses, because that gets into “interesting” parts of property, tax, and business law in the country & area of residence. The Jewish seller may also *not use or enter* the chametz-holding property sold to a Gentile because, well, they don’t own it anymore. Not a problem if it’s a single cabinet; becomes harder if it’s an entire business. Often businesses that are inherently chametzy (bakeries or liquor stores, which feature booze made from grains) will close, or the Gentile owner will get the profits until bought back (more complicated), or something like that.

        1. OP Gentile

          I’ve heard of my current boss selling his chametz to former employees. He hasn’t done that in my tenure.

          1. Leah

            I often sell my chametz to colleagues. There was one in particular who was really into reminding me to leave early on Fridays for shabbat and liked being part of my passover experience. It was pretty cool.

        2. Katie the Fed

          I buy my friend’s chametz ever Passover for a penny :)

          It’s a cute tradition we have.

          1. Kerry

            Yeah, we ‘sell’ ours to a friend every year – he comes over to do the Very Serious Property exchange (ie, he gives us 1p) and to taste the whisky he’s ‘buying’ to make sure it’s up to scratch. :)

      2. KSM

        Also fun: one rabbi I know made a point of bringing the Gentile buyers to people’s Chametz cabinets to sip their finest whiskeys (why whiskeys? surprise, they’re chametz, and expensive to boot) to reinforce the point that during Passover, the Jewish residents *don’t own the chametz cabinet*, which is something that is often treated as a mere formality.

        It caused consternation in some quarters (i.e. whiskey fiends) and applause in others (i.e. rabbis).

        1. Kerry

          He’s a rabbi so he’d presumably know better than I do, but I always thought you weren’t supposed to open the cabinet during Pesach!

          1. KSM

            Specifically, the risks of opening the cabinet are:

            (1) the previous Jewish owner no longer owns the cabinet, so he should not be rifling through someone else’s belongings (even if both parties know it’s only temporary)
            and
            (2) fear of chametzing up the house

            For (1), the Gentile owner is the one doing the opening, and for (2), they are presumably doing the drinking outside and hoping the cabinet isn’t actually full of chametz crumbs that will spill out, avalanche-style, onto the floor.

    1. August

      Is this building in Israel? I have worked in my company’s Israeli campus where there were two kitchens and dining halls (dairy and non dairy). However, it didn’t matter to me because I am a vegetarian, so most of the food I eat is already kosher !!!

    2. Blue_eyes

      Eating out sounds like the best option. Plus anything you made at home would not be kosher for Passover, because you wouldn’t have kashered your home kitchen for Passover.

  2. AMG

    Amazing how many problems can be solved by everyone being courteous of other people. Well done!

  3. Karyn

    Believe me, as a Jew, Passover isn’t fun for me either. I’m lax about my Kosher laws, though… I just avoid the biggies (wheat, rye, oats, spelt, and barley). I don’t clean my whole house or pantry out or try to figure out if there is any wheat byproduct in the stuff that’s IN my food. As long as I’m not eating a sandwich or a bowl of pasta, I consider myself covered. I’m a convert and I elect to pretend I’m a Sephardic Jew so I can eat rice and beans. The year I realized I could have a Chipotle burrito bowl with rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, and guac was the best Passover of my life. Glad you guys found a compromise!

    1. OP Gentile

      In my conversation with the boss’ son, he volunteered to clean the small fridge for Passover, after he cleans his condo, his parents’ house, his car, and his parents’ cars. I sympathize. I’d clean the fridge for them, but he’s a bit particular (understandably).

      Of the (now) five Jews in the office, they each keep various levels of observance and it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about and share cultural and religious practices… except when it comes to food. The son is a foodie, so we talk about food a lot. I often forget that he can’t eat a lot of the food that I enjoy, so I’ve raved about all kinds of non-certified-kosher restaurants to him, suggesting he try it out. I never bring food from my kitchen, although sometimes I still volunteer it. So, in order to share food, he brings his kosher chili every New Year’s Eve and the rest of us bring pre-packaged kosher foods. I also bring sour cream (because it cuts the heat of the chili nicely) and I love that the respect goes both ways: we don’t give them grief for abiding by kashrut laws, and they don’t give us grief for plopping the sour cream and shredded cheese on our chili. :D

      1. the gold digger

        When I was seeing my orthodox Jew acupuncturist at the drug-rehab clinic the first time, he told me he was going to commute to Memphis to work on his PhD there. I raved about all the places he should eat, including Central BBQ and The BBQ Shop, and then realized, Oh. BBQ. I was raised on BBQ beef, but Memphis BBQ is pork.

        “You can’t eat it, can you?” I asked. “Not kosher?”

        He smiled and shook his head. “I just take my own food,” he said.

        1. Katie the Fed

          “orthodox Jew acupuncturist at the drug-rehab clinic”

          Something about this just really sounds like a plot of Curb Your Enthusiasm

  4. AMT

    I’m really glad that she felt comfortable enough to broach the subject with her boss. The situation sounded really inconvenient for the non-Jewish employees, although I can see why he may have felt obligated to have these requirements. The boss is apparently accommodating enough to buy a new fridge–he sound like a keeper!

  5. TCO

    I’m so glad to hear that you work in such a respectful office, OP! Congratulations to all of you for finding so many ways to respect each other’s religious observances and practical needs, not just during Passover but year-round.

  6. Blue_eyes

    Re: Snacks. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always kosher for Passover (as long as they haven’t been sliced or otherwise prepared in a non-kosher lichen), so you could bring those. Could your boss provide some kosher for Passover snacks for everyone? Honestly Passover candy is the only good thing about the holiday. It’s not great candy, but when so many things are prohibited, it’s nice to have a treat. Fruit slices and chocolate covered marshmallow sticks are my favorites. Dried fruits and nuts are also allowed, so you could have those if they’re marked for Passover. If your local grocery store carries Passover food you could check it out and buy a few things to try. Sometimes you can find K for P Dannon yogurt and Lays potato chips.

      1. TV Researcher

        Oy… this comment just brought back memories of the matzah, cream cheese and jelly sandwiches my mother would send me and my brother to school with during Passover. As she would tell me, it could be worse… she could have sent me with sardine and matzah sandwiches.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale

          When I grew up and did my own shopping, I was shocked that Breakstone’s makes Temp Tee all year round! In Baltimore, it was a Passover-only thing, but in NYC you could get it whenever. Didn’t matter, I still only buy the stuff at Passover. Temp Tee on matzah with, yes, a little jelly (strawberry!) tastes like childhood to me.

          Pro-tip: now that I am a grown-up and I make my own lunches, I pack the cream cheese and jelly in a separate container so they don’t get the matzah all soggy! Also good: matzah, butter, and cheese.

          1. Blue_eyes

            We only buy Temp Tee all year. And yes, matzo, cream cheese and jelly is a classic. We usually have it for breakfast and then have matzo with cheese or cold cuts for lunch.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger

            Now you have me hungry for a matzah, egg, and cheese sandwich! (It wasn’t a Passover thing, it was just something I would pester my mom into making for me as often as I could, and we were more likely to have matzah in the house around that time of year.)

          3. Leah

            Try matzah with cream cheese and avocado. Amazing! I like adding a slice or two of cucumber and or tomato sometimes.

    1. JB

      There are KFP marshmallows. Those of us with corn allergies count down to Passover every year so that we can stock up. And for people who don’t mind ordering snacks online, Shabtai Gourmet has some pretty good snack cakes.

      1. JB

        Actually, even if you aren’t KFP, if you are gluten-free, I highly recommend Shabtai Gourmet.

      2. SandraG

        So, these marshmallows don’t contain Gelatin then? I’m Vegan & Gentile but my Boss is Jewish and has assigned me the task of prepping the office for Passover. The rest of the staff is also Gentile.

  7. Marina

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper for the boss to have the local kosher restaurant cater lunches for Passover rather than buy a fridge that’ll only be used four days a year…?

    1. Kerry

      You can use the fridge for the rest of the year as long as you clean it properly before Pesach, and also you only have to buy it once.

    2. Monodon monoceros

      A small fridge is pretty cheap though. Probably cheaper than buying lunches I’d say.

    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      Most Kosher restaurants shut down over Passover– the kitchen has to be cleaned in a special way that takes a lot of time and detail, so it’s often easier for restaurants to just close altogether for the week.

  8. CAndy

    A close friend works in an office in Haifa. They hired a new guy who they knew in advance was very religious.
    New microwaves were bought, the whole kitchen was duly cleaned and labelled.
    Turned out to be a complete waste of time, he chose to make his own arrangements as he didn’t trust the plates and cutlery and couldn’t be bothered bringing in his own.
    Guess my point is that people will work around stuff like this when they have to.

  9. Maggie

    I understand the US has religion of freedom, but not freedom from religion. Is that why people cannot be protected against being forced to follow a (another) religion’s rules?

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