For the many members of the Jewish community who more or less avoid consuming chametz year-round, Passover brings welcome relief.
“Passover is a big treat for everybody,” said Chana Fishkind, who, along with her two sons, maintains a gluten-free diet. Her husband, she said, just goes with the flow.
Two years ago, Fishkind discovered that her youngest son, who is now 5, couldn’t eat gluten. While transitioning to gluten-free cooking for him, she realized that she was sensitive to gluten too and felt a lot better when she avoided the protein, which is commonly found in wheat and other grains.
While holidays such as Chanukah and Purim may require those who are gluten-free to avoid staples such as jelly doughnuts and hamantashen or seek special recipes, Passover is a holiday where, thanks to halachah, many of those with dietary restrictions can eat just like everybody else.
For Aviva Kidorf, who has severe allergies that require her to avoid gluten, Passover is her favorite holiday.
“Passover doesn’t affect me as much,” she said, comparing the spring holiday with other holidays in the Jewish calendar. Unlike the other holidays, when she watches her family and friends consume some of her once-favorite and now-forbidden foods, she is able to eat most things at her family’s Passover Seder table, although her additional avoidance of sugar does require her to bake her own special desserts.
“I don’t miss things [on Passover],” she said. “Just my Keurig.”
Fishkind and Kidorf are far from alone. Celiac disease, which causes an immune reaction to gluten, is especially common in the Jewish community. Unfortunately for many of the Jewish sufferers of celiac, many staple Jewish foods contain gluten — and lots of it.
“A lot of people have said to me, ‘Wow, I could never do that,’ and I said, ‘You would if you had to,’” said Fishkind. “It’s become a part of our lives.”
Both women’s diets require them to get imaginative in the kitchen. For Fishkind, whose youngest son also cannot have eggs and eldest cannot have nuts, potatoes are a staple. She’s also experimented with pancakes that use banana in place of dairy and flour and even found a recipe for avocado mousse she plans to try for the holiday.
“I have creative cookie recipes that don’t need eggs and use margarine instead,” she said. “I do potato kugel — I substitute zucchini for that. I’ve learned to work with things.”
Recently, that work has become increasingly easier. With the growing popularity of gluten-free food among even those with no dietary restrictions and increased awareness of conditions such as celiac, options for those like Fishkind and Kidorf have exploded in stores such as Wegmans and Whole Foods. Fishkind even sells her own baked goods, including doughnuts and hamantaschen, and business has been great. A lot of her customers aren’t even Orthodox.
Matzoh options have also expanded over time. While years ago people with gluten ailments may have been unable to partake in the eating of matzoh, now there are multiple companies that produce gluten-free varieties, although some special rules apply.
“Growing up, we never heard of such a thing. But a lot of the food products are changing to make it cheaper to make,” said Fishkind. “When my older son first started it was horrendous.”