SAN FRANCISCO--Every year around this time, many Jews spend a week eating just one bread product: a bland flatbread called matzah.
The yearly ritual is designed to recall the unleavened bread eaten by our ancestors as they fled Egypt without time to prepare proper food provisions.
For modern Jews, the culinary challenges of Passover are relatively minor. Despite some kvetching over things like how to trying to bring matzah to work in fewer than a million pieces, the Passover ritual is not that difficult. In big cities, Americans have access not just to plain matzah, but also to all kinds of baked goods made from the wafer-like bread.
This year, though, just getting matzah has been a challenge. There's something of a shortage in a number of places, including here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I went to at least eight grocery stores without procuring a single box.
As someone who's never had to struggle to have enough to eat, there is something fitting about having to scrounge around to get sufficient matzah to last for the week-long festival.
At home, my partner and I have been figuring out how to make do with a box and a half of year-old matzah. The shortage was the prime topic at a large seder (Passover meal and service) this weekend. Several of us were still talking about how we were still short on the needed Matzah, when one friend announced that he had a few extra boxes and gave those less well off some of his spares.
I found the exercise fitting for the holiday. Passover is about remembering the exodus from slavery in Egypt in biblical times, but also about paying mind to the inequities in our own lives.
But around the globe and even in places close to home it means more people are going hungry. Food is perhaps the most pressing scarcity, but there are so many areas where our global abundance of resources is not reaching many in the community.
The personal computer, for example, has reached approximately the first 1 billion people, but that leaves several billion that have yet to experience its possibilities. I saw some of this first hand earlier this month as I traveled to Brazil and Colombia to look at efforts to broaden computer access.
In Colombia, I saw how access to computers meant employment possibilities for people that had been maimed by land mines. In a country without many laws promoting jobs for the disabled and where unemployment is high even for those without physical challenges, those who have such injuries face little opportunities for work.
In the rural community of Corinto, an area at the crossroads of the country's civil war, I saw students using decade-old machines that could barely access the Internet. Still, they had found great use for what we consider obsolete computers. They were using the PCs to chart crops, as part of a broader effort that aims to use technology to help those in rural communities find sustainable agricultural work in an effort to stem the defection of people either to cities or to the guerrilla groups.
Neither Passover nor this blog is about coming up with all of the answers immediately, but it is a reflection on the work that remains unfinished. I am reminded of the Jewish teaching, popular at Passover, that "It is not upon us to finish the task, nor are we free not to begin."
Update 4:30 p.m.: This YouTube video, clearly made in anticipation of a more plentiful matzah environment, shows some fun other uses for the stuff. My mom sent me the link, so I had to add it.