January 17, 2019

Passover: The season of freedom and chocolate

Passover’s causes have always included freedom, peoplehood and monotheism, and Passover’s chocolate layers new concerns onto these age-old themes. 

In the mid-20th century, Bartons Candy bundled kosher-for-Passover treats such as chocolate matzah, matzah balls, and Almond Kisses with educational materials about Jewish life and religion. While the family-owned Bartons company no longer exists, Almond Kisses may still be found. In the Bartons Haggadah issued in 1944, the Orthodox company founder and president, Stephen Klein, explained: “The personnel and management of Bartons Candy Corp. send you greetings at this Passover season. This haggadah is part of Bartons’ program of presenting useful and informative literature for each Jewish holiday — placed in every box of Bartons’ confections.” For Klein and his company, chocolate furthered the cause of Judaism.

More recently, Sarah Gross explained to me that her Brooklyn-based company, Rescue Chocolate, donates 100 percent of its net profits to animal rescue organizations. In previous years, her company has produced “Don’t Pass Over Me” bark, a Passover-inspired chocolate matzah bark that used the holiday as an opportunity to support rescued animals. Through her Jewish education in Sunday school and for her bat mitzvah, Gross learned the basics of kosher laws. That, along with becoming a vegan at age 14, focused her attention on what she was eating and on animals as living beings. Using chocolate to further her pet crusade, Gross features a Passover treat, Don’t Passover Me Cashew Clusters, available on the Rescue Chocolate Web site.

This year, a number of new campaigns responded to the issue of fair trade chocolates. Until recently, no kosher-for-Passover chocolate was certified to be fair trade, made without child slavery, which was a particularly sad irony at Pesach. Finally, there is one that is both ethically and ritually approved, developed by Rabbi Aaron Alexander, associate dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. A recent collaboration among Fair Trade Judaica, T’ruah and Equal Exchange Chocolate has created a fundraising program partnership for synagogues and organizations that makes Equal Exchange’s fair trade and kosher chocolate available. 

The Virtual Fair Trade Chocolate at Seder campaign encourages placing some cocoa beans on the Passover seder plate to prompt further awareness of child slavery in the chocolate industry, especially in West Africa. Photos of cocoa beans, a cocoa tree or purchasing a tax-deductible “virtual” fair trade chocolate bar would also help keep in mind the importance of kosher-for-Passover chocolate companies seeking fair trade certification.

I wrote “A Haggadah for a Chocolate Seder” (free download can be found on my Web site at jews-onthechocolatetrail.org), which provdes an entry point to awareness about the issues of slavery, worker’s rights, poverty, economic justice and fair trade in the chocolate business. In it, chocolate becomes the medium for uncovering themes of ethical kashrut, worker equity and food justice, while spotlighting Passover’s underlying messages of freedom, dignity and fairness. The haggadah recognizes those who labor, often in great poverty, to grow and harvest cacao, including thousands of children and adolescents who work in bondage on the cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana. To highlight these issues, you can select passages from the haggadah to add to your seder celebration or run a full chocolate seder.

Each of these chocolate causes builds on a long tradition of Passover values and Jewish ideals. As we slather chocolate onto our matzah this Pesach, may our chocolate causes and choices advance freedom. 

Chocolate Matzah Brickle

This easy-to-prepare concoction works for Passover or for whenever. We enjoyed combining roasted almonds, candied orange peel, cocoa nibs and candied ginger for added zest.

2 pounds dark chocolate, chips or broken
into pieces 

1⁄4 cup vegetable oil

1⁄2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

1 box matzah sheets, broken into quarters

1 cup chopped nuts

1 cup chopped dried fruits

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Once melted, thin the chocolate with the vegetable oil; stir in the vanilla or almond extract. Coat the matzah, nuts and dried fruits with the chocolate and spread onto the prepared baking sheet.

Place the sheet in the refrigerator for at least 1⁄2 hour to cool. 

Once cool and hardened, remove from the pan and break into bite-size bits. Store in a closed container.

Makes 10 servings.