Every holiday has its rites and customs. There’s the food (a tradition itself) that is always served in a particular snowflake-dappled bowl at Christmas or on the special bunny-shaped platter at Easter. There are the salt-and-pepper shakers in the shape of Pilgrims that are trotted out at Thanksgiving. And, of course, there are the occasional new acquisitions.
Lately, Passover, the commemoration of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt, has been getting into the act. The holiday, which runs this year from Monday to April 18, has become an opportunity for entrepreneurs, who sell related merchandise that ranges from the serious (like new versions of the Haggadah, the text that tells the story of Passover) to the ridiculous. (A matzo-print skullcap? A bargain at $8.99.)
Last year, American consumers spent $1.3 billion on Passover food, gifts, textiles and assorted Judaica, according to Menachem Lubinsky, the head of Lubicom, a marketing consultant firm. The figure has grown 12 percent annually since 2011.
“The fact is, Passover is the most widely observed holiday on the Jewish calendar,” Mr. Lubinsky said. “Seventy percent of American Jews go to at least one Seder.”
The holiday, he said, is “an opportunity for small-business owners and manufacturers to access a larger base of consumers than usual.” In particular, since observant Jews do not eat certain foods during the eight days of Passover — most notably, bread — the market seems ripe for tasty substitutes.
But that opportunity comes with obstacles. Because most grocery stores allocate only a few shelves to Passover items, Mr. Lubinsky said, “there has to be a good reason to displace something in the old mix.”
Passover is also so steeped in tradition that many Jews, observant or not, base their purchasing decisions on ironbound family customs.
“People who are very strict about the holiday are not going to venture out of their boundaries,” said Dobi Raskin, a manager of Benz’s Food, a Brooklyn-based purveyor of fish and groceries. “They just want to eat matzo and brisket for eight days.”
Ms. Raskin’s new holiday products include Bubby Rolls (raw frozen gefilte fish) and frozen salmon rolls, which are thawed and then baked. “We’re thinking, ‘What can we make that’s so good our customers will say, ‘I can’t believe this is kosher for Passover?’ ” she said.
There have been a few failures. A few years ago, Benz’s tried some special holiday herring flavors, including one called Mediterranean, “but they bombed,” Ms. Raskin said.
Those unfortunate herrings notwithstanding, other companies have found success with kosher-for-Passover bagels, pizza, croutons — and bacon.
Actually, that’s “facon,” kosher beef bacon from Jack’s Gourmet, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of glatt kosher deli meats and sausages. (Glatt, which means smooth, refers to the type of animal from which the meat is taken — one with smooth, or adhesion-free, lungs.)
For the company’s owner, Jack Silberstein, Passover is all about striking a balance between cookbook and prayer book. Fennel, mustard and other spices are not certified kosher for the holiday, which pares Mr. Silberstein’s holiday product line to items like hot and sweet Italian sausages, a spicy Italian-style salami and kielbasa.
“I think when we started we were considered a novelty,” Mr. Silberstein said. “Now, we’re considered a staple in many kitchens.”
He has expanded distribution beyond independently owned kosher grocers to stores like Costco, Ralph’s, Winn-Dixie and Sam’s Club. “You have a lot of Jews who are not very observant during the year, but they take Passover very seriously,” he said.
Purveyors of specialty items may find it well worth the push to get their goods on shelves next to the tried-and-true jars of borscht and bottles of grape juice. While traditional Passover products are subject to price wars, “companies that come up with a new sauce or a condiment have no competition, so they can charge more,” Mr. Lubinsky said.
Passover innovations aren’t limited to food. There are also new takes on the Haggadah. “The Family (and Frog!) Haggadah,” by Rabbi Ron Isaacs and Karen Rostoker-Gruber, aims to be both child-friendly and Seder-appropriate. (Amphibians figure in the Exodus story.) The disruptive frog in the story spills the wine, bathes in the bowl of salt water and expresses his intention to make the evening “TOADily awesome.”
“Adults get bored at the Seder, too,” said Ann Koffsky, an editor at Behrman House, the book’s publisher. “Frog gives voice to our ‘Can we eat yet?’ desire.”
Up next year from Behrman House: a Haggadah aimed at interfaith families.
Rabbi Moshe Rosenberg of Congregation Etz Chaim in Queens has just self-published “The (Unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah,” which braids traditional Seder text with commentary linking the worlds of Harry Potter and Jews. “How can you learn your innermost yearnings from your enemy?” is one provocative question the Hogwarts Haggadah asks, making comparisons between Pharaoh Ramses II and the Death Eater Barty Crouch Jr.
Rabbi Rosenberg’s Haggadah sold 2,300 copies in the first week after its release in March.
“People want something new,” Rabbi Rosenberg said. “If you don’t allow for some flexibility, you’ll lose people completely, or their thinking will be, ‘Oh, now I have to sit through a Seder that’s exactly the same as the one last year.’ ”
The last big Haggadah release was in 2012, when the writer Jonathan Safran Foer edited the “New American Haggadah,” published by Little, Brown. Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic, contributed to the book and presented a copy to President Barack Obama, who hosted Seders at the White House. According to Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Obama quickly looked through the book and — without missing a beat — said, “Does this mean that we can’t use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?” (As part of a promotion, Maxwell House has published a version of the Seder text.)
Because children play a starring role in the Seder (a slog even for some parents), many new products are aimed at the younger set. Rite Lite, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer of Judaica, has several new children’s games and crafts that are also meant to appeal to “adults who might want a more chilled-out Seder,” said Naftoli Versch, the company’s marketing director. One is a set of 10 finger puppets, each representing one of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians as payback for their harsh treatment of the Jews. Another is a board game called Seder Slides, in which players must make their way out of Egypt and into the desert. (Think Chutes and Ladders with sand and sandals.)
Davida Lampkin Tydings, whose company sells Jewish-themed apparel and other products, can perhaps be forgiven for wishing Passover were celebrated twice a year. “It’s responsible for 50 percent of my revenue,” she said.
Searching for a baby bib that says “Little Mensch” or “Future Doctor”? Ms. Tyding’s company, Davida Aprons, aims to deliver, specializing in textiles with a high kitsch factor. This is the place to buy matzo-print lounge pants, an “Oy Vey!” baseball cap and a toilet seat cover that says, “Let My People Go.” A matzo print sports bra is in the offing.
“Passover is a very serious holiday,” Ms. Tydings said. “But it’s also celebrated for eight days, so people enjoy having different and fun things. Even the Orthodox love our stuff.”
They include Larry and Chana Stiefel, who collect Passover paraphernalia. When the couple renovated their house in Teaneck, N.J., eight years ago, they added a closet in the basement to store their cache of Passover-themed items, which includes oven mitts, aprons, towels, puzzles, games, Egyptian-style headdresses and that punny toilet seat cover.
“Our kids roll their eyes, but they get into it,” said Ms. Stiefel, 48, a children’s book author. “Passover can be a holiday where you can get very stressed with all the cleaning and the cooking, and it can take a long time to get through the Haggadah. We try to make it fun.”
This year, Ms. Stiefel and her husband, a pediatrician, have acquired an inflatable pharaoh punching bag, a windup matzo ball, a Moses costume complete with twin tablets and a set of flexible plastic frog straws.
“Some of our guests think we go a little too far, but most of them like it,” Dr. Stiefel said. “We think if we make the Seder fun and engaging, there’s a great likelihood that our children will carry on our religious tradition.”