Children learn to make matzah
March 31, 2007

MUNSTER — As Jews around the world prepare to celebrate Passover, local rabbis demonstrated the Model Matzah Bakery to Jewish youth who filled a meeting hall at the Jewish Federation Community Building.

The preholiday lessons, sponsored by Chabad of Northwest Indiana, were presentations especially for children to keep the traditional precept of matzah — unleavened bread — fresh, according to Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov, the director.

"A lot of what I (practice) isn't so much what I've learned through school, but what I've lived," Zalmanov said.

Since his arrival in Munster more than three years ago, the 27-year-old Zalmanov, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and an Orthodox Jew, has hosted a congregation at his home for religious celebrations.

Rabbi Yossi Brackman, from Chicago's Hyde Park area, greeted attendees and began an interactive conversation with the youngest participants. He said he would be talking about "fun stuff" — that is, the matzah-making process.

He began with a brief history lesson.

Passover recalls the freedom Israelites achieved from slavery imposed by Egyptian pharaohs more than 3,000 years ago. The Book of Exodus says God sent plagues to help Jews gain their independence.

Brackman detailed the symbolic meaning of the elements of the Seder meal. Matzah, made of only two ingredients — mayim and kemach (water and flour) — reminds Jews of their ancestors' hasty departure from Egypt.

The celebratory partaking of the matzah and wine is tempered by the eating of bitter herbs, a reminder of the struggles of bondage.

Displaying a kernel of wheat, Brackman sought volunteers for a threshing exercise. Children stepped up to pulverize the wheat into flour.

Keeping the ingredients apart, volunteers stood behind separate, tent-like partitions, then brought the flour and water together.

From there, the paste was made and taken to long tables, where the excitable children rolled out flat, nearly circular shapes.

Matzah baking in a special oven was completed, mindful of the Kosher rule that the entire process is not to exceed 18 minutes — though the day's exercise was said to be for demonstration purposes only.

"Chametz" is not a likable word and not a likable thing to the rabbis, who said the term denotes a product that has been allowed to leaven and, thus, becomes unacceptable for Passover use.

Matthew Levin, 7, who rolled his own matzah, said he learned specific preparation techniques.

"You put (the matzah) in the oven, but before that, you have to get it all 'holey,' " he said.