With the first night of Passover just a few days away, Jewish families across the North Shore are shopping for ingredients for Seder, the holiday’s ceremonial dinner. Held the first two nights of Passover, traditional Seders include readings, drinking wine, telling stories, singing, and eating special food.
Matzah, an unleavened, flat, crispy bread, features heavily in every Passover Seder.
On the afternoon of March 25, more than 90 local children between the ages of 3 and 13 participated in a hands-on, pre-Passover experience: a free, Model Matzah Factory, just inside the entrance to Mariano’s on Skokie Boulevard, organized by Chabad of Northbrook, a community synagogue and Jewish learning institute on Landwehr Road.
Using ingredients donated by Mariano’s, staff from Chabad led three, 45-minute sessions with 20-25 children making their own piece of matzah from scratch, mixing the flour and water; rolling out the dough; and baking it onsite in special fire ovens.
“We find the best way to educate is not by sitting at a desk, but with a hands-on demonstration,” said Rabbi Meir Moscowitz, Regional Director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois and Senior Rabbi of Chabad of Northbrook.
Northbrook resident Sagit Gago attended the event with three of her four children. Gago watched from a short distance as her three-year old son, Meydan, rolled out a small piece of dough and poked rows of even holes on the surface with a fork, to prevent it from bubbling up and rising. Once finished, Meydan’s dough was transferred to a 600-degree oven, where it cooked for just over a minute.
“We came here last year for the same event,” said Gago, who attends services at Chabad of Northbrook with her family. “It’s great, because it gets my kids asking questions.”
While the freshly made matzahs cooked nearby, Chabad of Northbrook’s youth director, Esther Greenspan — using a bullhorn to be heard above the excitement — engaged the children in a pyramid building competition using plastic cups, and explained the bread’s religious symbolism.
Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt and their freedom from Egyptian slavery more than 3000 years ago. When the Jewish people fled Egypt, they had no time to wait for the bread they were baking to rise. Today, crispy, unleavened matzah is eaten every year on the first night of Passover, commemorating the Jews’ Exodus from Egypt.
While a machine-made, square version of matzah is widely sold in grocery stores, it’s the round, handmade version of the flatbread, called shmura matzah, that’s essential for a traditional, kosher Seder.
“The matzah is round, as they are kneaded and shaped by hand, just as the original matzah that was baked by the Children of Israel as they left Egypt,” said Rabbi Moscowitz.
Chabad of Northbrook regularly partners with Mariano’s for cooking demonstrations. For this year’s Purim celebration on February 28, Chabad organized a baking demonstration of hamentashen; last September, a group of kids visited the Skokie Boulevard grocery store and prepared honey cakes for Rosh Hashana.
“We reached out to Mariano’s about two years ago to partner on these events,” said Greenspan. “It’s really a win-win. They love the foot traffic. and we love having our events in such a communal area.”
Greenspan was quick to point out that actual Passover matzah needs to be manufactured in a highly controlled environment to ensure that it does not become leavened.
“Remember friends,” said Greenspan, “the matzah you are baking today is not kosher for Passover, but feel free to eat it on the way home.”