In the weeks before Passover, there’s a Chabad representative firing up a 700-degree oven in nearly every time zone. One of the many innovative staple-programs of Chabad Houses, the Model Matzah Bakery has become a traditional pre-Passover event for thousands of children worldwide.
Matzah, Passover’s essential flatbread that commemorates the Jewish people’s flight from slavery in Egypt, is the holiday’s most recognizable symbol. With the wild popularity of Chabad’s Model Matzah Bakeries, Jewish children—and adults—of all backgrounds have a chance to participate in the meticulous and precise matzah-baking experience while learning about the history and traditions of the Festival of Freedom.
So immense is the demand for Model Matzah Bakeries that the Shluchim Office, an idea-generating clearinghouse for supplies and programs implemented at Chabad centers around the world, filled orders for 125,000 matzah bakery hats this year. Around the world, children baking the matzahs get into uniform with paper hats of the fast-food worker variety, customized with Chabad Model Matzah Bakery logos, printed in English, French, German, Portugese and Spanish. Because matzahs baked at the model bakeries are not up to true Passover standards, Chabad centers will be distributing real shmurah, matzahs.
In the Jewish Federation Council’s building near southern California’s Conejo Valley, Chabad will be introducing 1,000 children to the art of baking handmade matzahs. Students from Temple Ner Maarav, Temple Aliyah, Kadima Hebrew Academy, Congregation Bnei Emet will start the matzah-making process by removing wheat kernels from their stalks, winnowing chaff and grinding the grain into flour by mini-millstone.
More than 20,000 children are expected at the model matzah bakery in Kfar Chabad, Israel. Chabad of North Jersey’s fleet of six traveling bakeries is bringing matzah making magic to 5,500 Jewish children and teens in the few weeks before Passover.
Just like Jersey, the 1,000 or so children in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, who gleefully perforate their discs of dough to give their matzahs the characteristic spotted appearance (made to eliminate leaven-filled dough pockets) will be engaging in “much more than an arts and crafts activity,” said Chabad representative Rabbi Boruch Heidingsfeld. Taking cues from Chabad of Winnipeg’s director, Rabbi Avrohom Altein, Rabbi Heidingsfeld’s presentation allows children to discover “as much about Pesach as we can fit in an hour long program.”
Chabad’s Model Matzah Bakeries began in the late seventies in locations like Livingston, NJ, Chicago and Los Angeles, to give children a direct, hands-on Passover experience, says Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, Director of the Living Legacy Division of Chabad of Livingston, NJ. A winning idea, the bakeries have since fine-tuned their routine to maximize the educational experience for children.
When Jane Mellman’s class of four-year-olds at Har Shalom Early Childhood Center in Potomac, MD, roll out rounds of matzah dough at the Model Matzah Bakery set up by Chabad, they will add a new dimension to their relationship with the holiday. “So much of Pesach is theoretical,” said Mellman, “anything that is a multi-sensory and concrete experience can only enhance their understanding of Pesach.”
Matzah Bakeries are not just for kids. Parents help their children turn the lump of dough into a shapely circle at Chabad’s Model Matzah Bakery in the JCC of Greater New Haven, CT. “Many parents that are coming do not have much information about Passover. It is a learning experience for them as well,” said JCC of Greater New Haven Family Program Director Merav Canaan. “Because it is hands on it is more memorable.”
Baking matzah on location requires lots of preparation work. Bentzi Groner is part of a Model Matzah Bakery team that has traveled to Rockland Community College in upstate NY and will be in Greenwich, CT, and Stamford, CT, before Passover arrives. “The locations do not need to provide anything,” said Groner, “We bring everything tables, bags of wheat, bags of flour.” Set up can take up to three hours.
Possibly the busiest model matzah bakery outfit in the U.S. originates from Tzivos Hashem – Chabad’s youth division has their traveling model matzah requirements down to a checklist. A good AC outlet, knowledge of fuse box location, ceilings at least 9 ft. tall are all important, according to Tzivos Hashem’s holiday workshop site www.Jewishchildren.com. Thorough preparation and organization allow director Rabbi Michoel Albukerk and his assistants to set up and take down bakeries at two or three locations a day in the run up to Passover.
Erica Solomon of Tarzana, CA, who remembers baking matzahs at a Model Bakery at Chabad when she was in grade school, is bringing her three young sons to the Model Matzah Bakery this year. Making matzahs has become part of her family’s Passover celebration. “It simply isn’t Passover without a visit to Chabad’s matzah bakery.”