Preschool children rise to unleavened heights Chizuk Amuna center youths learn how matzo is made at Howard factory

April 03, 1996|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,SUN STAFF

The unleavened round bread raised eyebrows and taste buds.

"I don't know what it tastes like," said 5-year-old Frances Loucks, "but it's yummy."

The preschooler at Chizuk Amuna Early Childhood Educational Center in Pikesville was among 60 children last week who visited Howard County's only matzo factory, at the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education in West Columbia, to learn about matzo and Passover.

The eight-day Jewish holiday, which begins tonight,commemorates the story of ancient Jews' flight from bondage in Egypt.

They fled so quickly that their bread dough didn't have time to rise hence the Passover tradition of eating unleavened bread, or matzo, instead of leavened grains.

But there's more to matzo than just that.

"The matzo is flat," said Hillel Baron, the Orthodox Jewish center's rabbi.

"It symbolizes how people should always be humble."

For the ninth consecutive year, the rabbi stood before students inside his makeshift matzo factory to talk about the Jewish food of faith. He was part comic, part history teacher.

"Shalom, boys and girls," he said, offering the traditional Hebrew greeting.

"Before you came I was all alone. Baking matzo is a big job. You need a lot of help to make matzo."

To prepare the 18 Chizuk Amuna students, Rabbi Baron gave each a white paper "matzo baker's hat."

"Now that you have the official uniform, what shape is the matzo?" he asked

Some children answered "square." Others said "circle." Both answers are right.

"Here, we make them by hand," the rabbi continued, "just like the first matzo by Jewish people who left the land of Egypt. They were in a great big hurry."

In Israel, rabbis guard the matzo bakery, Rabbi Baron said. "We guard the dough so it doesn't rise. That kind of dough is great for bagels or doughnuts. But it's not good for matzo because matzo has to remain flat, flat, flat."

Matzo's ingredients, water and flour, are kept apart so they don't mix prematurely, he said.

Children volunteered to enter makeshift booths for each ingredient and poured some into an aluminum mixing bowl that the rabbi held.

He then mixed the ingredients and invited the children to sing "Dayenu."

"Slow down you're making my yarmulke [skullcap] fall off," the rabbi complained. "You're making me work so hard. Can I take a rest?

"No," he answered himself. Jewish law requires that matzo be made -- from start to finish in just 18 minutes.

"Do you know why you put holes in matzo?" Rabbi Baron asked.

"So it can breathe," a girl answered correctly.

"Or so the matzo becomes holy," he joked.

Later, each child got a small piece of dough to roll between theirfingers. Using a wooden rolling pin, they flattened the dough on flour-covered tablecloths. Next, they used a hole-maker to punch tiny holes in to the dough so "it doesn't blow up like a balloon."

Jason Caplan and Jonathan Klein, both 5, rolled their dough on a rear table. When Jason put some in his mouth, Jonathan grimaced in disgust: "Ew!"

Chizuk Amuna teacher Bonny Walker came over to help and lead them in song: "Roll, roll, roll your dough, roll it till it's flat "

When finished, the boys handed their flat products to Rabbi Baron, who used a wooden pole to stick them into a pizza oven set at 600 degrees.

In two minutes, the matzo were done.

Zoe Rammelcamp, 5, enjoyed her round, brown-spotted treat but complained that crumbs were "getting all over my dress."

Matzo taste something like unsalted crackers, several teachers noted. Jelly, cream cheese or tomato sauce would be welcomed spreads, they said.

But these matzo were not kosher. To be kosher, Rabbi Baron bTC said, there needs to be much more attention to preparation and cleanup.

The rolling pins, for example, must be sanded down after each use to get rid of residual dough.

Michelle Levin of Ellicott City brought her daughter, Ariel, 3 1/2 , to the factory to join her classmates from Beth El Congregation Pre-school in Baltimore.

"It helps them understand some of the rules of Passover," the Social Security Administration programmer said.

"They learn they can't eat bread."

But she added: "Passover is my least favorite holiday because I don't like matzo."

Ariel disagreed: "Matzo is good."

Before leaving, each child received a box containing a kosher matzo baked in Israel to save for their Passover Seder. They also got one more thing: "Happy Passover," Rabbi Baron said.

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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