Learning to bake `the bread of affliction'

April 16, 2003|By Fay Lande

Jerad Bates stood ready between two canvas booths - one for flour, one for water. He held a bowl in which to mix the two.

In the traditional matzo bakery re-created Sunday at the Lubavitch Center for Jewish Education's open house, the flour and water for Passover matzo were kept secure in their separate booths before they were mixed, and baked, in 18 minutes.

Eighteen is the mystical number for life, but matzo, called the "bread of affliction," has other meanings. The Jewish people baked matzo because there was no time to let bread rise before their exodus from Egypt, said Rabbi Hillel Baron of the Lubavitch Center. Passover, the eight-day festival that begins tonight, is a celebration of their journey to freedom.

For matzo to be strictly kosher for Passover, or Pesach, not even the tiniest bit of flour must be allowed to puff up. According to the Talmud (part of the Jewish oral tradition) dough begins to rise after 18 minutes.

"What [leavened bread] represents is pride and arrogance, and that is not to be tolerated in the least bit," Baron said. "And that's the lesson of Pesach ... a good dosage of humility. That's the matzo. At that time, they experienced the revelation of the divine presence, which totally humbled them."

Jerad kneaded and rolled the dough and cut it into chunks. He and other young people and adults, who came from an after-school program in Annapolis, rolled the chunks into flat circles with rolling pins, pricked them with cylinders covered with small spikes, and draped them over long poles.

Jerad lifted a pole draped with the doughy circles into the synagogue's pizza oven, and carefully rolled the matzo flat. Minutes later, the hot baked matzo, covered with brown bubbles of dough, was chewy and sweet.

"It's good. And healthy," Baron said. "No cholesterol!"

The Luvavitch Center's model matzo bakery was open to school groups for three weeks before Sunday's open house. About 2,000 children and adults attended. It was the model bakery's 17th year.

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