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Making matzah at the JCC

Connor Kinsella delivers his matzah to be baked.

It is not everyday that preschoolers get cooking lessons during school. Normally, the children at the Sam Pomeranz Jewish Community Center’s Jerome and Phyllis Charney Early Childhood Development Program learn to draw, sing, dance, and read the alphabet. However, the rules are different for Passover. Just as leavened bread is replaced by matzah, the childrens’ regular routine was replaced by a short but fun baking class where they made their own matzah—and they even wore hats that said so!

The Model Matzah Bakery is an annual event organized worldwide by Chabad Lubavitch in which rabbis and rabbinical students conduct matzah-making workshops for children in the days leading up to Passover.

“I used to love Model Matzah Bakery as a kid,” Mendel Wolowik, 23, said. Wolowik, along with Tzemach Shemtov, 22, conducted the Model Matzah Bakery at the JCC of Syracuse under the guidance of Rabbi Rapoport of Chabad Lubavitch of Central New York. Both Wolowik and Shemtov are rabbinical students in Brooklyn, New York.

Ethan Orcutt rolls out his matzah dough.
Ethan Orcutt rolls out his matzah dough.

“The excitement of a child is very hard to replace but as a kid,” Wolowik added. “I couldn’t wait to do it every year. And now, as an adult doing the workshop on the other side, it feels different but in a good way, like I’m doing something to pass on the traditions to our future generations, just like the people before me did when I was young.”

Wolowik and Shemtov guided the children through each step of making matzah from scratch. But while Wolowik enlightened the young bakers about facts like the highest temperature of an oven and why matzah must be made in under 18 minutes, Shemtov made sure to include all the children in the baking process.

“All the kids deserve the attention and to feel like they belong,” said Shemtov. “I try to get the quiet ones at the back to come up front and add the water and the flour to the bowl. It helps them feel more comfortable in the group so that they truly enjoy participating in it.”

Shemtov has worked with kids before as a camp counselor and he tries to use that experience to make the Model Matzah Bakery a meaningful activity for all the kids.

“You can’t make matzah without water,” ECDP student Inri Stitt, 4, remarked as she finished pouring water into the mixing bowl. “It is important.”

“Do you think it will taste good?” Shemtov asked her, crouching down to her level.

“Now it will,” she answered proudly and went back to her place on the table. It was time to start rolling the dough. Six of the precious 18 minutes were already over but she was on top of things and her dough-smeared rolling pin was testimony to that fact.