‘Matzah Factory’ provides hands-on experience for learning about Passover

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The “18-minute rule” for making matzah might have its roots in the Old Testament, but it’s also the cutoff point for the attention spans of young bakers.

Perhaps no one knows this rule better than Rabbi Levi Raskin, director of JCrafts, and last Wednesday, the patient head baker taught eager — and easily distracted — youngsters the importance of matzah at Passover.

Jewish children “all learn about Passover in school,” the 30-year-old rabbi said. “This is to add to that. It’s a learning experience and hands on.”

The “Matzah Factory” was just one of several events in the D.C. area in the run-up to the weeklong Passover holiday, with others scheduled through the week.

The holiday gets its name from the Old Testament story in which God sent 10 plagues to ancient Egypt to persuade the pharaoh to free the Israelites. The final plague was the death of every first-born child unless lamb’s blood was smeared above a home’s doorways, instructing the angel of death to “pass over” the household.

Rabbi Levi Raskin, with JCrafts, teaches children how to make matzah bread at Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring. (photographs by Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

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Rabbi Levi Raskin, with JCrafts, teaches children how to make matzah bread ... more >

Matzah, a bread made without yeast, is a key part of Passover, serving as a reminder of the Israelites’ fleeing Egypt so quickly after being freed that they had no time to wait for their dough to rise.

The Passover story is part of Mr. Raskin’s lesson, though the highlight for his audience was the mixing and mashing of the dough.

Armed with paper chefs hats and rolling pins, a dozen matzah makers set to work in the small auditorium at Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring, flattening the water-and-flour mixture in preparation for a quick trip in the oven, and ultimately their mouths.

Watching her 2- and 3-year-old granddaughters rolling their dough, Jodi Mailman, 56, said she knew they might not understand the significance of the matzah, but she “wanted them to get a bit of familiarity” with the tradition.

“My kids went to nursery school, so this gives me memories of being a mom,” the Silver Spring woman said.

Kimberly Sohl’s 5-year-old son, James, was the most vocal of the small crowd, voicing his opinion on his favorite of the 10 plagues — “fwogs” — and volunteering to help grind wheat into flour.

“He goes to preschool here, and he’s had to [learn] Passover and all the holidays” said Ms. Sohl, 30, adding that James learns best through “stories and play, so for him to learn through something like this is perfect.”

If matzah-making sounds appealing, B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville is hosting a Pesach (Passover) Pizza Party Wednesday and a Matzah Brei Mania event April 21.

Passover begins at sundown Monday, and the Washington Hebrew Congregation is hosting two First Night Seders — one at the temple and one at the Calvary Baptist Church.

Central to Passover is the seder, a meal eaten on the first night of the holiday where each food, like matzah, serves as a reminder of the roots of the Jewish faith.

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