Peorians make lots of matzah

Attendees learn Jewish history while making Passover bread


Monday, April 14, 2008

PEORIA - Adults and children learned how to make matzah the old-fashioned way on Sunday - by hand.

Matzah is an unleavened bread and one of the key foods eaten during Passover, the holiday that celebrates the Jews' exodus from slavery in Egypt.

Steve Prager of Peoria brought his son and daughter to the project to experience the Passover tradition. The event was hosted by the Chabad of Peoria at the Peoria Youth Center on Willow Knolls Drive.

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Prager is originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, and said he remembers carrying out the same traditions there as he does now in Peoria.

"It's an important holiday," he said. "Jews worldwide celebrate this tradition."

About 15 children and 10 adults prepared the crunchy bread.

Before starting the quick process, Rabbi Eli Langsam of Peoria set up two booths surrounded in canvas- one for water and one for flour - to keep the two ingredients separate before mixing the batter.

Once the flour and water mix, bakers only have 18 minutes to put the rolled dough in the oven to make sure the bread stays flat and to keep kosher. But the bread made on Sunday wasn't kosher due to other qualifications not possible during the event.

After baking for about 10 minutes, the flat, crunchy matzah is removed to cool.

Hand rolled quickly into oblong shapes, the flat bread doesn't resemble the neat and tidy square matzah purchased at the grocery store. It tastes similar to an unsalted cracker.

"My favorite part was eating my matzah afterward," said 10-year-old Ryan Willard of Germantown Hills, "because it tastes pretty good."

Throughout the process, Langsam told the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament. According to Jewish history, matzah is the same bread made and eaten by the ancient Hebrews as they departed Egypt and slavery, as told in the Bible. When fleeing the country, the Hebrews didn't have time to wait for the dough they baked to rise.

"The first few times I came, it helped me learn the story of what really happened," Willard said.

Langsam said he started doing the event in Peoria seven years ago.

"We try to get the children excited about it," he said.

Lorrie Wu of Dunlap brought her daughters Sierra, Angelina and Victoria to the event. The Wus are Catholic, but Lorrie Wu said she wanted them to gain a better understanding of the Old Testament.

"We wanted to learn about the Jewish tradition to help us understand our own faith," she said. "It was fun."

Passover runs from April 19 to April 27.

Ed McMenamin can be reached at 686-3196 or [email protected].