This week is all about the matzah. But for Rabbi Yisroel Rosenblum, so was last week, and the week before that, and the week before that.
Like Chabad rabbis everywhere, he has been running “Model Matzah Bakery” workshops since shortly after Purim, geared mostly towards schoolchildren but including other age groups as well, such as seniors. Rosenblum has been at this for about 15 years now—in Detroit, in Chicago, and for the past 11 years, in northern New Jersey.
Rosenblum, 38, is director of the “Living Legacy” program at Chabad of Livingston, N.J., and the Friendship Circle of MetroWest, N.J., offering hands-on programs for the Jewish community year-round. Among them are workshops like the “Shofar Factory” before the High Holidays and the “Olive-Oil Press” at Chanukah time, which are mainly geared for kids; other ones focus on Jewish religious items such as the tallit, the mezuzah, and of course, the Torah.
As for the matzah-baking, “we take the children through the entire process,” explains the rabbi. “It brings it to life for them.”
He starts with the telling of the Exodus story and a description of the very first unleavened bread, and what Jews are instructed to eat (and not to eat) during Passover. He then asks where flour comes from, pointing out that the answer is not, as the kids often suggest, ShopRite. He then hands them real wheat, and they have to pick out the kernels and, with the rabbi’s supervision, grind the wheat into flour.
Next up? Name the ingredients needed for making matzah. The kids start to catch on: flour and water, as the two canvas booths Rosenblum brings and sets up every workshop reveal in big letters, in both English and Hebrew.
“I do this two, maybe three times a day” during the pre-Passover season, says Rosenblum, a father of 10 originally from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s different every time. I try to put myself in the minds of the participants, whether they are 3 or 10 or adult. It’s a different experience at every age.”
Incorporate the Unit
In fact, Rosenblum reached as many as 2,000 people with the one-hour matzah-baking demonstration (not including set-up and dismantling time), lugging his equipment to preschools, day schools, Hebrew schools, senior centers and more.
With schoolchildren, he encourages parents to participate as well, emphasizing that all “Living Legacy” programs should incorporate the family unit.
He can handle groups of up to 50 people, with the portable oven holding 10 matzahs at a time (five on the top shelf and five on the bottom). The kids have just 18 minutes to mix the dough, knead it, roll it, make holes in it and get it into the oven to bake, as fermentation is presumed to take place within that short amount of time after the exposure of the cut grain to moisture. And the goal, of course, is to make sure the unleavened bread stays that way.
Once the matzahs are done, Rosenblum encourages the children to taste their crispy creations; sometimes, teachers save it for a snack later in the school day.
And with that, the rabbi collects his booths and bowls and other matzah-making accoutrements, and heads off to another group eager to make their own matzah.
Does he ever get tired of doing the same thing over and over again? Does he still like it, after all this time?
“I love it!” he exclaims with the emphasis of someone who truly does. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t.”