Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Model Matzah Bakery Where Kids Learn the Story of Passover, Have Fun & Make Real Matzah


I've been spring cleaning for weeks. That can only mean one thing to me: Passover will be here soon and there is still so much to do to get ready for this holiday. In case you're wondering, I hate the cleaning part of preparations but Passover is my absolute favorite holiday and you can bet I'll be cooking and crafting up a storm this year as always. 

Passover, also called Pesach in Hebrew, celebrates the mass exodus of the Jewish people out of Egypt and the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. We have a special ceremony and meal on the first two nights of this holiday and we eat only unleavened bread called matzah.

Traditional Passover seder plate, detail from the Model Matzah Factory sign

Handmade sign outside covered with plastic to protect it from the rain
Similarly to the crossing of the Red Sea long ago, not even today's downpour of rain in L.A. -- complete with a steep outdoor cement staircase leading up to the event that looked more like a waterfall coming down  -- could deter my teens or the other kids from volunteering with The Friendship Circle to help out at the group's visit to the Model Matzah Bakery at the Chabad House near UCLA. Despite inclement weather this was a wildly successful sell-out event, with groups of kids arriving both before and after us.

Steep steps up to the pop-up Matzah Factory looked like a waterfall, add charm
It warmed my heart to see my teens and others paired off with children with special needs. Together this afternoon these adventurous young people entered a time machine through a magical door in a pyramid to travel back in time more than 3000 years.

Teen volunteers match up with Friendship Circle Kids for a unique experience
Moses invites kids to journey back in history via a pyramid time machine
Upon arrival at their destination the time travelers watched the story of Pesach come alive with modern references to Google to keep things relateable to today. The action featured some very dramatic costumed young men convincingly portraying Moses and Pharaoh along with a supporting cast of other well acted-out characters. 

Following a series of ten plagues starting with frogs flying onto to Pharaoh and his throne and culminating with the smiting the first born, Pharaoh was finally convinced by Moses to release the Jews from slavery. But he insisted they leave almost immediately so there was not enough time for their dough to rise. That's the origin of Matzah which the ancient travelers carried on their backs as they left Egypt headed for The Promised Land which today is known as Israel.

Pharaoh finally answers Moses' Demand, "Let my People go"
This engaging short and educational dramatization of the story of Passover was followed by a fun, hands-on crash course in how to make matzah, step-by-step.

Starting with Mr. Farmer, the children got to use an old-fashioned hand crank mill to grind raw wheat into flour.

After leaving the farm complete with red barn, they entered the forest where they were met by the cook who showed everyone how to draw water from a pretend well and then mix it with the wheat flour.

Then it was on to the bakery. Here, long tables awaited with a ball of dough at each place and all the tools needed for each child to roll their own handmade round matzah.

Basic equipment: A hat, rolling pin, and a tool to prick holes in dough preventing rising
My 16 year old shows his TFC Kid how to flatten the dough into a disk

The baker then slid everyone's flat dough disks into a very hot oven. The aroma of matzah baking enveloped the room. Just a few minutes later out popped warm, freshly-baked small matzahs for everyone to eat.

The Chabad Baker places the kids' matzahs in a real oven to bake
A great time was had by all, though it's hard to say who enjoyed this more: the teens who volunteered or The Friendship Circle kids. Really, I can't imagine a more wonderful way to spend a rainy Sunday in Southern California witnessing young people doing community service with such smiles of joy and compassion radiating from their faces.

Model Matzah Baker Mural at Chabad House, Westwood adjacent to UCLA

As for that rain, it's still coming down this evening. Reminds me of Albert Hammond's 1973 hit song It Never Rains in Southern California. Especially the part,"But girl, let me warn ya ... man, when it rains, it really pours."

What kinds of Passover activities and arts and crafts will you be doing with your kids leading up to the eight day festival that this year begins the night of April 7th? Please leave a comment as it would be really fun to share ideas here.

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