Making Matzah and Memories at Historic Bakery in Kfar Chabad - The Jewish Voice
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Making Matzah and Memories at Historic Bakery in Kfar Chabad

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Not only does it churn out shmurah matzah in bulk, it educates thousands of Israeli schoolchildren every year

“Matzot Kfar Chabad.″ The bakery sign reads: ″Amazing taste, exacting quality.″

Prior to Passover 1950: The village of Kfar Chabad in central Israel had been settled just months earlier by a group of hardy survivors of Stalinist oppression and Nazi destruction.

While most of the villagers worked the land and raised livestock—eking out a living from Israel’s sacred soil—some residents took it upon themselves to explore a new avenue: a matzah bakery that would produce the very best handmade matzahs from shmurah flour, which had been guarded from contact with moisture from the time of harvest.

Although its original purpose was primarily to supply the village with matzah, the bakery quickly attracted a large following from around Israel and beyond. They were drawn by its adherence to the highest standards of matzah production under the careful guidance of the village rabbi, Rabbi Zalman Garelik.

In fact, residents tell of how the fourth Belzer Rebbe—Rabbi Aaron Rokeach, of righteous memory—would come to bake matzahs there. Since the streets were not yet paved, Chassidim would carry the venerable sage in a chair over the bumpy roads to the matzah bakery.

Another regular visitor was the renowned halachist (commentator and decisor of Jewish law) Rabbi Avrohom YeshayaKarelitz, of righteous memory, known as the Chazon Ish, who would come to bake matzahs for his personal use.

The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—encouraged the founding and continued function of the bakery, which he saw as an ideal source for shmurah matzahall across the globe. He once told the bakery’s founder, Rabbi Yosef Perman, that “every Jewish seder table should have shmurah matzah from Kfar Chabad,” advising him on many aspects of the production and marketing of the matzahs.

Sure enough, matzahs were soon being shipped to Europe, North America and even Australia. And, of course, the matzahs had become a Passover staple within Israel as well. In fact, old records show orders for many tons of matzah from the Ministry of Defense and other clients.

Using a redler to make holes in the dough

In 1954, four years after the Kfar Chabad bakery’s founding, the Rebbe launched a global shmurah matzah initiative to create awareness and promote observance of the holiday. This year, an estimated 4 million hand-baked shmurah matzahs will be distributed by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. In addition, millions of Passover guides in 17 different languages will educate people on the meaning and practices of the holiday.

A Taste of the Visitor’s Center

In time, the Kfar Chabad bakery expanded and modernized. In the late 1970s, the late Rabbi Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi—who had succeeded Garelik as rabbi of the village—instituted the use of stainless-steel surfaces for the matzah-baking, something that was viewed as an innovation. The Rebbe—referring to himself as “a small chemist”—supported his decision, saying it did not pose a risk of making the matzahs leaven and was the cleaner, better way to go.

In the early 1980s, Perman sold the bakery to Rabbis Yaakov and Zalman Stambler. The brothers took it upon themselves to enlarge the factory, allowing for significantly more output in keeping with an ever-increasing demand. It also allowed them to streamline the baking process, reportedly allowing the bakers to produce finished matzahs faster than any other bakery in Israel. (After all, speed is essential to the production of matzahs.) It is also the largest such bakery in Israel.

Other unique measures taken were the regular changing of the baker’s uniforms and other tools, as well as using extreme heat to purge the “redler” (hole-making apparatus) every 18 minutes, thus ensuring that no dough possibly remains long enough to become chametz(leaven).

Since the 1960s, the bakery had also taken on another important function. It had become an educational center, where thousands of Israeli schoolchildren come to learn about the process of matzah-baking and the holiday of Passover in a program known as “Matzah LeTalmid” (“Matzah for Student”).

All through the 1960s and `70s, tens of thousands attended yearly. But with the new bakery in place, there was capacity for many more people to visit.

By 1986, Kfar Chabad magazine reported that a record 28,000 children had been through the bakery that year alone, with as many as 3,500 visiting in a single day during the pre-Passover season.

Before entering the bakery itself, the kids learn the difference between chametz and matzah, that every Jew must eat an olive-sized portion of matzah at the seder, and that the flat matzah symbolizes humility.

Every step of the way serves as another opportunity for education. For example, when the children wait to see how fast the fully baked matzahs emerge from the oven, they don’t simply count; instead, they recite a quick Torah passage.

A full-fledged visitor’s center now includes a model bakery where the kids roll and bake their own matzahs using authentic equipment. A trip to the matzah bakery has become de rigueur for middle- and elementary-school-age children—and even preschoolers—from across the country.

Adults go, too, including public officials. In the years since the bakery’s establishment, only two years after the founding of Israel, officials from across the nation’s public spectrum—from political newcomers to prime ministers and presidents of almost every party—have visited the bakery and taken home hand-made shmurah matzahs for their Passover seder. Just before Passover 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the bakery, experiencing what hundreds of thousands of kids and grownups have enjoyed before him.

“Every year, for decades, I have been getting shmurah matzahs from Chabad,” said the premier last spring in the Chassidic village of Kfar Chabad in Israel, “but this is the first time that I actually got to make it myself.”

By: Menachem Posner


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