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Matzoh: Bake It and They Will Come

Monday, 04 April 2005 12:00 AM

A strange thing happens in the nation's supermarkets. They convert at least a few of their aisles and displays to Judaism. No prayers or yarmulkes or circumcisions needed. Just mountains of matzoh and macaroons, pyramids of potent potables – Mogen David, Manischewitz, Israeli (Any good ones? Israeli wines are miraculous, they've managed to turn wine into water) and a bodacious assortment of liquids and mixes known, generically but not always accurately, as "soup" and "matzoh balls." Even Morton's has coarse Kosher salt.

All Kosher for Passover.

But what exactly is Kosher for Passover as opposed to merely Kosher? The short answer is Kosher plus certification that none of the items have come into contract with anything forbidden during Passover: bread, beer, whisky, other fun stuff. Generally speaking, you can trust the symbols printed on the packages.

Anecdotally, however, a friend informs us that many years ago, when he was a teenager working in a grocery store, the manager handed him a labeling gun and told him to mark everything in the store "Kosher for Passover." Detergent, brooms, pet food – as they say, the whole nine cubits. This he did, although thankfully stopping short of the bacon, and has ever since viewed retail labels with a modest skepticism.

Food is an essential part of most Jewish holidays. Certainly the most recognizable Passover food, if that it can be called, is unleavened bread, matzoh, the "poor bread that our fathers ate" while beating feet out of Egypt in a hurry.

Today, however, the makers of matzoh ain't penniless. And the annual retail shoot-out between Manischewitz and Streits, plus a few other manufacturers, to sell the most unleavened bread has taken its place in marketing lore. It's up there right alongside Hertz vs. Avis, American Express vs. Visa, and Bush versus a certain senator, name now forgotten, who sometimes looked a lot like the proverbial matzoh face.

At least a month before Passover, the shelves fill with one-pound boxes shrink-wrapped in threes and fives. Half off. Sometimes more. The promotions offer between $10 and $50,000 in coupons for other products, chances to win a trip to Israel, something about proceeds going to plant trees – Israel's still short on trees since, for so many years, they used the money for defense such as artillery shells, jet fighters and developing their own competitive matzoh industry.

The stuff flies off the shelves like Israelites rushing through the Red Sea before closing time.

And then Passover nears. And the stuff just sits. That's because everybody already bought their matzoh, using Ralph's and Von's club cards. And if it's had a month or more to grow stale, who notices? You could dig some of the original stuff out of the sand around Mount Sinai and it would probably taste about the same as the current product. Maybe better.

Now, personally, I like matzoh. It's crunchy and great with cheap margarine or exotic (Kosher for Passover only, please, no fermentation allowed) jams and pates, and it leaves a wonderful trail of crumbs should you need to find your way back to the kitchen for more. No self-respecting Westminster pure-bred dog or home-loving mixed breeds will beg for it, so one less nuisance. It's a taste relatively few Christians indulge, so in any mixed marriage, there's a clear understanding about who gets it and who doesn't.

Now, I've no idea who sells the most matzoh, or the least. Nor can I tell the brands apart once they're out of their boxes (Ultra Orthodox matzoh, however, is discernible due to its appearance, which is that of a 1960s space capsule after re-entering the atmosphere with a faulty heat shield). All matzohs may not be created equal, but they sure seem to end up that way.

My wife disagrees, saying there is a taste difference between all the new flavors (egg, onion, dried tomato, Mediterranean, unsalted and salted). However, there does appear to be a shortage of plain old regular salted Manischewitz matzoh. Who hid all the salted M/M? Says the little lady, "Matzoh should not be like flavored potato chips."

But in the end, this "poor bread that our fathers ate" teaches us a valuable lesson. Life is not always a neat linear progression. Sometimes things happen very quickly. After 400 years of bondage, the Israelites had but one night to prepare for their Exodus. And the lesson it teaches?

Notes Jerome Schmelzer, Cleveland, Ohio, philanthropist and chair for the '56 Cleveland Heights High School 50th Class Reunion in June 2006, "Always keep a box or two on hand. You never know ... "

Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is a Senior Fellow and Board Member of the Discovery Institute and a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple-award-winning writer who comments on medical-legal issues.


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A strange thing happens in the nation's supermarkets.They convert at least a few of their aisles and displays to Judaism. No prayers or yarmulkes or circumcisions needed.Just mountains of matzoh and macaroons, pyramids of potent potables - Mogen David, Manischewitz,...
Monday, 04 April 2005 12:00 AM
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