How one Tulsa synagogue is baking its way to a better world


Walk into Congregation B’nai Emunah on any Tuesday afternoon and you’ll barely get through the massive, light-filled foyer before it hits you: an aromatic wave of warm oatmeal and raisins, or perhaps a sweet surge of rich, melting chocolate chips.

What you’re smelling isn’t catered food for a bar mitzvah bash. Rather it’s one of the most highly regarded bakeries in the region, which is also an innovative social justice project that might just be a model for civic-minded synagogues everywhere.

The Altamont Bakery, which operates weekly from the synagogue’s dairy kitchen, is a successful commercial enterprise in which formerly homeless and mentally ill Tulsans work alongside synagogue volunteers. Together they weigh, measure, mix, shape and bake artisanal cookies that have won the admiration of foodies, selling briskly in coffee shops and cafeterias across Oklahoma and beyond.

Yet whether you believe this is the “Greatest Cookie on Planet Earth” (as the label boasts) or merely the best chocolate chip cookie in the city (according to a blind taste test conducted by the Tulsa World newspaper), it’s not the most important thing the Altamont endeavors to create.

“We are baking our way to a better world,” said Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman, who has served the Conservative congregation since 1985.

Fitzerman developed the idea for the bakery five years ago in conjunction with the Mental Health Association Oklahoma, which aids those facing mental-health challenges through advocacy, education, research, service and housing, and the Housing Faith Alliance, which facilitates connections between faith-based institutions and those in recovery from mental illness.

The core of the baking staff is made up of individuals served by the Mental Health Association, including some who live at the nearby association-run Altamont Apartments, from which the bakery takes its name. They are paid what Fitzerman calls “a dignified wage”— currently as much as $13.75 per hour.

The synagogue volunteers they work beside see this as a meaningful opportunity to effect change in their community while broadening their own horizons.

Kimberly Ferry, who had endured years of homelessness and mental health struggles, working at the Altamont Bakery in Tulsa. (Courtesy of Congregation B’nai Emunah)

“I love this collaboration — it’s really unique and powerful,” said Alex Aguilar, a workforce readiness clinical coordinator at the Mental Health Alliance who’s at the bakery every Tuesday. “When we’re able to give someone employment and support — skills and purpose and something to do with their lives — that is the best care that they need.”

Mental health has long been a focus of the synagogue’s volunteer efforts, Fitzerman said, due in part to the significant number of congregants already working in the field.

The rabbi realized he could feed the appetite for social justice work through one of his synagogue’s particular strengths: large-scale baking.

“Like many congregations in frontier outposts, we make everything ourselves — rye bread, rugelach, hamantaschen, apple cake, babka — it’s a very full menu of traditional favorites,” he said.

With Tulsa’s Jewish community numbering about 2,200, the Altamont is the only kosher-certified bakery in town. The synagogue also recently launched a monthly pop-up deli serving house-cured kosher pastrami.

“This is more than dabbling,” Fitzerman declared. “Brooklyn artisans would recognize our seriousness and commitment.”

On a typical Tuesday afternoon, six salaried “Altamonters” and another half-dozen volunteers will produce about 1,200 cookies, which will be bagged, labeled and delivered by another multi-generational cadre of volunteers that meets Wednesday mornings. Unsold leftovers — a rare phenomenon — might wind up at Shabbat kiddish.

Come Christmas and Hanukkah — when orders for 5,000 or more aren’t uncommon — the bakery will more than triple its workforce and production. And next March, when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament returns to Tulsa, demand will likely drive madness in the kitchen, as well.

Nancy Cohen, a former marketing and retail manager who also oversees the synagogue gift shop, is “the presiding genius” of the bakery, Fitzerman says, serving as volunteer director and, until recently, oven master. She is the source of the chocolate-chip cookie recipe that started it all, as well as the two that followed, oatmeal raisin and the newest offering, sweet “sugartops,” with just a hint of lemon. (Incidentally, these are no little noshes, but quarter-pound helpings of richness.)

Cohen is equally passionate about the bakery staff.

“This is our sugar-cookie queen,” Cohen said, introducing Kimberlee Koenig, an Altamonter who was loading the last ingredients into a massive mixer.

“If they’re not perfect, we don’t sell ’em,” Koenig said, detailing her process. “We don’t even put our name on ’em.”

Koenig explains bluntly how much that sense of pride means: “You see, I used to be a street person. Not by choice … but by bad choices, mostly of men.”

Now happily married, she found the bakery two years ago and has only missed work two times — once due to pneumonia, the other following hernia surgery.

“You’ve come a long way, baby,” Cohen said.

Kimberly Ferry has worked in the bakery from its beginning. Cohen remembers that first day — Ferry, following years of homelessness and mental health struggles, had trouble looking her in the eye. Now, between Tuesdays at Altamont and another job at a grocery store, she can afford her own apartment — and to buy her 13-year-old son a new pair of shoes.

“I hadn’t bought him anything in a long time,” Ferry said, lips curling into a smile.

The synagogue volunteers baking alongside the Altamonters say the impact on their lives has also been profound.

“I love it — I love the people we work with,” gushed Jamie Siegel, a mother of four. “It’s the one thing in my week that I really couldn’t give up. I really feel like I’m getting more out of it than I’m giving.”

Dennis Johnson, a retired project manager, was active in a weekly Torah study at the synagogue when he first heard about Altamont. That was a year-and-a-half ago, and he hasn’t missed a Tuesday since.

“As long I’m able and as long as they need me, I’ll be here,” he said. “It’s a good mitzvah.”

Since its inception in 2011, the bakery has sold more than 150,000 cookies, at $2 each. The profits cover salaries and supplies; the synagogue underwrites the use of the kitchen and Fitzerman raises outside funds to replace equipment and make capital improvements. Anonymous donors furnished two new high-end ovens that can bake up to 220 cookies in 14 minutes.

Karra Beck, left, works at Altamont every week, and Mary Nixon is a former employee. (Courtesy of Congregation B’nai Emunah)

For the second consecutive year, the Altamont has been recognized by Slingshot, a fund that supports and promotes innovative Jewish initiatives across the country.

“This type of collaborative endeavor serves as a model for successful partnerships between religious institutions and government agencies,” the evaluation reads, “and shows how the repurposing of synagogue assets can impact an entire community.”

The Altamont Bakery hopes to see its impact grow both in Tulsa, by increasing sales and adding more shifts and workers as the kitchen schedule allows — B’nai Emunah’s 150-student preschool also uses the kitchen — and beyond. Synagogue administrator Betty Lehman said she recently fielded a call from a congregation in Indiana that was interested in launching its own program.

Even the product line is expanding. Cohen has been furiously fine-tuning a “centennial cookie” to be introduced this year, celebrating the synagogue’s 100th anniversary. After testing nearly 20 formulas, she’ll reveal only that it will likely be a version of “double fudge.”

Fitzerman is thrilled, but cautions his model is not easy magic.

“In our initial flood of arrogant do-gooderism, we felt that we would be able to change the lives of our bakers,” the rabbi said. “We’ve held some of them in this project for four consecutive years, but many more have moved through the kitchen for a short period and then wander on to other things.

“We understand that we will fail as often as we succeed. Our goal is to do as much as we can without expecting miraculous transformation.”

Yet for bakers like Koenig, the change is evident. Through the bakery, she has developed confidence and strong friendships, broadened her social network and gotten her foot in the door at a local supermarket, where she now also earns a wage as a cashier and bagger.

But working in the “cookie factory,” Koenig said, is still “the best job.”

“I’ve been very fortunate — God has blessed me,” she added, as the mixer began to whir. “And the cookies are amazing.”

Rosh Hashanah Food: All you knead for a bounty of challah


Dipping freshly baked challah in honey is a tradition observed during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This act combines the Shabbat bread with hopes for a sweet New Year.

The custom is to serve a round or spiral-shaped challah, one of the symbolic foods eaten during Rosh Hashanah. Typical is the challah baked in a circle to signify the desire for a long life, peace and universal redemption. Another type of challah is made in the shape of a crown, braided and twisted into a circle and topped by a smaller circle, symbolizing the ascent to heaven.

Middle Eastern Jews add saffron and raisins to make the bread special for the holiday. Because carrots were one of the few sweet-tasting vegetables accessible to Eastern European Jews, they became a substitute for the candied pumpkin and squash often eaten during the holiday.

Another concept is a break-apart challah. The dough is divided into several parts, shaped into small rounds and placed together in a greased round or loaf pan. Next, it is oiled lightly, left to rise, then brushed with egg and sprinkled with poppy seeds before baking. After this challah is baked, it will break apart easily and be ready to dip in honey.

A round braided challah filled with apples, pears or quince, representing the harvest, is an Italian custom and is included in the recipes that follow.

Potato challah, usually associated with times of grain shortages or a need for economy in the kitchen, was made by Russian and Polish Jews during the Jewish New Year. And for those who could not afford to bake cakes for Rosh Hashanah, there was the delicious bolas, made in Spain from sweetened challah dough, filled with candied orange peel and raisins, rolled into loaves, sliced and baked.

Although challah is easily bought at the bakery, many families are discovering the joy of making it at home. This tradition is important especially during holidays in which it has special meaning. There is pleasure and satisfaction in baking it yourself, and what better way to celebrate the holiday than with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Be sure to reserve some dough for small individual challahs, which will be a special treat for the children. Make it a family project, and allow them to braid and bake their own. 


Rosh Hashanah round braided challah

1 package active dry yeast
1  1/2 cups warm water (110-115 F)
Pinch sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup raisins, plumped
Cornmeal
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and  sugar. Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup warm water, saffron and brandy, and blend well. Blend in the yeast mixture. Add flour, 1 cup at a time with salt, blending with a beater after each addition, until the dough is thick enough to work by hand. Spoon it out onto a floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, gradually incorporating the raisins and enough additional flour to make a smooth and elastic dough. Place dough in an oiled bowl and oil top of dough. Cover loosely with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1  1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Form each one into a rope about 26 inches long. Braid the ropes together and seal the ends by pinching.

Line a large heavy baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat. Oil the foil and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Remove the label and wash an empty 16-ounce can; oil its outside and place it in the center of the baking sheet, open end up. Transfer the challah to the baking sheet, forming it into a ring around the can; join and pinch together the ends of the braid. Cover dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Brush the challah with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

Serve the challah on a circular tray and set a bowl of honey in the center. Serve with sliced apples for dipping.

Makes 1 challah.

Cookies for a Koz: How mom’s cookies made a difference


Audrey Koz was a pharmacist, but her best medicine was the love she baked into her chocolate chip cookies.

“The cookies pack my mom’s magic in every bite,” said her daughter, Roberta Koz Wilson.

They were so good, Audrey Koz credited her cookies for launching the musical career of her son, Grammy Award-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz. When he started out in the jazz world, she sent cookies with him to every meeting and performance, and Capitol Records even took her — and her goodies — to meet record executives.

“We would send my mom in with batches of cookies to grease the way,” Dave Koz said.

When Audrey Koz died suddenly in 2005, Wilson decided that she needed a way to impact people like her mother did. She already had left her role as longtime vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at MTV Networks in search of a new challenge.

After tinkering with other small-business ideas, Wilson started baking her mother’s cookies for her daughter’s elementary school holiday boutique. Her success there gave her an idea, and with no previous experience in baking or starting a business — aside from her background in sales and marketing — Wilson launched Cookies for a Koz in 2008.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I learned everything I could.”

Wilson created a Web site and moved into a West Valley commercial kitchen as demand increased. When clients asked for different flavors, she introduced oatmeal raisin, white chocolate raspberry, snickerdoodle and red velvet. Seasonal specialties developed, too, such as pumpkin chocolate chip for Thanksgiving and apple pie cookies for Mother’s Day.

“I try very hard not to eat too many cookies while I’m baking them,” said Wilson, a Calabasas resident whose favorite cookie is shortbread.

To honor her mother, Wilson donates 10 percent of retail purchases to Starlight Children’s Foundation, Audrey Koz’s favorite charity. The organization, for which Dave Koz is a global ambassador, works to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children through entertainment, education and family activities.

“Anything that anyone can do on any level to make the world a little bit better for those in need is tikkun olam (repairing the world), and working with an organization like Starlight lets us see a tangible impact that we make on the lives of others,” Wilson said.

So far, her company has donated more than $30,000 to the foundation, but that’s not all that keeps her going.

“The greatest joy, by far, has been that it has kept me feeling connected to my beloved mom,” Wilson said. “I know this was her dream, and I feel like I am helping to fulfill that for her.”

Wilson’s brother, who is also her best customer, said there is something that sets his mother’s cookies above the rest.

“It’s like the way someone sings that takes your breath away. It’s not definable,” Dave Koz said. “When I tasted the cookies, there was a secret ingredient of love — a big, huge helping of it that sets them apart from other cookies.”

Hollywood has noticed. The cookies have been featured on the “Rachael Ray Show” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” and they have been included in gift bags for nominees and presenters at the Academy Awards and at numerous celebrity events.

With efforts to grow the business, Wilson hired a food consultant who shared the cookies at meetings across the country, and, in November, Cookies for a Koz hit the shelves of 375 HomeGoods stores. More recently, they were introduced at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, resulting in a total of 2,200 stores across the United States and Canada that will sell a dry mix and cookie assortment.

Wilson said this is especially satisfying because Marshalls was her mother’s favorite store to shop at for bargains. Now its shelves feature packages with Audrey Koz’s photo and story.

“The fact that her cookies are at Marshalls truly gives me the chills,” said Wilson, a mother of two teenagers who she hopes will one day run the growing enterprise.

Her brother, who is the owner of Koz Wine, donates proceeds of his sales to the Starlight Children’s Foundation as well. Now the two are working to expand their brand as a socially conscious food company known as Koz Kitchen. Once again, their inspiration is their mother, whose kitchen was home to a steady stream of friends, family and love.

“My mom had the ability to make everyone in her presence feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Wilson said. “And it was all truly genuine.”

The siblings recently paired up on Dave Koz’s tour aboard a Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise. Wilson was on board to teach cooking school.

“The great irony is that when she started out, she was really lousy,” he said of his sister. “Over the years, she has become a really great chef.

Position yourself for Passover’s traditions


After many years of reciting the Passover story around our dining room table, we made a major change. My family decided to re-create the seders held long ago. According to the haggadah, when people live in freedom, they can eat in a reclining or relaxed manner.

We asked our guests to bring pillows or cushions to lean against as we celebrated Passover with a seder on our living room floor, which began with the symbolic foods of the holiday displayed on the seder plate.

During the first part of the evening, we eat the required foods of Passover that families have eaten for generations. Charoset is one of the few dishes that may require a recipe. A mixture of fruits, wine, nuts and spices, it represents the mortar our ancestors made while laboring as slaves in Egypt. It is prepared differently in Jewish communities all over the world depending on the ingredients available. We prepare several kinds for our seder, and one that we serve is made from a Yemenite recipe, a combination of dates, dried figs, sesame seeds, ginger, wine and a little matzah meal. Included is fresh grated horseradish, a bitter herb that is eaten with charoset and matzah.

A roasted egg, which many families dip in coarse salt, is usually served, but our family’s custom is to prepare a cold, salted, chopped egg soup instead. We eat spring onions or parsley that are dipped in saltwater, as well as boiled small new potatoes that symbolize the coming of spring. Also on the seder plate is the roasted lamb shank, representing the Pascal lamb, but vegetarians may substitute a roasted beet. 

Reclining on cushions and pillows while reading from the haggadah was a wonderful experience, but serving food on the living room floor – especially matzah ball soup – would be difficult. After we finished recounting the Jewish people’s liberation from Egypt, we would move to the dining room table for a traditional Passover dinner.

We begin seder dinner with homemade gefilte fish, followed by chicken soup with matzah balls. The soup is prepared with whole chickens that are tied and put in the pot with a variety of vegetables. When the soup is done, the chickens are taken out and roasted in a tomato sauce to be served for the seder dinner. When cold, it can be made into a delicious chicken salad eaten for lunch or dinner during the remaining days of Passover.

The main course is served buffet style; everyone helps themselves to platters of roasted lamb shanks, sliced turkey with vegetable stuffing and candied sweet potatoes.

After dinner, Passover desserts include sponge cakes, cookies and chocolate-covered fruit. For a special treat this year, I am adding a Chocolate Marble Cake With Chocolate Glaze. The rich flavors of cocoa, strong coffee and chocolate make this cake extra-special. Grape Truffles are an easy addition — seedless grapes dipped in chocolate and then coated with cocoa powder are a surprise when they burst with flavor in your mouth.

Wine is an important part of the seder, and sweet concord grape wine has always been synonymous with Passover. But today, dry Passover wines are gaining in popularity, and the availability and varietals are remarkable. They are available from California, New York, France, Italy, Chile and Israel. At our seder, we provide both sweet and dry wine — as well as grape juice — to satisfy everyone’s taste. 

In recent years, our seders have moved back to the dining room. But as friends and family gather around our table for Passover, they recall with fondness how we reclined on the floor to read the haggadah. I’ve considered moving the seder back to the living room, but on one condition: We keep dinner in the dining room.


YEMENITE CHAROSET

1 cup pitted, chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch coriander
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced, or pinch of cayenne 
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1/3 cup sweet Passover wine
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Blend the dates, figs, ginger, coriander, chili pepper, matzah meal and wine in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the knife blade. Mix in sesame seeds and transfer to a glass bowl. Roll into 1-inch balls or serve in a bowl.

Dessert variation: Dip charoset balls into melted chocolate and place on wax paper-lined baking sheet.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups or 12 balls.


GRANDMA GENE’S GEFILTE FISH

Buy whole whitefish. Have it boned, and wrap the bones, heads and skin separately for the Fish Broth. If you’re lucky, you might find roe inside the fish, which you can poach with the fish balls.

Fish Broth (recipe follows)
3 1/2 pounds filleted whitefish
2 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small celery stalks, sliced
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/3 cup matzah meal
1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, sliced beets and horseradish sauce

Prepare the Fish Broth and keep warm.

Grind the whitefish with the onions, carrots and celery in a food grinder. Put through the grinder again. Place the ground mixture in a large mixing bowl and blend with the eggs and matzah meal. Transfer the mixture to a large wooden chopping bowl and, using a hand chopper, chop the fish mixture, adding the water gradually with 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper as you chop. (Mixture should be soft and light to the touch.) Wet your hands with additional cold water and shape the fish mixture into oval balls. Bring the Fish Broth to a boil over high heat, and place the fish balls in the broth. Cover, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook for 1 hour, or until fish is tender; do not overcook. Cool, transfer to a shallow glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and foil, and refrigerate.

To serve, arrange a lettuce leaf on each plate; top with fish and garnish with sliced cucumber and beets. Serve with horseradish sauce. 

Makes 24 small fish balls.


FISH BROTH

1 1/2 yellow onions, coarsely diced (reserve peels)
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced celery tops
1 1/2 pounds fish bones, heads and skin from filleted white fish (wrap in cheese cloth)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups cold water

Place the onions, onion peels, carrot, celery tops, wrapped fish bones, heads and skin, and salt and pepper in a large pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour, adding water if needed. When the broth is very flavorful, strain out the fish bones and vegetables and discard. Keep the broth warm.

Makes about 4 cups.

Matzah Masters Write About Every Nook and Cranny


Ari Greenspan knows his matzah. It’s not the only thing he knows, but he definitely knows his matzah.

The former New Jersey resident has studied it inside and out, from the firebricks that line his own homemade oven in the basement of his house in Efrat, Israel, to the unbaked hidden particles that accumulate when the dough folds over in the oven, thus rendering it chametz.

He knows about rolling the reddeler — the metal wheel that makes the little holes in the matzah — the long spatulas used to place the dough into the oven and what differentiates matzah from bread.

"From the time flour and water mix, 18 minutes later we call that chametz," explained the 41-year-old Greenspan. "Wheat has carbohydrates and proteins, and the water allows enzymes to mix with those carbohydrates, break them down and create gas, and that gas is what’s responsible for the dough rising. And those processes, indeed, scientifically happen in give or take 18 minutes, when you start to see the effects of that gas."

Understand that it’s not just matzah that Greenspan knows. His high energy level and inquisitive mind have led him to become proficient in many disciplines.

Greenspan is a religious scribe; an artist, who makes stained-glass windows for synagogues and has built a stone-and-metal ark; a ritual circumciser and a ritual slaughterer — "I’ve never gotten the knives mixed up" — and if you have problems with your teeth, dentistry is his day job.

He is perhaps best known to those who wear prayer shawls as the man who helped rediscover and implement tekhelet, the strand of tzitzit made with the blue dye from snails. It was during his research on tekhelet that he discovered little-known historical facts about matzah, like how the Jews in the Shoah risked their lives to fulfill the commandment.

"I went to meet the brother-in-law of the last Radziner rebbe about tekhelet, and he told me that while he was in hiding with the partisans in the forest, he managed to bake some matzah," Greenspan said. "They have a piece of it till this day."

He’s heard and read many such stories and is now compiling them for a book he and his partner, Ari Zivotofsky, are writing on the history of matzah and the Jews who made it. It will touch on Jewish culture and geography from Uzbekistan and Morocco in the 1800s to the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the 20th century to Russia during the Cold War. Topics will include the science of bread, literature from medieval manuscripts and tidbits like how in 1919, the Pacific Biscuit Co. used a swastika as its logo for matzah.

Baking and learning about matzah has always been a particular love, an annual pleasure for Greenspan. It started 1987 in Long Island, N.Y., when he and his friend Zivotofsky — today a professor of brain sciences at Bar-Ilan University — hand built a small oven in a neighbor’s back yard.

"It never dawned on me that real people actually bake matzot," Greenspan said. "I thought you could only buy matzah in a store from a factory."

"So," he continued, "Ari and I went to a store in Bayonne, N.J., bought some firebricks and built this ziggurat-pyramid-shaped thing that held one matzah, if we were lucky. It was so much fun. We got maybe two kosher matzot the whole time, but that was the beginning of it."

Greenspan moved to Israel a year later and built one in his basement, then tore it down and built another and then did it again. It’s not that he’s trying to perfect a commercial operation. Greenspan just bakes for his family, his community in Efrat and for schoolchildren who come to his house before Pesach to learn about this fundamental Jewish rite.

"One of the things that’s tricky is that when a matzah comes out of the oven, sometimes if the matzah is thick, or there’s a lot of moisture in the dough, the outside will cook but the inside is soft," Greenspan said. "It’s tricky because it could look beautiful and soft when it comes out, but after it cools down and gets hard, you don’t realize it, but you could be eating chametz."

"So we don’t mess around," he explained. "Every single matzah that comes out of the oven is held and tested by hand by bending it and playing with it before it has cooled down."

It was the school visits that started Greenspan on the book.

"I prepared a two-page pamphlet to teach the groups about the laws of matzah, and as part of it, I photocopied engravings and woodcuts from medieval hagaddot," Greenspan said. "It amazed me that we still do it exactly the same way, and those images were what started me researching the topic."

Never one to be satisfied doing one project at a time, Greenspan is currently working on another aspect of food: the kosher slaughtering and eating of quail, pigeon, dove and geese. These exotic animals are halachicly kosher but fell out of favor on kosher menus within the last 200 years. He and Zivotofsky have been speaking to old-time shochtim from Jewish communities around the world, collecting the oral tradition on which these birds and other animals were slaughtered.

"We joke that we are halachic adventurers, pushing the envelope within the boundaries of Jewish law," Greenspan said.

He and Zivotofsky will lecture at a May conference in New York, under the aegis of the Orthodox Union, on exotic kosher animals and their tradition. That will be followed with a dinner that night that will include exotic fowl and animals.

In the meantime, research on the matzah book continues, and the authors are asking anyone with stories and photos of anything to do with matzah to e-mail them at ari@tekhelet.com.

"Many people have special memories of matzah," Greenspan said. "Ask any soldier, for example, what was his most special religious experience, and almost to an army or a war they will tell you the seder. It was and is for many the quintessential Jewish experience."

The two authors have no illusions about the book being a bestseller, but that’s not the point, Greenspan said.

"I think it will appeal to many people, but in reality, I am doing it for myself," he said. "I love the research. Digging up the stories and photos is fascinating, interesting and fun. Traveling around to dozens of factories and granaries is like going on school trips, and the colorful people you get to meet are very unusual."

"But I think this book will have a very wide appeal, because matzah is possibly the most universal Jewish icon," Greenspan said. "There is something about reliving the experience of the Exodus and every subsequent oppression and redemption that exists in the crunch of the matzah."

Elli Wohlgelernter is former editor of Diaspora Affairs for the Jerusalem Post.