On Passover, Why Do Jews Ban Leavening, of All Things?


My editorial column this week is a reflection on Passover.   I know the rabbis teach that we do without leavening during Passover to remind us of the time we were slaves, but in this column I ask, Is there a deeper reason behind the reason?  I write:

I started making sourdough bread in college — my first job as a junior was turning out 10 loaves each day for a local bakery. It has a pure taste, simple ingredients, and the probiotic fermentation makes the bread more digestible and better for you. Most other bread tastes cottony and dry to me.

But our ancestors ate sourdough bread because they didn’t have a choice. If you want to know why the Israelites couldn’t wait for their bread to rise, it’s because natural leavening takes a long time to do its magic. Until two Hungarian Jewish immigrant brothers named Charles and Maximilian Fleischmann came up with commercially produced yeast in 1868, all bread was based on starter cultures like mine.

To keep a starter culture alive and healthy, you must feed it daily, keep it at a comfortable temperature, protect it from contamination, and occasionally nurse it back to bubbly life. What I am telling you is that, yes, I have an I-Thou relationship with my blob of sourdough starter. I am sensitive to its needs. I feed it; it nourishes us. 

And now comes Passover, when we are commanded to forgo any leavened thing. In our kosher home, that means all yeast products, all flour, anything with leavening, must go. I would ask my wife, the rabbi, if that means the starter too. Except I already know the answer.

After nurturing my baby for nine months, I figure I have to use it all at once or toss it. As we say in Venice, this bums me out. I ask that age-old question of an inscrutable God: Why?

Until you actually make bread like your Israelite ancestors did, it’s hard to understand what lesson there is in prohibiting leavening.

Israelite slaves escaping Pharaoh’s army didn’t have time for their bread to rise, the Passover liturgy tells us. Remember you were once slaves. So don’t eat bread, or anything remotely like it. 

That’s the reason the rabbis always give us — it’s right there in the story — but I assume there must be some reason for the reason. Why of all the things the Jews must give up for eight days, God picks yeast? After all, did the Israelites have time to bring their oxen or wine barrels? Why not meat or sugar or alcohol — things that other religions commonly proscribe? We would nod our heads — oh, that makes sense. But yeast?

I have never come across religion that places prohibitions on leavening. If I was going to have to say goodbye to my beautiful 9-month-old bouncing baby starter, I needed to see the deeper meaning behind it.

And precisely because of that starter, I do.

To read the rest, click here.

 

 

 

What sourdough taught me about Passover


Two weeks ago, when the rains finally stopped and the sun appeared in a brilliant blue sky, I took my sourdough starter outside for some fresh air. I sat on a bench in the garden and read a book. My starter sat beside me.

After a while, my wife came out.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“No, I mean, what’s that?”

“My sourdough starter.”

She was kind enough not to say, “You’re so weird.” But I’m pretty certain she was thinking it.

Each week when I make bread, I use the starter. I created it nine months ago, mixing a few tablespoons of freshly grown local wheat and water in a large mason jar, and setting it aside, uncovered, on my kitchen counter. The next day I added a little more flour and water. 

After about a week of these incremental additions, the slurry bubbled and frothed. Wild yeasts, ever present in our air, had landed in the starter and multiplied. Tiny bubbles appeared where the gasses formed by the yeasts tried to escape. When I lowered my nose to the jar, it smelled like the tank room of a winery. A really good winery.

From that day on, to make bread, I only had to combine a portion of the starter with some flour, water and salt, stir it into a lump, let it sit overnight, and the next day, bake it into a beautiful loaf. I do about 10 minutes of work, total. Those wild yeasts do all the rest.

To replenish my starter, I add more fresh flour and water, then let it sit out again, until the yeasts gather and activate. Sandor Katz, the modern-day guru of fermentation, once wrote that he likes to take his sourdough starter outdoors so it can collect the various local yeasts that may not make it as far as his kitchen counter. Los Angeles forager Pascal Baudar said that he often takes his sourdough along with him when he goes for a walk in the woods. I figured I would do no less for mine.

I started making sourdough bread in college — my first job as a junior was turning out 10 loaves each day for a local bakery. It has a pure taste, simple ingredients, and the probiotic fermentation makes the bread more digestible and better for you. Most other bread tastes cottony and dry to me.

But our ancestors ate sourdough bread because they didn’t have a choice. If you want to know why the Israelites couldn’t wait for their bread to rise, it’s because natural leavening takes a long time to do its magic. Until two Hungarian Jewish immigrant brothers named Charles and Maximilian Fleischmann came up with commercially produced yeast in 1868, all bread was based on starter cultures like mine.

To keep a starter culture alive and healthy, you must feed it daily, keep it at a comfortable temperature, protect it from contamination, and occasionally nurse it back to bubbly life. What I am telling you is that, yes, I have an I-Thou relationship with my blob of sourdough starter. I am sensitive to its needs. I feed it; it nourishes us. 

And now comes Passover, when we are commanded to forgo any leavened thing. In our kosher home, that means all yeast products, all flour, anything with leavening, must go. I would ask my wife, the rabbi, if that means the starter too. Except I already know the answer.

After nurturing my baby for nine months, I figure I have to use it all at once or toss it. As we say in Venice, this bums me out. I ask that age-old question of an inscrutable God: Why?

Until you actually make bread like your Israelite ancestors did, it’s hard to understand what lesson there is in prohibiting leavening.

Israelite slaves escaping Pharaoh’s army didn’t have time for their bread to rise, the Passover liturgy tells us. Remember you were once slaves. So don’t eat bread, or anything remotely like it. 

That’s the reason the rabbis always give us — it’s right there in the story.  I turned for answers to my sourdough guru, or rabbi, Sandor Katz. 

“I’ve vaguely understood it to be a metaphor for remembering a time in exile and in transit, without even a place/time to let dough rise, which of course would also imply no place/time to let grape juice ferment (or to grow grapes for that matter),” he e-mailed back. 

But I wanted more.  I assume there must be some reason for the reason. Why of all the things the Jews must give up for eight days, God picks yeast? After all, did the Israelites have time to bring their oxen or wine barrels? Why not meat or sugar or alcohol — things that other religions commonly proscribe? We would nod our heads — oh, that makes sense. But yeast?

I have never come across religion that places prohibitions on leavening. If I was going to have to say goodbye to my beautiful 9-month-old bouncing baby starter, I needed to see the deeper meaning behind it.

And precisely because of that starter, I do.

Until you actually make bread like your Israelite ancestors did, it’s hard to understand what lesson there is in prohibiting leavening. But staring at my starter, I’ve come up with three.

First, sourdough culture is a very human enterprise. Humans manipulate nature to make bread. It takes culture to culture. But for the eight days of Passover, we step away from what we humans create, and sit down to what God created. Eggs. Meat. The first greens. We eat what’s fresh and new and pure (even more reason those processed Passover foods are heretical to the holiday). The earth that was dead in winter has come alive in spring — and we had nothing to do with that. Enjoy it, marvel in it, understand it.

Second, baking takes time. Sure, the Israelites could have scooped their starters into their goatskin purses as they fled. But no matter where they went, they would have had to camp for at least a day to let their bread rise. Passover teaches us to live lightly, be ready to move on quickly, live for today in the presence of all you have — leave tomorrow behind.

Finally, in order to thrive, a sourdough culture needs continuity with the past. Yesterday’s starter becomes tomorrow’s, which becomes next month’s. Passover breaks that chain. You toss it all out, you start fresh.

These are lessons no less profound than remembering our redemption, but harder for our modern minds to understand — at least without a sourdough starter around.

As for mine, I figured a solution. Our neighbors will baby-sit the batter during the holiday. I’ll leave them instructions. Feed and water daily. Keep warm. Walks optional.

Happy Passover.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Calendar: March 24-30, 2017


SAT | MARCH 25

KENNY ARONOFF & FRIENDS

Kenny Aronoff & Friends will perform two sets in their long-awaited return to The Baked Potato stage. The trio features Aronoff (who has played with John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge and John Fogerty) on drums, James LoMenzo (Megadeth, White Lion, David Lee Roth) on bass and vocals, and Brent Woods (KISS, Sebastian Bach, Vince Neil) on guitar and vocals.  9:30 p.m., $30; 11:30 p.m., $25. The Baked Potato, 3787 Cahuenga Blvd., Studio City. (818) 980-1615. thebakedpotato.com.

“ISRAEL AND SYRIA: WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW”

Andrew J. Tabler, the Martin J. Gross Fellow in the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute, will discuss the dynamics of Syria and how it affects Israel, the broader Middle East and the United States. Tabler, who has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, PBS and NPR, is the author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle With Syria.” Co-sponsored by the Jewish Journal. 9:30 a.m. Shabbat service; 11:30 a.m. lecture. Free. Limited seating; RSVP at info@beverlyhilllsjc.org. Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 276-4246.

SUN | MARCH 26

“STREIT’S: MATZO AND THE AMERICAN DREAM”

For five generations, the Streit family business has held strong to Jewish tradition, but even these New Yorkers are not immune to the challenges that small businesses face. Come see the tradition and resilience surrounding this Lower East Side matzo factory in the documentary directed by Michael Levine. 2 p.m. $10; $6 for students; free for members. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 400-4500. skirball.org.

“UNDER THE GOLDEN DOME”

Leaders of the Islamic Center of Reseda will answer visitors’ questions, such as: What are the core Islamic values? How do Muslims feel about Jews? Does Islamic theology drive ISIS? Hear about this and more at the Temple Etz Chaim Men’s Club Sunday Brunch. 10:30 a.m. $10; $8 for club members. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891. templeetzchaim.org.

“THE SEVEN QUESTIONS YOU’RE ASKED IN HEAVEN”

cal-wolfsonRon Wolfson, Fingerhut Professor of Education in the Graduate Center for Jewish Education at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles, will discuss “The Seven Questions You’re Asked in Heaven: Reviewing and Renewing Your Life on Earth.” Wolfson’s books include “Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community” and “The Best Boy in the United States of America.” 10 a.m. brunch; lecture to follow. Free. RSVP to Kehillat Ma’arav. 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

THE PERSIAN PASSOVER RITUAL

Shirin Raban, an award-winning designer, cine-ethnographer and educator, and Saba Soomekh, associate director of research at UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, will talk about Persian Passover ritual. 4 p.m. Free. RSVP required. USC Doheny Memorial Library, Room 240, 3550 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles. (213) 740-1744. usc.edu/esvp.

“THE INNER WORLD OF IILSE KLEINMAN”

Join the opening reception for “The Inner World of Ilse Kleinman: Reflections on Oppression,” featuring a presentation by the artist’s son, Dennis Kleinman, and remarks by art psychotherapist Dr. Esther Dreifus-Kattan. The artist and her parents fled Berlin in 1933 and settled in South Africa as the country was facing the rise of apartheid. Kleinman’s art features Holocaust- and apartheid-related motifs. 2 p.m. Free. Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, 100 The Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 651-3704. lamoth.org.

EMAN EL-HUSSEINI and JESS SALOMON

cal-husseini

Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini

Stand-up comedians Eman El-Husseini and her wife, Jess Salomon — one Palestinian and one Jewish — will perform. They will be introduced by comedian Noël Elgrably. Food and drinks will be available. 7 p.m. $15. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. themarkaz.org.

JEWISH ABILITIES CENTER BENEFITS WORKSHOP

This Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center workshop will focus on “Working While Receiving Benefits.” Jerri Ward, who specializes in Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security with Disability Rights in California, will lead the program and cover topics such as Social Security’s calculation of income, “substantial gainful activity,” a nine-month “trial work period,” work incentives, and contribution of Medicare and Medi-Cal. 6:30 p.m. Free; RSVP required. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Goldman Center Rooms A&B, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. jewishla.org.

MON | MARCH 27

SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER CO-FOUNDER SPEAKS

Joseph J. Levin Jr., co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will discuss the history of the organization’s work, then talk about the current landscape of crimes, anti-Semitism and the pursuit of justice on behalf of vulnerable communities. Q-and-A to follow. 7 p.m. wine and cheese; 7:30 p.m. lecture. RSVP at Temple Isaiah. 10345 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-2772. templeisaiah.com.

TUES | MARCH 28

WORDS, WIT AND WISDOM

Brandeis San Fernando Valley Chapter presents lunch and a presentation by three authors — Gina Nahai, Carole Bayer Sager and Jonathan Shapiro — followed by a Q-and-A. The session will be moderated by Jewish Journal staff writer Eitan Arom. Book purchases and signing available. 10 a.m. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. brandeissfv.org.

WED | MARCH 29

“BEING JEWISH ON THE COLLEGE CAMPUS”

Harkham GAON Academy welcomes all Los Angeles high school students and their parents to an event focusing on learning Passover-related topics that can be shared at the Passover seder, as well as general information about Judaism on a college campus. 6:30 p.m. Harkham GAON Academy at the Westside Jewish Community Center, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles.

“HOLOCAUST ESCAPE TUNNEL”

A preview screening of the upcoming film “Holocaust Escape Tunnel” on PBS’ “Nova” (airing April 19) will be presented by the American Jewish University’s Sigi Ziering Institute with the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The film reveals the story of a lost city — Vilna, Lithuania — which for centuries was one of the most important Jewish centers in the world, until the Nazis destroyed it. A team of archeologists excavating the remains of the city’s Great Synagogue uncovers a hidden escape tunnel dug by Jewish prisoners inside a horrific Nazi execution site. A panel discussion and Q-and-A will follow the screening. Free. 7:30 p.m. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. gradassistant@aju.edu or (310) 440-1279.

MAGGIE ANTON

cal-maggie-antonMaggie Anton is the author of the “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy, “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” and its sequel, and, most recently,“Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say About You-Know-What.”  The writer, who was born in Los Angeles and still resides here, will take part in a book reading and discussion. 7 p.m. Free; donations appreciated. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach. (310) 613-8444. templemenorah.org.

“ISRAEL, TRUMP, WEAPONS & THE MEDIA”

EDIwFzk2

Yaakov Katz

Jewish Journal’s Crucial Conversations, in partnership with Modern Minds on Jewish Matters, presents Yaakov Katz, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and co-author of “The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower,” in conversation with TRIBE Media Corp. President David Suissa. 7:30 p.m. $10 in advance. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 278-1911. bethjacob.org.

THURS | MARCH 30

“COMPETING VISIONS FOR ISRAEL”

Jewish settlers and J Street experience their fair share of demonization in the Jewish community and beyond. Both desire a secure Jewish future for the State of Israel — and Jews worldwide — amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but their vision for the path to that objective could not be more divergent. What happens when we stop paying attention solely to those who agree with us and listen to the other side? Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills will address this and other topics in the third of its Behrendt Conversation Series, “Competing Visions for Israel: J Street and a Settler in Conversation,” with Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron, and Alan Elsner, special adviser to the president of J Street (see their op-ed pieces on Page 12). 7 p.m. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way. For more information or to RSVP, go to: tebh.org/
conversations or email Events@tebh.org.

Ronda Spinak (left) with actors, writers and directors of “Matzo Ball Diaries.”

Celebrating Jewish Culture With a Homespun Mix


For two evenings last week, Deborah Kattler Kupetz’s midcentury modern family home in the winding hills of Brentwood underwent a Cinderella transformation when it became a makeshift theater. With 85 chairs set up in the living room and ambient lights casting moody spotlights onto four barstools at the fireplace, this was the setting for the Jewish Women’s Theatre and the performance of “Matzo Ball Diaries,” foodie monologues revolving around Jewish identity.

“I host these evenings because not only is it a privilege, it’s the ultimate hospitality,” Kattler Kupetz told the Journal. Hers is one of many homes and venues throughout the city hosting this program. The next performances are scheduled for Feb. 3 at Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles and Feb. 12 at Congregation Tikvat Jacob in Manhattan Beach.

At 7 p.m., audience members began arriving at the Kattler Kupetz home with canned goods for a Jewish Family Services food drive and homemade cookies for a pre-show nosh.

“Who are we as a people? What defines us as a culture?” Ronda Spinak, artistic director at Jewish Women’s Theatre, asked the audience before the show. The answers came as four actors performed vignettes about Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs, kugel, tomato omelets, pancakes, pork chops in cream, cheese blintzes, and, as the finale, matzo balls.

Lisa Klug, a Jewish Journal contributor, wrote the matzo ball closer, a piece called, “A Jewish American Love Poem,” from her humorous book “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe.” Usually performing it as slam poetry, she had flown down from San Francisco specifically for the premiere of the show.

“This is the first time that my writing is being staged in a theatrical production, and I didn’t want to miss it,” she said. The fact that the production was staged in a home made the experience more thrilling for Klug, who has watched her poem evolve with each performance.

On this particular evening, Cliff Weissman, the only male among the actors, was in the middle of a monologue when the doorbell rang. This is how it goes with the Jewish Women’s Theatre; with performances held in homes, salon-style, phones sometimes ring. So do doorbells. But in the spirit of any performance, the show must go on.

“Partly, it was an economic decision to go into homes, and partly it was reviving and reinventing the tradition Jewish women have had,” Spinak told the Journal. The group also owns The Braid, a performance space and art gallery in Santa Monica, which now is showing “Nourishing Tradition,” an art exhibition with themes similar to those in “Matzo Ball Diaries.”

“What a wonderful way to perform!” gushed actress-writer Shelly Goldstein, an artist-in-residence at Jewish Women’s Theatre who performs in the show. “You don’t have to worry about sets and costumes or props. It’s the most honest, the most generous. It’s raw.”

The production is bare-bones. Actors read from binders, evoking the feeling of a cold-reading. At times, the spare presentation can feel uncomfortable and expository. In “My Lekker Figure,” a monologue adapted from Robyn Travis’ book in progress “The Tokoloshe,” actress Emma Berdie Donson talked about her eating disorder, her skeletal figure and protruding hip bones. The audience fell dead silent.

“Oh, dear” a woman gasped.

“What I love is how powerful the material is received when you just strip it down to the words and the performance,” said “Matzo Ball Diaries” director Susan Morgenstern. “We talk about the teeniest of things, the smallest of pauses, and the inflection and what they mean and how they’ll be received. So it’s really careful detailed work.”

There are moments of levity, as well, when the audience becomes part of the performance; because the venue is a home, the “fourth wall” between actors and audience is often broken.

“I love the piece about brisket,” said Morgenstern, referring to a monologue by Rene Moilanen, “The Secret to Brisket,” which chronicles a granddaughter’s sifting through her grandmother’s recipe book, only to find that each recipe is composed of instant mixes and microwave instructions.

The secret to her grandmother’s brisket? Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix. It’s a running joke throughout the monologue that catches on and soon has the audience chiming in, saying the catchphrase with the actors: Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix. Women in the audience laughed, nodding their heads, maybe because they, too, use Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix in their brisket.

It’s through these stories, about brisket or matzo balls or whatnot, that the narratives of Jewish women (and men) are told. “Stereotypes about Jews are everywhere in society, so we’re trying to hold up a mirror to ourselves in a way,” Spinak said. “We try really hard to offer up a full range of who a Jew is today. We have a very broad view of that.”

The Jewish Women’s Theatre tries to peel away the stereotypes through its productions. The 2017 season continues with “Exile: Kisses on Both Cheeks,” about the Sephardic traditions (March 18-April 3), and “More Courage,” about the correlations between Muslims and Jews (May 6-22). Also, on Feb. 16, Rain Pryor, the daughter of Richard Pryor, teams up with the   Jewish Women’s Theatre to present her one-woman, autobiographical show, “Fried Chicken and Latkes.” It will run for six weeks at The Braid..

Additional shows are being planned by the Jewish Women’s Theatre’s millennial group, NEXT @ The Braid, funded by Jewish Community Foundation’s Cutting Edge Grant and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. The millennials are receiving writing submissions through Feb. 20 on the theme “The Space Between,” a show about divisions and finding common ground.

“We need to see our stories. We need to hear our voices. It would be nice to see a well-rounded representation of who we are,” Goldstein said.

Which brings up the question: Who is the Jewish woman?

“She is not one thing,” Goldstein answered.

She is an old family recipe. She is challah rising in an oven. She is a mother-in-law’s kugel recipe. She is Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix.

As Passover approaches, longtime OU kosher supervisor sounds alarm on Manischewitz


Three days before the beginning of Passover, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, a veteran mashgiach (kosher supervisor) for the Orthodox Union (OU), filed a lawsuit against Manischewitz and the OU, saying he can no longer stand behind the kosher status of the Manischewitz products he has supervised for 20 years, including its Passover matzos.

“I believe this is a breach of public trust. I just couldn’t handle it,” Horowitz told the Journal on April 21, two days after he filed suit in the New York State Supreme Court.

Within the kashrut world, and particularly when it comes to Manischewitz, Horowitz is seen as a knowledgeable authority. The OU website’s “Getting to Know Your Matzah” article — which gives the ins and outs of matzah kashrut — was written by Horowitz, and he has been interviewed on numerous occasions by major news outlets as a source for Passover kashrut in general, and Manischewitz specifically.

Since 2014, Manischewitz has been owned by Sankaty Advisors, an arm of the private equity giant Bain Capital. In March 2015, when The New York Times’ “Dealbook” section published an article on Manischewitz’s ownership, it quoted Horowitz praising Sankaty’s executives for having “shown a concern for kosher in a special way.” When contacted on April 21, a spokesperson for Bain Capital referred to the Orthodox Union for comment.

Horowitz now alleges, however, that since 2009, Manischewitz’s 200,000-square-foot plant in Newark, N.J., has intentionally bypassed OU kashrut guidelines on several occasions, and that the OU consistently did not support him when he raised concerns. In his lawsuit, Horowitz says OU personnel told him the OU was “feeling pressure within the kosher food industry” because it had lost some accounts to other kosher certifiers.

Horowitz also alleges that when he told the OU that the Manischewitz president warned him that his “job would be in jeopardy if he did not lower kashrut standards,” the implicit message he received from the OU, his employer, was that he needed to “keep Manischewitz happy.”

Both in the lawsuit and in the interview with the Journal, Horowitz listed specific incidents he thinks the public should be aware of, and he said he left the job in December because he could no longer in good faith stand behind OU’s kashrut seal for Manischewitz.

Manischewitz manufactures hundreds of items year-round, and is a massively popular supplier of Passover items such as matzo, wine, gefilte fish and macaroons.

Manischewitz has not yet responded to a request for comment, but the Orthodox Union released the following statement:

“The allegations in this suspiciously-timed lawsuit are entirely without merit, and we will contest this matter vigorously. We certify that the Kashrut of Manischewitz is today, and has always been, at the highest level. Consumers can confidently rely upon the integrity of the Kashrut this Passover and throughout the year.”

Among the most recent of the alleged kashrut violations is from December 2015, when Horowitz says Manischewitz accidentally ran a non-Passover product on its Passover macaroon line, contaminating the entire line, according to OU standards. Horowitz alleges the plant manager did not tell him or other OU personnel about the contamination, allegedly tried to kasher the equipment himself and then continued production. Horowitz said that when he found out about the issue and reported it, the OU excluded him from its investigation and then concluded everything was fine.

The day after the plant manager had done his own koshering of the line, it caught fire, Horowitz alleges, “because there was chametz residue remaining in the ovens.” Nevertheless, Horowitz says, Manischewitz shipped that line’s macaroons, with OU’s kosher for Passover seal, and OU neither issued a recall or a public alert.

In the suit, Horowitz also says that after 18 years of supervising the silos from where the Passover flour was shipped, that duty was stripped from him. And after receiving one particular 40,000-pound delivery of flour, he had to reject it because the containers the flour was shipped in were wet, a clear Passover violation because once flour and water mix, it must enter the oven after no more than 18 minutes.

“I was being kept in the dark,” Horowitz told the Journal. “I was the guy for 20 years, totally in charge of the entire operation. I was the arbiter. If I didn’t know about something, then there’s something very wrong, because I was hired to be in charge. I’m the one that’s expected to say that it’s kosher.”

Horowitz left the Manischewitz plant in December and has not done kashrut work since. He’s suing the OU and Manischewitz for, among other things, defamation and infliction of emotional distress, which he said resulted in him having to take medical leave, the specifics of which are “stress related.” He’s still employed by the OU but said it stopped paying him one week after he left, and recently stopped paying for his medical insurance.

“[There is] no question that that stress relates to all of the aggravation that I felt that I had to fix what was broken and needed to be addressed,” Horowitz said. When asked why he filed the suit just before Passover, Horowitz said it was his last resort after many attempts of trying to resolve his concerns without going the legal route.

“I filed this complaint with great sadness,” Horowitz said. “I have gone way beyond the call of duty trying to get their attention, begging them to address these issues — they and the Manischewitz company. I only went forward with this lawsuit when people that I sent to intercede told me you’re wasting your time.”

Horowitz said he had hoped that those people, who he said are prominent and reputable but that neither he nor his attorney, Arnold Pedowitz, would name, could help resolve Horowitz’s objections to OU’s and Manischewitz’s kashrut standards at the Newark plant.

He declined to answer whether there are any specific Manischewitz products he won’t eat this year for Passover, but said that when he left in December, the degree of the problems in the possible kashrut status of Manischewitz products “was exceedingly severe.”

“To tell you that I know that the things on your plate are no good, I can’t tell you that,” Horowitz said, adding, though, that he also “can’t tell you it is good” since he’s no longer there to supervise.

“The only way I can keep that job is I have a certain amount of certainty that that thing is good. I didn’t have that certainty,” Horowitz said. “I could not in good conscience go into Passover knowing there are people who would look at products and say, ‘If Horowitz says it’s fine, then that’s good enough for me.’ ”

 

5 quick, tasty and kosher ways to use leftover matzo


If you celebrate Passover, you're familiar with this scene: The closing prayers are sung, the last bite of seder brisket is a distant memory, and here you are facing the holiday's inevitable final ritual: [aside] piles of leftover matzo. This unleavened Passover staple never fails to divide the closest of kin — some claim it's the best thing before sliced bread, while others dismiss it as gastronomically inferior to sawdust.

But whether you detest the stuff or eat it straight out of the box, by the time Passover ends, you're probably less than thrilled at the idea of force-feeding yourself bland iterations of the same matzo sandwiches you've eaten for a week. Don't let the “bread of affliction” bring you down! With a little creativity, matzo can be as refreshingly versatile in the kitchen as it is divisive at the dinner table. Here are five easy and delicious ways you can enjoy (or dispense with) your matzo leftovers.

1. Matzo is technically already a “cracker,” but let's be honest, it could get much more adventurous with the term. Coat small matzo pieces in olive oil and sprinkle with any spice combination you prefer: za'atar and cumin; coriander, turmeric and paprika; dried parsley and garlic powder; or rosemary and salt are all good options. Bake in the oven until browned, then serve the newly transformed (read: yummy) chips with your favorite spreads, dips and toppings for an easy snack or hors d'oeuvre. Alternatively, skip the herbs and just add cheese for Passover-friendly “matchos” (I had to).

2. Sneak leftover matzo into your dinner and get the added bonus of releasing stress by crushing the crackers with a food processor, mortar and pestle, or your bare hands. With that you have a ready-made bread crumbs substitute. Or take it one step further and combine the crumbs with flour and egg to provide a crispy matzo crust for proteins and veggies. That cardboard-esque matzo crunchiness really comes in handy here.

3. You know what they say … when not in Rome but wishing you could be, make matzo pizza! Place matzo on a foil-lined baking sheet, using full crackers for a “pie” or small bite-sized portions for snacking. Spread a thin layer of sauce, sprinkle with your choice of cheese and toppings, and bake at 400 F until the cheese melts and the toppings are cooked. If you're willing to go the extra mile to avoid “crust” sogginess — remember, matzo is more permeable to sauce than normal pizza dough – melt a thin layer of cheese onto the matzo before adding the other ingredients on top.

4. Want to avoid being the empty-handed seder guest or need a quick treat to serve last-minute visitors? Chocolate toffee matzo bark is a quick and scrumptious solution. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and matzo, mix butter or margarine with brown sugar until boiling, spread the toffee over the matzo and bake at 350 F until the coating bubbles. Take it out, dump chocolate chips on top, spread the melting chocolate evenly and sprinkle with your favorite toppings (mine are sea salt and chopped pecans). Refrigerate, and voila! Your extra matzo is now the perfectly flaky, crunchy base for an addictive bite-sized dessert.

5. Brunch is a beloved meal all year round, so why neglect it at Passover just because you can't eat the leavened stuff? Matzo brei is a simple, crowd-pleasing comfort food that's perfect for any brunch table. Break the matzo into small pieces and run under hot water until it begins to soften (avoid mushiness). Beat some eggs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir the matzo into the eggs. Heat oil or butter in a skillet, pour in the mixture and fry over high heat until golden. Serve with jam, cinnamon-sugar or whatever other sides you fancy and prepare yourself for that warm fuzzy feeling.

From Alsatian town, France’s oldest matzah-maker sells to the world


For most Jews, matzah season comes once a year. But for Jean-Claude Neymann, matzah, or “pain azyme” in French, is a defining family tradition.

Neymann runs the oldest matzah bakery in France, located in the town of Wasselonne near the German border. The family company, Etablissements Rene Neymann, traces its matzah-making tradition to 1850.

“I’m the fifth generation of my family to bake matzah here in Wasselonne,” Neymann said.

Walking along the steep, cobblestoned streets of Wasselonne, a city of nearly 6,000 people at the foot of the Vosges Mountains in northeastern France, is like stepping into a Grimm’s fairy tale. Timbered facades look more German than French, a reminder that Alsace and Lorraine have been shunted back and forth between two countries that regularly warred with each other in the not-so- distant past.

Salomon Neymann, a peddler and the father of this unleavened-bread dynasty, set up his first bakery in nearby Odratzheim, where he began to bake Passover matzah for his family and the local Jewish community. His matzah became popular, and by 1870 he and his son Benoit moved the factory to larger quarters in Wasselonne, a market city with an industrial district that also had the advantage of being the site of a flour mill.

Between 1870 and 1919 the Neymann family manufactured regular and shmura matzah in their factory, but Benoit Neymann’s youngest son, Rene, had bigger ideas for the company. In 1919 he industrialized production, changed the company name to Etablissements Rene Neymann and in 1930 began to market the wonders of unleavened bread to the non-Jewish public. It was a hit and sales grew.

After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, the bakery was shuttered and the Neymann family was forced into exile in southern France.  Liberation came in November 1944 with the army of Gen. Phillipe Leclerc, and in 1948 Rene Neymann restarted the business.

The decades following World War II saw many changes in how people ate and shopped all over the world.

“Supermarkets started to replace traditional food markets, and eating a low-fat diet became fashionable,” Jean-Claude Neymann noted.

Robert Neymann, Rene’s son, seized the opportunities — he modernized and automated production, expanded the product lines and secured new distribution outlets.

With Robert Neymann at the helm, Etablissements Rene Neymann continued to extend its products and brands by manufacturing other types of matzah for different tastes and appetites: matzah made from rye and whole-wheat flours; bran matzah; spelt matzah; certified organic matzah. Even Neymann’s kosher for Passover matzah, under the supervision of the chief rabbi of Strasbourg, is made from an array of flours.

Jean-Claude, Robert’s son, took over the company in 1983.

“Regular matzah is still our biggest Passover item, but about 62 percent of our total manufacturing output is sold outside France,” he said. “We sell throughout Europe, to Morocco, South Africa, Japan and China. There’s a big market for crackers in those countries.”

Asked about the state of French Jewry and mounting concerns about anti-Semitism in the country, the proprietor of this storied French Jewish company was circumspect.

“I’m not afraid at this moment, but we can never know what people will do. Nobody imagined the Shoah could happen, but it did,” Neymann said. “We and our company are very well integrated into the life of Wasselonne and of France, but in people’s minds we are always the Jew.”

(Toni L. Kamins, a freelance writer in New York, is the author of “The Complete Jewish Guide to France” and the forthcoming ebook “The Complete Jewish Guide to Paris.”)

Bibi’s matzo trashed?


Was Benjamin Netanyahu’s handcrafted shmura matzah thrown out after he so publicly rolled it, patted it and put it in the oven this week?

That’s what several Israeli media outlets are claiming, with some speculating that the Kfar Chabad matzah bakery that hosted the prime minister’s videotaped baking spree trashed his unleavened bread because is not Orthodox.

Not true, say Chabad officials. A New York-based spokesman for Chabad told JTA that not only were Netanyahu’s matzahs not disposed of, but that they are perfectly kosher and are in a box bound for some lucky person’s seder table. (They’re unmarked, so don’t bother searching for it so you can auction it on eBay.) “One of the guys at the bakery told me, ‘I’d be happy to bring the matzah he baked into my home for Pesach,’” the spokesman, who did not want his name used, said.

The reason for the matzah misinformation?

According to Haaretz, one non-Chabad haredi Orthodox media outlet, Kikar Shabbat, wrote that “matzo is supposed to be made by people who follow the way of Torah.” That site, in writing about Netanyahu’s matzah factory visit, referred to him as “the architect of criminal sanctions,” a reference to his support for drafting haredi Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces.

Adding to the confusion is that according to the Chabad spokesman, some other matzahs from the batch made during Netanyahu’s visit did end up in the garbage can because, what with large number of journalists and photographers crowding around, not all the matzahs met the shmura matzah standard, which requires “that you could account for everything it came into contact with, from harvest to baking.”

That’s the way the matzah crumbles.

 

Matzah: Simple cracker, detailed story


The matzah aisle in any local kosher supermarket — even some nonkosher ones — is increasingly more likely to resemble a cereal aisle with its myriad options rather than the modesty and simplicity that is matzah itself. 

A recent visit to Glatt Mart, one of Pico Boulevard’s two major kosher markets, revealed 36 different types of matzah. Yehuda’s gluten-free version is the most popular, according to owner Meir Davidpour. “Everybody wants something different,” he said, referring to the numerous kosher-for-Passover certifications that exist on the market. He estimated the store carries at least six types of handmade shemura matzah — matzah held to the highest kosher standard — and at least 30 types of more standard machine-made matzah.

There are innumerable varieties — egg, chocolate, apple, whole wheat, thin tea, Mediterranean, organic and more — from a bunch of brands, including Yehuda, Osem, Geula, Aviv, Manischewitz, Streit’s.

While matzah appears at first glance to be a very simple food — a combination of water, flour and heat — its many types, brands and flavors reflect the underlying intricacies of what is also known as the “bread of affliction.”

Just ask Rabbi Yechezkel Auerbach, a kosher supervisor based in Lakewood, N.J., a town about 70 miles south of New York City with a high concentration of Orthodox Jews. Auerbach is the founder of Independent Kashrus Research (IKR), through which he is a consultant for companies on issues pertaining to kosher food production.

His career in the kosher certification field unofficially began when he was an 8-year-old sanding rolling pins in matzah bakeries on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Officially, it began 25 years ago, and Auerbach is now regarded as an authority in the supervision field, working with major kosher certification labels like the Orthodox Union (OU) and Kosher Supervision of America (KSA). He is responsible for ensuring that all the matzah sold in three of Lakewood’s kosher grocery stores is fit for Passover.

Some of Lakewood’s Jews have their own certification because, Auerbach said. “We want to service our community with what we believe is the highest standard of kashrus.”

The story of Auerbach’s matzah takes place almost entirely in Israel. He visits the country twice per year, first in northern Israel for the harvest, just weeks after the end of Passover. He returns later to Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb, for the baking. From cutting, stripping and grinding the wheat, to cleaning the kernels, baking the matzah and shipping it to the stores, someone must always keep watch over what goes into the matzah. 

This is meant to ensure that no outside substance finds its way into the bakery, potentially rendering entire batches of matzah as chametz, which is the Hebrew word that describes leavened food, which is strictly forbidden for consumption on Passover.

Matzah that is shemura, or “guarded,” is different than the basic machine-made matzah, not in substance, but in degree. Whereas shemura matzah is closely watched from the time that the wheat is harvested, other matzah is only closely watched after the wheat is ground into kernels, not from the time that it is first cut. The shemura version of matzah goes another step further than its unguarded brother — even the water used to make the dough is carefully stored for at least the night before use.

Auerbach said that to prevent contamination, the wheat kernels are “stored away under protective custody” until several months later, when they are ground into flour and baked into matzah. By Chanukah, Auerbach said, most matzah bakeries are in full swing, working furiously to satisfy orders, many of which are made before the previous year’s Passover.

The bakeries, particularly the ones where the matzah is made by hand, evoke romantic images of brick ovens, floured hands, white baker’s caps and the ultimate prize, a hot, bumpy, uneven piece of matzah.

“Each dough is kneaded by hand, it is finished by hand, it is cut to size by hand,” Auerbach said. “Every step is done by a human being who can focus on the matzah.”

Machine bakeries, shemura and nonshemura alike, meanwhile evoke a more industrial, less romantic feel. The factories have an entire floor dedicated to mixing the dough, which is then sent down chutes into machines that shape the dough into long ribbons, poke holes in them and then flatten them and send them to the ovens.

The machine variant is cheaper largely because the machine process requires far fewer hands and is thus more efficient. But for Jews who are particularly stringent about not approaching the dividing line between chametz and kosher on Passover, handmade shemura matzah, according to Auerbach, is the best option. 

Laws pertaining to the baking process are mostly found not in the Torah but in subsequent rabbinic literature. And there are many explanations for not just the physical makeup of matzah, but also its spiritual significance.

The haste with which matzah was baked by the Jews in Egypt and is baked by Jews today, Auerbach said, was “to remind us that there was anticipation and [a] rush of eagerness to get on [to] the next step.”

The variety of types and brands that are available — in Los Angeles and around the world — are likely a combination of market competition and diverse standards of what makes matzah acceptable.

For Rabbi Eli Rivkin of Chabad of Northridge, shemura matzah is not only his personal matzah of choice over Passover, but he has distributed about 100 pounds of it to approximately 250 households in Northridge.

To eat matzah during the Passover seder, Rivkin said, is actually an explicit mitzvah according to Jewish law. And it’s the only mitzvah in Judaism that requires eating a specific food. 

Although he only eats one type of matzah over the holiday, Rivkin sees the many types available in the marketplace as a good sign for Judaism.

“I think it’s wonderful that Judaism is flourishing and that there’s such a wide variety of kosher food available,” he said.

The results of this proliferation were apparent in Glatt Mart’s matzah aisle, where Sigal Mamon-Harosh was pushing a shopping cart filled to the brim with Passover products and several of the 30 boxes of matzah she said she purchased. 

She anticipates about 20 people at each of her family’s two seders. With that many mouths to feed and tastes to satisfy, the wide variety of matzah on the shelves did not disappoint.

“My husband will eat matzah shemura, I eat the whole wheat, the kids eat the egg with the apple, my parents eat the white, and then I have guests that I’m not sure what they eat.”