Monday, April 25, 2016

Making the Matza

Last weel I participated in a women's matza baking at the yeshiva near our house.  What an interesting experience--sort of like a Model Matza Factory but WAY more intense.  To start, only boys and girls one year post bar-/bat mitzvah were allowed to participate because, said the supervising rabbi, "this is not a joke.  You've got to be mature to do this right".  Younger kids were allowed to help, though, in things like washing equipment.

To begin, all rings, watches and bracelets were removed and gloves donned.  As we said out loud "l'shem matzo mitzvos" (for the sake of the mitzvah of matza) and three electronic timers were synchronized to 18 minutes (beat the clock.  If you don't, your matza is chametz and not fit for use during Pesach), water from a local river was added to flour that had been watched since the time of the harvest  We watched as a "matza pro" (seriously, his finished matzos were things of beauty.  Unlike, say, mine) mixed them together.  As the rabbi noted, this was very different than mixing something like challah dough, as there is an extremely small amount of water added to the flour, so getting a dough is much more of a challenge.

Love the gloves!  Reminded me of those stories James Herriot wrote about being a country vet....
All photos in the blog today are from

Then on the finner, which was like an extraordinarily heavy metal rolling pin attached at one end to a small metal table.  The dough was pounded with the finner, while constantly being folded and re-folded by a helper who was veeery careful of his fingers.  I took a try at finning (or whatever the word is) and found it very similar to performing CPR (which, thank Gd, I have never had to do "for real"): you have to put your whole body into it, it's hardest on your arms and, in about two minutes, you are quite ready for the next person to step in and take your place....
I recognize my elbow!  That's me finning!

Next on to the rolling.  I think this is where we women thought we'd shine.  It was a LOT harder than we/I anticipated, though.  The dough tears easily and get little folds in it that mess it up when it gets in the oven and make it chametz.  All the while (from the beginning of the process) the dough must be kept in constant motion, as when it stops moving it can start rising.

we are poised to grab the dough and start rolling!  
The last process before baking is "redling", where the dough gets perforated with rollers that make little holes in it (I once tried to buy one to use in making my "matza soaps" but couldn't convince any Model Matza Factory rabbis to sell me one :)).  Baking is done in a super hot oven, this one built from scratch with bricks and a propane tank.

The matzas get laid over a long stick that's covered with paper and rolled over into the oven so that the matzas roll off onto the oven floor.  The stick is then thrown on the ground, to be picked up by the kids who remove the paper and recover it.

Faster, faster!  Once, my dough just made it into the oven when the timer went off.  So I learned that just making it into the oven is enough before the 18 minutes is up 
Every single thing used gets cleaned before being used again.  Gloves used only once.  All paper covering the work areas is changed between rounds.  We did four rounds, which took 2.5 hours.  I understand better the high price of shmura matza: it was very labor intensive (I didn't sit down for the entire time) as well as a spiritually-intense procedure.

Delightedly, we had three complete pieces in the box I took home and those were the matzas at our Seder (boy, is it weird to write that in singular, not plural; Only one Seder now that we live in Israel!).  The matzas were light and tasty and I am glad that I had the experience.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Happy Birthday, Ilana!

Wow--double digits!  Today is Ilana's Hebrew birthday and we are (finally) done celebrating.  We noted her English birthday.  And Shabbat HaGadol.  And she had a party in school. And a party here.  Party, party, party!

home party.  Thanks, Grandma Rhoda, for remembering to send candles with your present!

School party.  Ilana's in the back holding up the butterfly-shaped cake she made.  She's with her "birthday buddy" Tamar, who made Aliyah on the same day as us.  So nice they had a joint birthday party!

For her party, the girls made tote bags from T-shirts.  Tamar said she was like the Jewish story character Savta Simcha, who has a never-ending handbag

They also played "pin the olah chadashah tag on the Ilana".  Every year, we have a themed "pin the....".  Were we still in Malden, my guess is that we would have had "pin the glasses on Ilana", since wearing glasses is a big new thing in her life.

We brainstormed and she chose this theme.  When we arrived in Israel, all the new olim were given tags saying "oleh/olah chadash/ah" so that it would be easy to identify who, in the vast crowd at the airport, was new.  I hadn't thought about it until Purim, when someone from my class came to ulpan wearing a costume of their aliyah t-shirt and it had the sticker on it.  Brought me right back!

It was certainly different having a party without the ol' beloved Malden crowd of girls, but I am glad that Ilana has made such good new friends here.  All the girls above speak English (as well as Hebrew).  The girls on the far right and second from left made aliyah this past summer, and the middle girls have been here since they were toddlers.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Partying While Pre-Pesach Purchasing

The whole country seems to be in a pre-Pesach FRENZY.  The mall has pop-up kiosks full of housewares, and the grocery stores have huge displays of cleaning products for sale.  Ulpan and the kids' schools got out for Pesach break this past Wednesday, which is a full week earlier than the Boston calendar for this year.  While I appreciate the extra time in my schedule, it does seem a bit excessive.....What are your kids supposed to do with all that time off (let's assume they're not going to clean right alongside the parents)?  Ah, here comes the "Pre-Pesach Kaytana" (day camp) to the rescue.  Ilana is signed up to take a sewing camp for five hours/day from Sunday through Thursday.  Nothing similar for the teens, but Penina has become a very popular babysitter in the neighborhood  (amazing girl got four kids to bed on time the other night!).  She has also been helping our pregnant next door neighbor, who is past her due date, with Pesach cleaning and with their other kids (Chana and Penina even slept over there last Shabbos in case our neighbor needed to go to the hospital during the night).

We rented a car and went to Ikea.  (Amusing side note: here it's pronounced "EE-Kay-Ah" because "Eye-Kee-Ah" sounds like the word for vomiting.  Similar pronunciation with Kia brand cars).  It see the whole store decked out for "the Holidays".  For Pesach.  Amazing.  Every table display was set up for a seder (seder plates for sale, too!):

couldn't resist taking a bite of the cardboard matza (no jokes about how could we tell it was different from the real stuff, please)

While we had the car, Penina and I did our large Pre-Pesach shopping trip to the big supermarket in the area.  The entire store was changed over to only Passover products within 48 hours of Purim ending.  We're at the point that most stores, if they sell chametz at all, have it on display racks outside the store, or in a very small section of the store with big signs all around warning that you are about to buy toxic waste.  Or something.  The general minhag seems to be that people shouldn't eat for the week or two leading up to Pesach, but we're not going to follow that one :)

It's funny to have a whole huge store Kosher for Passover and still feel like there's not much to eat.  That's because the vast majority of food items I have found are only certified for those who eat kitniyot (like beans and rice) on Passover.  Works in a country with so many Sephardim in it, but not for us Ashkenazis.....I do think it's cool that many people here can eat their beloved Bamba even on Pesach, though (peanut butter corn puffs.  It's like the ultimate "anti-Ashkenazi" food).

There were some unusual things that were kosher for Passover.  Like clear tape.  And paper napkins.

All in all, it's a very interesting time here!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Does This Count Towards My 15 Minutes of Fame?

Our neighbor, who is originally from Hungary, is very involved in campaigns that encourage greater understanding of Israel by non-Jewish Europeans.  So she asked if I would be interviewed by people-who-work-with-people-she-works-with for a Finnish documentary.  Okaaay.....

I asked some questions to try to ensure they were above-board (i.e. that I wouldn't get ambushed with anti-Israel questions) and I was interviewed yesterday.  The three people in the crew were extremely earnest in their desire to get their country-folk to have a better view of Israel and those of us who choose to live here, and it was very sweet to meet such people.  They are traveling all over the country doing 3 or 4 interviews a day.  The documentary will hopefully be finished (Finnished?!) before the end of the year.

Funniest moment: there was a knock on the front door as Shlomo, the young man who started working with my husband, came to "the office".  I was all hooked up to the microphone and stuck where I was, the kids were upstairs with the bedroom door shut and Shalom Shachne was in the office on a phone call, so the interviewer went to answer the door.  The look on Shlomo's face as he came in was priceless: "Umm, I just wasn't sure that I was even in the right house!" (Poor guy thought he had walked into an alternate universe--a blond in jeans and a t-shirt answers the door and then our living room is transformed with big lights and a video camera on a tripod!).

I hope I gave coherent answers about why we are here and the specialness of the land and the honor of being able to live in it.  Then again, if I didn't, what are the chances I will ever see a Finnish documentary?!