Add History, Mix Well


Rabbi Yisroel Levine didn’t look much like a holy man when he appeared before the room full of kindergarten and preschool students at the Chabad of the Conejo’s Westlake center.

He was wearing a paper baker’s hat and a white apron. And he was ready to make matzo.

The group of more than 40 children and parents from Agoura Hills’ Temple Beth Haverim came to the Chabad’s new Conejo Valley bakery Thursday to help him and to learn more about their Jewish heritage as Passover approaches.

After watching Levine demonstrate how wheat kernels are separated from chaff and the grain is ground in a stone mill, the children lined up to wash their hands, then got down to business making matzo.


“They make all kinds of matzo now--chocolate covered, egg matzo--but they’re all square,” Levine said to his fidgety audience. “What’s special is to eat a round matzo with nothing in it but flour and water.”

The children took to their stations in front of balls of dough set amid small piles of flour prepared by the rabbi’s assistant, 50-year-old Avi Kaya.

To be kosher for Passover, the dough needs to be mixed, kneaded, rolled and baked in the oven within 18 minutes, Levine said, “otherwise it’s bread.”

With their parents’ help, Levine’s students started work.

“Don’t use all the flour,” admonished the rabbi as the children carefully coated the dough balls by rolling them in the pile before kneading them. “Only use it if your dough is sticky.”

Then the children began flattening the dough by pounding it and rolling it with wooden pins.

“Bang it and turn it over . . . over and over,” Levine said above the thunder of small fists. “Roll it again and turn it around . . . try to make it as round and thin as possible.”


Once the students got the dough sufficiently flat, the rabbi told them: “Take a fork and make a zillion holes in it, then turn it over and do the other side.”

Kaya and Levine then gathered the unbaked matzo and deftly popped the creations into an oven warmed for more than two hours to 700 degrees. They baked them for two minutes on one side, flipped them, and cooked them in the oven for another 30 seconds, then removed them to cool.

The room filled with the smell of toast.

Finally, all of the matzo--brown, crispy and somewhat bumpy--was cooked, and the children ate.

Five-year-old Greg Zuckerman from Agoura Hills was pleased with the results.

“I’ve never had circle matzo before,” he said, while the other children crunched and chomped.

Greg’s 40-year-old father, Daniel, said his son’s experience making unleavened bread for Passover, and hearing Rabbi Levine tell the story of how matzo was first made prior to the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, has taught him to take pride in his heritage.

“It’s about teaching the kids about the past and passing on traditions,” Zuckerman said. “We have to keep the next generation informed about what happened.”