Susan Elkodski – Long Island Herald
Going to public school as a child often meant bringing matzah for school lunches during Passover. Our non-Jewish friends loved it, and would beg us to share. It was the only time they had a chance to eat matzah, and to them it seemed to be a delicacy. We Jewish kids could never understand that, to us it was a major pain in the neck, we were stuck with it for 8 days.
We begin the Passover story by saying, “Ha lachma anya – This is the bread of affliction/poverty. Let all who are hungry come and eat.” What an odd statement and invitation! Luckily, we know that a really good dinner is likely to follow the seder (the ceremonial and story-telling part that includes the meal)!
The Torah tells us that the when the Israelites were preparing to leave Egypt, they were rushing and didn’t have time to let their dough rise. They put it in their kneading bowls, covered it, and took it with them to bake once they had left the land of slavery and oppression and had a moment to rest.
The dough baked after leaving Egypt is the same dough they would have baked in Egypt, and the end result would have been the same–matzah.
Passover is a time for questions, so let’s start with one about matzah, one of the three foods central to the seder. Why do we celebrate freedom by eating the bread of slavery? One reason is that we re-enact the Israelites’ experience of slavery and their journey to freedom by crossing the Red Sea, but in Jewish tradition, there’s never only one reason!
While the square matzah we buy in the supermarket bore no resemblance to what the Israelites ate, it’s still the same bread – flour and water that hasn’t yet leavened. What’s not the same are the people eating the matzah. Yes, they’re the “same people,” but they’re now are in a different place– physically, emotionally and spiritually – and the simple hard cracker becomes a sweet symbol of freedom and opportunity.
The matzah which can be transformed metaphorically can also be transformed physically into a variety of delicious dishes such as matzah lasagna, matzah pizza and my favorite, matzah brie (pronounced bry, like “fry”), and like Levy’s Rye Bread, “you don’ have to be Jewish” to enjoy it! Simply take two boards of matza and soak them in hot water until softer. Beat in one egg, a drop of vanilla and a little sugar, cinnamon and salt. Butter or oil a frying pan, pour the mixture in and either cook like a pancake or scramble.
The “bread of affliction/poverty,” lechem oni in Hebrew, is also a reminder that there are still people in the world who are oppressed, who are marginalized, who suffer from discrimination and hate, who live in or near poverty. We might not be able to invite the whole world to our seders physically, but we can make a place at the table to talk about how to work towards a world when no one will have to eat the bread of oppression.
Rabbi Susan Elkodsi
Malverne Jewish Center