By Janis Mara
MarinIJ 3/29/15

Sophia Hamilton, 6, poured kernels of wheat from her cupped hand into a grinder, then grabbed the handle and began to turn it, making flour for matzo at Chabad Jewish Center of Novato on Sunday.

With the Jewish holiday of Passover beginning Friday evening, Sunday’s event was an opportunity to teach the children about Moses’ liberation of the Jews as told in the book of Exodus and give them a chance to make matzo from scratch.

“I’ve never made matzo before. This is a different kind of activity to share with my son,” said Kristen Zeitzer of Corte Madera, who showed up with Xander, 3, as the event got underway.

In contrast, Dalit Miller of Novato grew up in Haifa. “When I was in preschool in Israel we would make matzo. We would make a hole in the ground and light a fire. It’s nice to teach my girls the same,” said Miller, who brought her daughter Bat-El, 6, to the event.

In the front of the room, two sheaves of golden wheat, each about the size of a bouquet of roses, adorned the table.

“We thought we’d introduce our little daughter to how to make matzo. I didn’t know they’d have sheaves of wheat — this is cool,” said Sivan Oyserman of San Rafael, who brought 20-month-old Maayan.

“Three thousand years ago there was an evil king in Egypt called Pharaoh, and he didn’t like Jewish people. When most people work, they get paid, but the Jewish people didn’t get paid and they had to work day and night,” Rabbi Menachem Landa told the children.

“Moses told Pharoah, ‘Let my people go,’” Landa said, adding that when the ruler demurred, plagues descended, and Pharoah ordered the Jews out of Egypt.

“God told us to take bread with us,” Landa told the group. “Because we were rushing, the dough didn’t rise. We left Egypt with our bread on our backs and our faith in our hearts.”

Mendel Rice of Lucas Valley, the assistant rabbi for the day, passed out a stalk of wheat to each child, instructing them to snap off the tassels at the end of the stalk.

“Each shell has a kernel. That kernel is what you grind to turn it into flour. Roll the husks in your hands to bring the kernels out,” Rice instructed.

“What do you have to do to make this look like flour?” Rice asked.

“Grind it!” the children said in unison.

Soon the youngsters were lined up in front of the grinder. As Sophia Hamilton turned the crank, flakes of flour fell into a glass bowl beneath the grinder.

The next step: Sifting the flour. With that accomplished, “We need water. Who knows how to make water?” Rice asked, to laughter.

“Well, you take two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, but today we’ll use a water bottle,” Rice said.

After Rice kneaded the dough, the children donned paper hats and plastic aprons, then rolled the dough flat with rolling pins.

The group then moved outside to the matzo oven. Each child painstakingly arranged a thin circle of dough on a giant spatula wielded by Rice, who slid the raw dough into the oven. After a spell in the oven, the matzo emerged.

“Once the Jews left Egypt, there were no more slaves to build the pyramids. They chased us and thought they would bring us back to Egypt. We were cornered next to the ocean, and God said, ‘Go ahead,’ and the sea split and we were saved from the Egyptians,” Landa said. “From then on we were a free people.”

Zeitzer, the Corte Madera mom, said, “Matzo has been around for centuries. (Making matzo is) something we do to remind ourselves of what it’s like to be enslaved and what it’s like to be free.”