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Plainview kids learn about matzo, Passover

Students at the Mid-Island YJCC participate in rolling

Students at the Mid-Island YJCC participate in rolling dough while making matzo inside one of their classrooms. (March 22, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Sleek, modern computers sat against the back wall of a Plainview nursery school as an enthusiastic young rabbi explained the 3,000-year history of the matzo to an equally enthusiastic prekindergarten class.

As Jews around the world prepare for Passover, which begins at sundown Monday, Rabbi Hershy Lasry was doing his best Friday to make sure Jews living in the electronic age would grow up with a hands-on feel for their history and religion.

"This is so important because if we look at world Jewry today, people do the same things they used to . . . but the significance of what they're doing kind of gets lost," Lasry, 24, said after the first class finished.

"I feel if we give the kids, the younger generation today, the hands-on experience of making matzo, of doing the seder, of all these things, the kids will appreciate what they're doing so much more," he said, pausing to slide roughly made matzo out of a portable electric oven.

"As they get older and want to convey the message to their kids, they'll do so with enthusiasm. They'll do so with an excitement, because they themselves have experienced what it's like to make it and . . . why it's important to their lives," the rabbi said.

The matzo lesson, serious in intent, slid into the humorous at times with pupils aged 4 or 5 at the early childhood program of the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center.

Matzo has two ingredients -- flour and water -- Lasry explained to the first class.

Where does water come from? Replies included the sea, the refrigerator and a pond.

Where does flour come from? "The garden!" a girl shouted, ignoring Lasry's pleas that the children raise their hands to be recognized.

The rabbi then took them through the traditional making of a matzo. He scooped up a handful of wheat, showed them how to "smush" the yellow grain into a bowl by rolling it between their palms, blow the chaff from the bowl and grind it into white flour.

After mixing the flour and water, he told them the mixture had to be baked within 18 minutes, reflecting the haste in which Jews left Egypt when they were freed from slavery.

Each of the 30 or so children got a small wad of dough that they pounded and rolled during what looked like a Whac-A-Mole tournament at tables in the back of the class. They used pronged rollers to punch holes in the dough to keep it from becoming leavened, and the rabbi then slid the final products into the oven.

The lesson capped a week of pre-Passover events for the children that included traditional foods, skits and other activities, according to Alice Glasser, a teacher at the school for 31 years. "We tell them their history and they act it out: what it was like to be a slave; how the matzo was made as they ran through the desert," she said. "It makes them feel they are a part of Passover, a part of history."

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