Rabbi Shmulik Greenberg had the kids’ full attention.
“Are you ready to bake matzo?” he shouted out after telling the story of the iconic Jewish bread.
“Yay!” the two dozen children yelled back excitedly.
They had come to the Gan-Garrett Jewish preschool in Orchards to prepare for one of the high holidays of the Jewish calendar in a way none of them ever had — by baking matzo.
The reason why Jews eat matzo is to remember their ancestors’ history, Tzivie Greenberg, the rabbi’s wife and director of the preschool, told the children.
The matzo was baked differently from other bread out of desperate necessity, according to Hebrew teachings. The Jewish people during their exodus from slavery in Egypt had to flee so hastily that they had no time to leaven their bread, that is, to let the dough rise.
And matzo is a poor man’s bread, made of only water and flour, lacking all the flavorful ingredients enjoyed in breads today, the rabbi’s wife told her students.
Jews all over the world eat matzo during the seven days of Passover, which this year doesn’t start until April 6, Shmulik Greenberg said.
But he wanted to build the mood of the holiday in his community’s children. He leads Chabad Lubavitch of Clark County.
“A major part of the holiday is to tell the children the story of Passover,” Greenberg said.
And to make the holiday story interesting to children, he brought the holiday to life.
When the children filed into the preschool Tuesday, stations decorated in historic motifs were set up. After some short introductions, the children soon were separating wheat from chaff, grinding the wheat into flour by hand, adding water and rolling out the dough with wooden dowels.
They couldn’t dawdle with the dowels — no more than 18 minutes were allowed to pass from the time flour met water until the finished matzo loafs emerged from the oven.
That’s because the dough will start to rise after 18 minutes, which would mean the children and their families would disobey the ancient commandment to eat unleavened bread on Passover, Greenberg said.
He didn’t just learn how to make matzo out of a book — it’s a deep-rooted family tradition for him.
Greenberg’s grandfather lived in communist Russia before emigrating to Israel in 1966, the rabbi said.
It was illegal to bake matzo in Russia in those days, so his grandfather built a hidden chamber in his fireplace and baked matzo at night.
Rabbi Greenberg can now pass on the tradition to the next generation. On Tuesday, he watched his 5-year-old son, Levi, make the traditional bread in the ancient ways of his people.