Fast, ancient food

The Kfar Chabad matza factory produces 12,000 tons of matza at the pace of seven minutes a batch.

Matza (photo credit: Adam Ross)
(photo credit: Adam Ross)
For most of us, Passover preparations began only a few weeks ago. But the matza factory at Kfar Chabad has been in full swing since the day after Simhat Torah, almost six months ago.
Located just outside Lod, Kfar Chabad has a population of around 5,000 people and serves as the Israel headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch hassidic movement. The town is inspired by the teachings of the values and customs of the late Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Chabad is the largest Jewish outreach movement in the world, with over 4,000 emissaries working in 75 countries.
This year it will host more than 2,500 Passover meals, with the largest expected to attract over 1,000 mainly Israeli backpackers in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Each year, the factory at Kfar Chabad produces some 12,000 tons of matza and ships it more than 80 countries, including some as far afield as the Republic of Congo, India, Peru and Nigeria, as well as those that Israel does not even have relations with.
“They ship it to Iran via Russia,” says Moni Ender, vice spokesman for Chabad in Israel. “They know what it is but they don’t know it comes from here.”
Outside the factory, a troop of visiting seminary students and teachers are waiting for their turn to see the baking process up close. Although visitors can look in through the factory’s glass wall, Ender offers media tours to see the bustling process up close. In past years, he has also brought Knesset members and government ministers to roll up their sleeves for a hands-on experience.
The factory floor is divided into work stations, each with 40 to 50 workers – none of whom is standing still. At the beginning of the production line, a white-haired, bearded man sits in a sealed room, every so often sliding open a window to deposit a load of flour into a metal basin, which is the cue for another man behind another window to reach out and add a carefully measured amount of water.
The flour has been under strict supervision from the moment the wheat was cut in the fields. This is what is known as shmura matza, or guarded matza. In accordance with Jewish law, the water must also have been stored for 24 hours prior to the baking to ensure its temperature is sufficiently cold, as warmer water could cause the dough to rise.
The Talmud stipulates that bread that takes longer than 18 minutes to prepare is no longer considered to be unleavened. Here at Kfar Chabad, as soon as the water is added to the flour, a digital timer fixed to the wall begins to count down – but a batch of matza is generally prepared and baked in closer to seven minutes from start to finish.
Throughout the factory there are men bouncing up and down, kneading dough using a machine with a thick metal arm. When they have finished, a hassid traverses the factory floor, transporting thick strings of kneaded dough to a team of cutters who shuffle along the table edge, dividing the dough into equal pieces. From here it is passed on to rollers, who flatten the dough out into circles before it is perforated, draped on brown, paper-clad wooden poles and fed into an oven heated to 800°C for about 20 seconds. Any longer and it would be charcoal.
The atmosphere is upbeat and excited.
An older man circuits between the stations, clapping his hands to keep up the pace of the workers.
David Trambiko, from Ramle, is one of a team of five kneaders. Sweat has darkened most of his light blue T-shirt, but he somehow still has the energy to talk as he works, “Work that you love isn’t hard,” he says. “I’m sweating lots but it’s for the sake of a mitzva.”
For the six months of the year when the factory is not open, Trambiko works as a painter/decorator.
There is no rotation system; once a kneader, always a kneader, and once a roller, always a roller. Somewhat like on a soccer team, everyone has his own position.
For each of the three teams of rollers, there is a spare table sitting dormant.
To ensure that no dough from the previous run will remain on the table and continue to rise, after each batch of matza, the rollers move over to the clean table while the other tables are thoroughly cleaned and dried before the new dough is allowed to be put on them.
Circles of dough whiz past down the table every few seconds and are perforated so they won’t rise too much in the oven and the air has a way to escape.
The baker manning the oven receives the highest salary on the factory floor because it’s the most difficult job.
Wearing thick industrial gloves up to his elbows, he feeds matzot into the thick stone oven using a meter-long paddle. Seconds after placing them inside, he retrieves them and sets them aside to cool off.
The matza factory is about 30 years old and was opened only after the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave it his blessing, although word is that the rebbe acquired his own matzot from a local bakery in Crown Heights.
ALTHOUGH SOME religious Jews believe that machine-made matza leaves less room for error, the Chabad community says that by hand-baking matzot, they know exactly what is happening to the dough at each stage of the process. They also say that matzot should be produced with the intention that it will be used to perform a mitzva, and that hand-baking is the best way to insert that human intention – although others argue that the same can be achieved when a human being operates a machine.
“You can make it all by machine, but you can’t put the emuna [faith] in that way,” Ender explains. “You think about the mitzva and about the fact a Jew somewhere – maybe in Peru, in Nicaragua – will eat this matza on Seder night; you think about this nation, all of them doing the same thing on the same night, everyone eating the same food, and you think about the fact that this matza is the food of faith. You try to insert those thoughts as you are making the matza.”
That said, he adds, “The biggest mitzva of Passover is not the matza or the bitter herbs, either. It’s just telling your kids about the story of Egypt. This is the biggest challenge in our generation: to tell the children and to give them the pride to connect to their heritage.”
This sentiment is represented in an ambitious educational program coordinated by the Chabad Youth Organization, headed by Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Aharonov, which showcases the matza factory to approximately 20,000 schoolchildren each year.
Just down the road from the factory, there are two tents for the children. In one, young Chabad educators are getting a crowd of kids going with songs and banter – “Ehad mi yode’a?” (Who knows one), they shout. “Ani yode’a” (I know), the crowd calls back. In the other tent children are making their own matzot – it is being done without the halachic stringencies but it is an experience nonetheless.
Among today’s crowd is a group of parents and children from the Gan Shulamit kindergarten in Jerusalem. Nili Auerbach, the mother of one girl enjoying the fun, explains, “The children saw a video about making matza, then they visited the factory to see it all happening for real and now they come here to have a go for themselves. It’s been a great day out.”