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Not As Simple as It Looks

Not As Simple as It Looks

Mother of 14 describes the complexities of managing her Matzah Bakery

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Baila Grunwald of Montreal, Canada, mother of fourteen children, never intended to become a business manager. Her husband, Eliezer David, ran a successful business while she took charge of the home front with devotion, love, joy and an abundance of organizational skills.

When NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico – came into force, Grunwald's car filter business deteriorated and he decided to open a new business.

In the past, on a volunteer basis, he had manned the matzah baking in the synagogue in preparation for Passover, using a small makeshift oven. "The community was growing, there was a greater demand for matzah, and so my husband decided to open a permanent matzah bakery."

Grunwald's former business partner, however, didn't share his vision. Much to his surprise, neither did anyone else he knew agree to join him in this new venture.

That's when his wife came into the picture. "'I'll be your partner,' I told him," says Baila, who at that time had nine children under the age of fourteen. "How I did it—I don't know, now that I look back. G‑d helped me."

When the Montreal Matzah Bakery opened its doors in 1993, it was a major success. "We were both elated," says Baila. "We didn't cover all the expenses, but we were able to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

Baila, the former stay-at-home mom, threw herself into managing the business. Putting in long hours at work and making sure the kids were taken care of without compromising either was quite a challenge. But there were other benefits. "Working together with my husband has brought us closer in so many ways," notes Baila.

Matzah, or unleavened bread made from only flour and water, is a reminder of the bread hastily prepared and eaten by the Jews leaving Egypt during the Exodus with no time for the dough to rise. The Montreal Matzah Bakery operates part of the year, baking matzah from the end of November until Passover, when the Jewish people banish every trace of chametz (leaven, derived from the fermenting of grain) from their house and eat matzah instead of bread.

Months before the holiday, the Grunwalds travel to the wheat fields.For Baila, the day begins at 5:00 a.m. when she rises. By 8:30 a.m. she arrives at the bakery together with her husband.

Despite the machine-produced matzah that is available today, "shmurah" handmade matzah, distinct in taste and unique in texture, and baked throughout the centuries by hand, are still preferred by many.

"We use only wheat that was supervised through every step of the process—from harvesting the grain to the final baking," says Baila.

In August, months before the holiday, the Grunwalds, accompanied by rabbinical supervisors from Montreal, travel about six hours to the wheat field of their choice, to examine the wheat.

"It's the most difficult step of the matzah process, and usually we must travel a number of times until the wheat is of the right moisture," notes Baila. "This year, although we made the trip seven times, due to an excess of rainfall, the wheat wasn't usable, halachically, for shmurah matzah. So for the first time in sixteen years we couldn't harvest wheat for shmurah matzah. We're using the flour from our silo that we stocked up last year as we always do, in case of just such a predicament."

Later, at the end of November, at the same time that the frosty Montreal winter sets in, the fires are ignited in the large brick oven of the Montreal Matzah Bakery.

The flour that is used for the matzah must have been ground at least three days prior to the commencement of baking, and the special water (called mayim shelanu) must be drawn by the previous sunset and left to cool overnight.

Since water touching flour can result in chametz, flour and water meet only in the mixing bowl. "The flour is measured in one room, while the water is measured in a separate, closet-sized room," Baila explains. The one who mixes and kneads the dough stands between the two rooms.

The button on a timer is pressed. As soon as the timer begins to tick, a window from the flour room opens and a man places the flour into a huge bowl. Only when that window is shut, does the window from the smaller room open and water poured directly into the bowl.

At the moment when the flour and water meet, the feverish process of matzah baking begins. The entire process from beginning to end – the moment when the fresh matzah is removed from the oven – must not exceed eighteen minutes. Flour and water in contact for 18 minutes, according to Jewish law, causes the dough to ferment, turning it into bread rather than matzah.

The kneader works on the dough, someone shapes it into long rolls, the long rolls are cut into individual pieces and distributed among the workers with wooden rolling pins standing along long tables.

"It takes thirty-five seconds for the workers to roll the dough into the circular shape of matzahs," Baila says. Afterwards, the unbaked matzahs are taken to another table to be perforated with a metal roller. They are then hung on long wooden sticks and handed to the baker, who inserts them into the brick, wood-burning oven.

Throughout this rapid process, the workers repeat the words, "L'shem matzat mitzvah" ("For the sake of the matzah that will be used for the mitzvah"), and an atmosphere of speed, fervor, joy and a calm sort of pressure reigns.

Between each shift, every worker along this assembly line washes his or her hands to remove traces of flour or dough. Workers clean off any dough clinging to the tables, bowls, rolling pins and any other equipment. While the last of the workers are scrubbing, the next shift has already begun, so that four shifts of matzah are completed each hour, yielding about 80 pounds of matzah per hour.

"It takes 35 seconds for the workers to roll the dough into the circular shape of matzahs.“Passover is quickly approaching - we are working overtime and with mounting pressure. With each pound of matzah that I sell, I hope and pray that the customer will be satisfied,” says Baila.

Though you might not be able to tell from the end result, through its many, scrupoluous steps, baking matzah for Passover is not nearly as simple as it looks.

Mirish Kiszner is a teacher, counselor and lecturer living in Jerusalem. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications. Her latest book is Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary People (Artscroll), a collection of true stories about real people. She is also a regular contributor to our Help! I’ve Got Kids . . . parenting blog.
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Leora Feldman Boardman, OH March 17, 2016

Unbelievable!
I cannot begin to thank you enough for educating us on the process involved from the very ingredients to the steps required to make your mahtza.
I loved the part you joined your husband in this special business!
I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if one or more of your loved darlings have joined the family business! How very proud you both must be of such hard work and the enormous success that has obviously been delightfully accomplished! :-)

How may the Americans purchase your mouth watering mahtza please?
Do you have a website?

I look most forward to hearing from you!

N.B. Rest assured, I personally will not ever forget you all. Your magnificent story must be shared the world over! I hope you do realise how very rare you all are in today's times. I wholeheartedly applaud you! Thank you many times over for sharing us the journey involved in the process, details required for such a simple matxha, but yet incredibly complex and heavily involved. Thank you! Reply

thomas elle toronto, canada April 6, 2009

thank you very excellent info
hava ahava
happy passover
april 9

2009 Reply

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