Notwithstanding Hitler, Dollfuss, the blizzard of 1934, crises, riots and civil commotion, Pesach is still Pesach, an investigation in to the matzoh situation discloses; and matzohs are still being turned out and shipped to the four quarters of the world on schedule.
In anticipation of the festival of festivals, the matzoh industry, which is centered in and about the New York sector, is preparing to go into a double shift. Already, trucks groaning with consignments of matzoh, matzoh-meal, farfel, cake-meal, cake-matzoh, whole wheat, hygienic and dietetic matzoh, crisp and delicious, are determinedly deploying in all directions.
Hard by the East River, on Grand street, harassed Sam London, distracted by a broken machine-belt which was tying up production in the four-story bakery that produces 2,000,000 pounds of unleavened bread a year, gazed through a pair of glasses covered with matzoh-dust, and boasted of his argosies carrying matzoh to far-flung Jewish communities from the Yukon to Cape Horn and from Hawaii to South Africa.
On piled cartons in the dim warehouse of the plant, pencilled addresses could be made out of consignees in Texas, Cuba and Brazil. Bearded patriarchs covered with flour wandered about in pursuit of their duties, trundling packages of farfel, matzoh-meal and what not, convertible into knaidlech and kreplech and taiglech and all the happy outward forms of the old-time Pesach seder, without which Passover would be unrecognizable.
The belt adjusted and everything under control again, Mr. London disengaged himself from a knot of flour-covered bakers and observed that he was one of the proprietors of the oldest matzoh-baking firm in the country, the business having been founded in 1871. It ordinarily employs fifty persons in distributing its quota of some 1,000 tons of matzoh, but in the weeks preceding Passover the number goes up to eighty and more.
The matzoh industry is confined mainly to five or six large bakeries in New York and Jersey City, which supply the rest of the country and foreign parts, South America, Canada, Africa and Australia. These firms get orders even from Europe and strangely enough from Palestine, too.
MODERN METHODS USED
By far the largest is the Manischewitz bakery in Jersey City, which employs five hundred people and occupies 200,000 square feet of space in its extremely efficient six-story, mechanized bakery.
As a matter of fact, all the matzoh-bakeries are highly mechanized, using remarkable robot-like ovens that take a batch of pesachdicke dough into one end of their systems and spreading, baking, and grooving the mixture, continuously eject hot, dry, finished matzoh at the other end.
Horowitz Bros. and Margareten, over on the East Side in New York, employ about 100 bakers in a modern four-story plant. Goodman’s on East Seventeenth street and Streit’s on the lower East Side employ another 100 between them.
A few scattered, bakeries contribute their toll of matzoh to the rest of the country–in Chicago, where there are two, in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other Jewish centers. But the matzoh industry is definitely New York’s like most other Jewish things.
ROUND AND SQUARE MATZOHS
The most important personage about a matzoh bakery is, of course, the bearded “mashgiach,” the rabbinical representative, clad in yarmelker, who oversees the ritual details of baking operations. All matzoh bakeries have a “mashgiach” supervising, and preserving the traditional “kashres” of the unleavened bread, the symbol of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness for the forty years between the Exodus from Egypt and the first sighting of the Promised Land.
An interesting sidelight on the matzoh situation is the competition between round matzoh and square matzoh, an entirely irrelevant distinction which has nothing at all to do with the purity, the “kashres” of the traditional bread, but still has an effect on the policies of the various bakeries. It appears that certain communities in Eastern Europe had got into the habit of baking their matzohs square, while others baked theirs round. This preference has its repercussions in the Jewish scene in America, and one firm, Goodman’s, has a following which demands round matzohs and will not be satisfied with anything else.
AMERICAN MATZOHS IN PALESTINE
The demand for American-made matzohs in Palestine, of course, is likewise explained by the fact of habit. So many American Jews transplanted to Palestine soil naturally look upon America as their fathers looked upon Russia and Poland. It seems more “Yiddish” to perform the ceremonies as our fathers did. So American matzohs from New York grace many seder tables in Zion.
For those with an incurable matzoh-tooth, the bakeries continue to furnish an all-year-round supply of unleavened bread. Following the Passover holidays, they busy themselves mainly, however, with the production of noodles and macaroni.
But when the Pesach season approaches, the “mashgiach” is notified, the plant, the warehouse, the whole organization undergoes a purification and a re-birth. The trucks begin their annual dance of excitement, the work-shifts are doubled, salesmen scurry over the continent. Then matzohs begin to trickle, by train and boat, to all the dispersed communities of Israel.