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Budapest confronts matzah shortage

BUDAPEST, April 5 (JTA) — Members of the Jewish community here have been spending the days before Passover on long lines in an attempt to get small amounts of matzah.

“It’s unbelievable! This is the first time in my life that I cannot make matzah cake for my family, because I could not get enough matzah,” said an elderly woman who was lined up this week in front of the Jewish community headquarters.

“Even during the Communist regime, I always used to get as much as I wanted, and now I had to queue up for a half-day for only” two pounds of matzah.

When the first shipment of the imported matzah arrived from Israel three weeks ago, there were no lines in front of the Jewish community headquarters — but that soon changed.

The community, with the help of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Budapest office, had ordered some 22,000 pounds of matzah from Israel.

It sold out within a few days when news spread that it was available.

The crunch also affected local stores, which sold out their supplies of matzah the week before the start of Passover.

Approximately 100,000 Jews live in Hungary — almost all of them in Budapest.

Peter Tordai, president of the Budapest Jewish community, said the Jewish leadership thought it had ordered enough imported matzah based on the amount that had been produced last year by a local factory.

“It was our mistake,” said Tordai. “This will be a real matzah crisis.”

When making their calculations, he said, the leadership had failed to take into account that the local factory had closed recently.

Explaining the closing, the owners said it was no longer profitable.

But Laszlo Herczog, deputy leader of Hungary’s Orthodox Jewish Community, told JTA he believed that the owners, who are not Jewish, decided to sell the factory because the land it was on was more valuable than the business itself.

Compounding the problem, said another community leader, local hotels and restaurants bought large quantities of the imported matzah.

Tordai, meanwhile, is thinking ahead to next year.

The solution, he said, is that “we try to restart matzah production in Hungary.”

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