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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Rabbi's bakery blends families, bread

By DEAN SHALHOUP, Telegraph Staff
dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com

MANCHESTER – Scott Schaeffer and his family buy their matzo bread at the store, he says, only because "we don't have the (utensils) to make it at home."

But that didn't stop the 11-year-old Brookline youth from diving right into the clouds of flour that rose from several tables at the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire center Sunday, where he and a couple of dozen other kids gathered for Rabbi Levi Krinsky's famous Model Matzah Bakery, a fun-and-learning experience that he holds each year just before Passover.

Model Matzah Bakery, an outreach program that encourages Jewish children and their families to participate in one of the faith's oldest traditions, is a project of Chabad Lubavitch New Hampshire, of which Krinsky is director. Children begin the afternoon by watching an educational video, then get to don plastic aprons and paper hats to follow Krinsky's step-by-step directions to make their own matzo (sometimes spelled "matzah" or "matzoh") bread from scratch.

The activity is held roughly two weeks before the start of Passover, when members of the Jewish faith are encouraged to study the history and laws of the eight-day festival that commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

Passover begins April 20 this year, which is 5768 on the Jewish calendar. Observances can start as early as April 17 with the observance of the Fast of the Firstborn.

"Look at this young lady here . . . not too thin, not too thick, just right – nice job," Krinsky announced, his voice booming throughout the center's auditorium as he peered over the shoulder of tiny matzo-maker Gaia Gilat. Gaia, 5, and her parents moved to Nashua just 10 months ago, said her mom, Hila Gilat.Krinsky, a colorful instructor with boundless energy, floated between speech and traditional chants as he coached his little matzo chefs through the process. Using wooden spindles about 18 inches long and tapered at both ends, the kids worked the ball of dough they'd just mixed into flat, round matzos, the unleavened, cracker-like staple of Passover.

"Yes, like that. Now turn your matzo over and push, push, that's right. Roll the other side out flat . . . OK, these are ready for the oven," he said, grabbing a pizza paddle and quickly adding, "Hey, where's my timekeeper?"

Parental spectators, both amused by Krinsky's style and impressed by his knack for keeping his fledgling students focused and interested, leaned in to watch and offer the occasional guiding hand.

Charlie Schaeffer, Scott's father, said the family has been to Krinsky's "matzo party" before. "It's a good way to learn more about our culture, our religion," he said.

Scott, a student at Captain Douglass Academy in Brookline, is also something of an actor, his mother, Lynda Schaeffer, added – he's appeared in commercials for "Transformers" on cable TV's Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.

For Krinsky, his popular program is all about making learning effective by making it enjoyable for the kids.

"This is indeed one of our more fun activities," he said after making sure all matzos had been removed from the oven and placed on a giant foil sheet to cool.

"By doing hands-on things like making matzo," Krinsky said, "children are able to appreciate this age-old Jewish tradition and learn the history of their faith.

"Kids want to learn . . . I feel if I create (an atmosphere of) curiosity, they won't go to sleep," he added with a laugh.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6523 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.

© 2007, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire

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