Can it still be the Bread of Affliction if it’s not bone dry, tasteless and nearly impossible to swallow?
The great-great-great granddaughter of the man who first began producing the flat, square matzah slice on the Lower East Side is testing that culinary (and halachic) proposition.
Naomi Baine, a speech-language pathologist in Providence, R.I., and her husband, Barry Dolinger, a pulpit rabbi there, are trying to sell seder goers on the idea of soft matzahs.
The two are founders of Mitzvah Matzos, a year-old nonprofit that makes and distributes kosher-for-Passover soft matzahs (mitzvahmatzos.org).
The Dolingers, who last year distributed their matzah mostly in the Providence area, are expanding distribution to a larger part of the East Coast; four congregations in the New York area — two in Manhattan and two in Long Island — will serve as “buying clubs”/pickup centers.
Turns out that for centuries at Passover seders, matzah meant soft, round, handmade pita-like pieces of baked dough, which quickly grew moldy. The invention, in the mid-19th century, of matzah-making machinery that cranked out flat, uniform pieces that stayed fresh indefinitely changed all that. (Except for Sephardim, for whom soft matzah is a staple.) The trend quickened among Ashkenazim when Jacob Horowitz, an émigré from Hungary and Baine’s ancestor, opened a matzah bakery on Orchard Street. (The Horowitz-Margareten brand of matzah and other Passover products is now a subsidiary of the private equity firm Bain Capital).
In keeping with the theme of the holiday and their “spiritual entrepreneurial mission,” Baine and Dolinger donate the profits of their 501(c)3 firm to organizations that combat modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Rabbi Dolinger says he knows of only one other bakery, in Brooklyn, that makes soft matzot.
People who see the unfamiliar matzah for the first time often ask, “Is this OK?” he says.
“This is more than OK,” he answers. “This is matzah.” At his seders, he says, “I only use soft matzah.”
What would Jacob Horowitz think of his great-great-great granddaughter’s effort to wean people off the matzah crackers he helped popularize?
“I think he’d be proud,” Rabbi Dolinger says. “He was an entrepreneur. Naomi is an entrepreneur.”