Thursday, March 24, 2011

Event: The Mystery of Matzah…South Portland, ME

My manager at work, Julia, is excited to share information on the new program Sowing Seeds, Braiding Community and the Mystery of Matzah Event. I wish you the best of luck in the next year. 

Thanks for sharing!

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Emmer and Einkorn

The Jewish calendar is full of beautiful holidays and festivals that focus on the importance of history, tradition, and of our connection to the earth. For example, Shavuot is associated with the ripening of the first fruits of the season, and Sukkot is celebrated outdoors in a special hut lavishly decorated with the bounty of the fall harvest. But perhaps the most “famous” of these historical/agricultural holidays is Passover (aka Pesach).

Passover is a holiday connected to the tradition of matzah, when the people of Abraham hastily made bread on their flight out of Egypt and slavery. You know the story—the evil Pharaoh sent his army chasing after them, and Moses parted the Red Sea just in the nick of time.

As you can imagine, there wasn’t much time to let the dough rise, so it baked flat. That matzah was made from two ancient varieties of wheat noted in the bible, Emmer and Einkorn. 

Today, even though bread and whole grains are so central to our diet, our system is broken. Wheat prices are soaring, and unless we are lucky enough to have access to a local bakery, our bread travels a vast distance to reach our tables. Even those local bakeries must get their flour from very far away. And what kind of flour is it? It’s grown from “modern” wheat, which is engineered for perfect uniformity, high yield, and tolerance of chemicals. It lacks flavor and nutrition, and is raised on massive single-crop megafarms. Jews now eat matzah from a box. 

But it wasn’t always this way, and since the rites of Passover require the remembrance of other specific elements of the Exodus, why not also recreate the original matzah? 

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Sowing Seeds, Braiding Community

Did you know that wheat grows wild in Israel? It’s ancient, biologically diverse and full of nutrition and flavor. But ironically, Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians buy over 90% of their wheat from these US megafarms too.  How can we rescue and rebuild these heritage wheat varieties?

Enter Elisheva Rogosa and The Heritage Wheat Conservancy ( Working together with the Israel Genebank, Elisheva has carefully collected and brought several varieties of these ancient wheats to New England. Through a partnership with Ms. Rogosa as our guest scholar, my synagogue (Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland) has gained access to Emmer and Einkorn, two nearly extinct heritage wheat species native to ancient Israel and Egypt.

So what are we going to do with these special wheats? We were awarded a special grant from the Union for Reform Judaism to fund a program we call Sowing Seeds, Braiding Community. Our program was one of only 20 grant recipients from a field of nearly 170 applicants nationwide. 

Throughout the coming year, Congregation Bet Ha’am will invite the Greater Portland community to participate in a hands-on celebration of the cycle of wheat. Rare heritage wheats will be planted locally and harvested this summer, and the crop will be processed into flour and baked into bread to share with the community. The history and culture of these rich agricultural traditions will be explored through study circles, lectures, and workshops.

Photo Credit: Elisheva Rogosa

Photo Credit: Elisheva Rogosa 

Photo Credit: Elisheva Rogosa

Get Involved: The Mystery of Matzah

We’re kicking the program off next weekend with a series of events called The Mystery of Matzah.  Join us as we explore teachings of food and community, restoring the tradition of matzah! We will be learning about the wheats and then using the flour to make traditional matzah in a portable wood-fired oven. The event is (enthusiastically!) open to the public. 

Everything is free (including the luncheons) except for the baking event, which is just $5/person to cover the cost of the rare flours. We request RSVPs for all events so we can be sure to have enough food and supplies.

Sheaves of several ancient wheat varieties will be on view throughout the weekend. Emmer and Einkorn flour will also be available for sale.

Later on this spring, under the guidance of Ms. Rogosa, Congregation Bet Ha’am will be planting a patch of heritage wheat on our Westbrook Street property as part of the next phase in the Sowing Seeds, Braiding Community project. The Mystery of Matzah weekend is just a foretaste of what we might explore with our own wheat harvest in the coming year.  We are so excited that this program will allow us to forge a deeper connection to our community, our planet, and our traditions!

The public is enthusiastically invited to any or all events, but RSVPs are requested to ensure enough food and materials.  Please call the office at 207-879-0028 or email

We'll also explore artisan varieties including potato matzah, garlic-onion matzah, egg matzah, gluten free and others

To learn more about the Mystery of Matzah weekend, visit our Events page at

Hope to see you there!


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