OP-EDS

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April 13, 2004

The Matzah Cycle: France, England, etc

As a child, up until the age of about, let's say, 19, I was very confused by where matzah came from. I had not bought into the blood-libel rumors. No, I figured it must be made out of matzah meal, mixed with water then baked. But, then, where did matzah meal come from? It must be crushed matzah, broken down to the point of resembling flour. This, I thought, must be the matzah cycle. How sad I was when I realized that matzah is made from normal ingredients, from flour and water, not from matzah meal, thus ruining my image of a perfect matzah cycle, from matzah to tam tam crackers to matzah farfel to matzah meal, then back to matzah, and 'round again. This, for me, was the equivalent of learning that there's no Santa Claus.

I really like matzah. Year-round. It could be that, as a picky eater, there's something appealing about a type of bread that is simply flour and water, with no poppy seeds to remove or pecans to pick out. Perhaps, more to the point, this is because I allow myself, um, other foods as well during Passover, so I'm never forced into matzah overload. In Paris, I was thrilled to discover something called pain azyme, which basically amounted to half-size matzot, which went well with all the cheese I consumed while studying abroad this fall. There are probably still pain azyme crumbs on the floor of the room I was living in.

While eating these crackers in Paris, I noticed that, while they looked like matzah and sure tasted like it, they were simply called what translates as unleavened bread. Was it some sort of freak coincidence that the French, too, had created these wonderfully bland crackers? Is matzah like marriage, something found in every civilization around the world? Some of the makers of this French matzah-like substance, Les Specialites Paul Heumann, maintain a website, www.matsot.com, which, unlike the box I remember from Paris, hints at the relation between this "pain azyme" and the bread my forefathers munched on while leaving Egypt.

Patrick Belton of Oxblog (oxblog.blogspot.com) picked up on this phenomenon in England. In a post called, "Nope, no Jews over here," Belton writes: "Not that England's any less welcome a place to be Jewish than, say, New York, but here is the unabridged text off the container of Rakusen's Matzah: ‘The big snack, low fat cracker for healthy appetites.'" Belton adds, "Nope, no Jews over here, just regular old English people enjoying a wholesome subtle nutty flavour-—cheers, mate!"

Belton, it seems, may be onto something. I, too, wondered whether Paul Heumann and his fellow matzah makers in France were being a bit overly non-Jewish in their marketing of these crackers. From the English-language version of their site: "Our Unleavened Bread, made exclusively of carefully selected wheat flour and water, without added sugar, salt, fat or yeast, is also a tempting option for those health consious [sic.] among us. Its dietetic qualities make it the ideal companion to those in search of a balanced diet." This Paul Heumann character, for all we know, is really Saul Hyman, but, pressured by the current anti-Semitic climate in France, has put a metaphorical baseball cap over his metaphorical yarmulke, yielding crackers where there once were matzot. Crackers, of course, in the non-derogatory sense of the term.

What's striking when you think about it is how anti-Semitic the French would have to be—or at least be perceived to be by matzah makers—for matzah to be marketed as a diet product rather than a Jewish one. Wouldn't the average French person rather buy a ceremonial food used by their least (or second-least) favorite minority group than something suggesting that he, like those damned Americans, has a weight problem?