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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Matzo Bakery Swings Into Action




"If I didn't like the stuff so much, I wouldn't be here," says Vitaly Budagov, poking his long white stick into a mound of dough. As he stirs, he mutters an ancient prayer under his breath. The dough disappears through a funnel, emerging moments later as wide sheets of yellow parchment, punched all over with holes. Budagov wipes down his stick, mops his brow and tips in the next load.


Through a cloud of kosher flour, against a backdrop of Orthodox Jewish, the Khleb Filippova factory announced its matzo-baking season officially open last Tuesday. In the week that the factory has been operating, orders have flooded in from every corner of the former Soviet Union for the flat, crispy bread that is essential to the Jewish celebration of Passover.


"Our teething problems are over," said Nadezhda Proskurnina, the efficient director of the tiny factory at the All-Russia Exhibition Center, as the former VDNKh is known. "This year is our third year of matzo-making, and production is better than ever."


Proskurnina declined to reveal how many kilograms of matzo her factory makes each year, but judging by the legion of boxes stacked against the walls, thousands of Jews across the nation will be chewing her unleavened bread in the three months leading up to April 11.


The factory is immaculate. Before production began for this year's batch, a commission of rabbis was summoned to ensure the equipment and the ingredients were kosher.


Only two ingredients are used in the production of matzo. Preservatives are not permitted, and neither salt nor sugar are added to the mixture. The flour -- kosher wheat flour -- comes from France. The water is local.


According to Jewish law, the liquid used in matzo dough must stand for 24 hours before it is mixed with the flour. Once the two ingredients are combined, they must be baked within 18 minutes. Any longer, and it is not considered unleavened bread. But with 29 workers in the factory, Proskurnina says they have no difficulty keeping to the strict regulations.


Once the dough has been flattened in a series of automatic rollers, it travels through a long oven, where it is baked for three minutes. Two women at the other end break it into letter-sized chunks. "The first 12 kilograms of baked matzo are not considered to be kosher," Proskurnina said. "It is a very scrupulous process."


Matzo is an integral part of the seder, the customary feast that begins the celebration of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Along with other traditional dishes like maror, a variety of bitter herbs, and charoset, a mixture of apples, nuts and wine, matzo is a symbol of the bread the Jews carried with them as they fled -- unleavened because they had no time to let the bread rise.


In a small room at the back of the factory, the matzo is packaged, ready for delivery. Before Khleb Filippova started producing matzo three years ago, the Jewish community ordered Passover bread from Israel or America. "Now they can get it on their very own doorstep," Proskurnina said.


No one knows just how large Russia's Jewish community is. Joshua Rosenzweig of the Moscow Synagogue said there are probably about 350,0000 Jews in Russia, 80,000 of whom live in Moscow. "But this is just an estimate," he said. "The actual number may be much higher."


Whatever the figures, Proskurnina has no doubt that her factory can provide enough matzo. Although most of the bread is sent to synagogues aroun d the country, it is also available in the shop downstairs, where 700 grams will set you back 16 rubles ($2.60). "Sales so far have not been bad," said a cheery sales assistant. "But we are expecting a stampede nearer Passover."


As Proskurnina leaves the factory for her lunch break, she crams a couple of slabs of matzo into her pocket. "At first I found it a little bland," said Proskurnina, who is not Jewish. The traditional bread eaten during Russian Orthodox Easter is kulich -- a large, sticky bun filled with raisins and eaten with cream cheese. "But now I find I am addicted to the stuff. It is simply delicious."