Visiting the Matzo Factory
by Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein
From the outside it looked like a decrepit old building, maybe a used
furniture store or an old hardware store hidden behind wooden slats. One
would not know that so much life, such hustle and bustle was going on
inside. Certainly I was unprepared. When I entered the factory, to the
left I saw a room with long tables. Mostly women worked on both sides of
the tables with long thin rollers, similar to a rolling pin but three
times as long and one third as thick.
The women were dressed in house
dresses and other forms of simple clothing, such as full skirts and
blouses with kerchiefs around their heads, reminiscent of the 'old
country'. They were busy making matzo, working quickly with eighteen
minutes total preparation and cooking time allowed for Passover matzo.
I found myself energized and moved watching the women, several of whom
smiled at me. I yearned to stay with them, to be taken in by them, given a
'rolling pin' and a spot at one of the tables--maybe even a housedress. I
did not wish to go back into the street. They were triggering some very
old memories and feelings in me that had faded but not died, of being
taken in by people and feeling safe. The positive energy level was so
palatable that you could taste it. I would like to tell you about one of
I was with a college friend, Joannie. Joannie lived with her parents in a
very small house that looked run down by my ranch house suburban
standards. They had a living room with old stuffed furniture, a dining
table and chairs squeezed into one end of the living room and a very
outdated kitchen. I couldn't even see any appliances.
That night when I went to visit, her mother came to the door in a large
print housedress with messy hair, no make up and a voluminous body.
Clearly a friendly woman, she gave me a big hug. After we chatted and had
snacks, music was put on.
Joannie was a violinist and I knew there was a
love of music in this family. As the music filled the small rooms, Mrs. R.
jumped up and started folk dancing all by herself--turning, bowing and
spinning. The house was filled with warmth and energy. I loved watching
her and being there. Soon we were all moving and swaying. The rooms seemed
to expand to hold our movements. Mrs. R. was a true ballerina of the
When I left and went outside everything seemed cold and empty, almost
sterile. I was confused by my reaction, by my joy at being there and my
desire to remain. I was confused because in terms of values, at least in
external values that I had been taught, her family didn't represent most
of them. It was important to have a nice house with a clean new kitchen
and big rooms.
It was important for one's mother to wear make up, be thin
and have stylish clothes. Joannie didn't meet my standards either. She was
ordinary looking and didn't wear make up. She was brainy but that was the
only attribute where she met the mold. How was I to make sense of my
internalized suburban (what I now see as shallow) values jarred by
penetrating feelings of a positive connection to a person that didn't
Now years later, (after watching my friend's mom dance from her soul, so
light on her feet, natural and at ease in her own living room) I was in a
matzo factory in a small building watching Russian immigrants working.
They too, were unassuming, at ease and they danced with their arms as they
rolled the dough.
Here were people who had lived their lives--unable to celebrate Passover.
Now they molded sacred Passover dough. In the large barren room where they
worked, standing at wooden tables, it seemed as though they created a
positive energy system that gave me a sense of comfort and welcomed
me--made me a part of things rather than being apart from things. This was
an energy that made colors richer and external values seem to matter less.
I knew in my soul as I watched, that metaphorically I was watching
Joannie's mom dance all over again. It is hard to put it any other way.
It's not the only time that I have felt elated or excited, or really
enjoyed myself, but the people in that room touched one of the deepest
cores that I could account for in my being. They touched a sense of
validation of the human spirit, a space that had a form to it as solid as
a rock, yet brilliant and transparent like quality sunlight.
As we left the matzo factory, I stepped back in to watch for a few more
minutes. One woman smiled. I didn't want to leave. Finally, I was dragged
out, so to speak, as you remove a child when it is absolutely time to go.
At first the sidewalk felt cold and it seemed as if the sunshine had gone
away. I felt it was all in that room, not outside, even though it was
If I had been a little younger--maybe a little braver--I would
have let the tears of soul knowledge pour down my face or I would have run
back into the matzo factory and hugged some of them saying, "thank you for
being here and embracing me with your positive energies!" But, I didn't
have the courage. I went along with my day as best as I knew how, working
as hard as I could to knead their sunlight into the bread of my life!
Some forms of enchantment touch deeply into our souls. Passover is a time
when our souls are once more encouraged to strengthen and stretch. Both
Jews and non-Jews respond to the cry of the Exodus--"Let my people go!" Or
we could say, "Let me go! Let me be free to grow and develop and not be
imprisoned by depleting thoughts or feelings. Let my soul soar, while I
attempt to dance freely--my arms and legs moving in harmony with the
universe as I find ways to bring heaven down to earth--a bit here, a bit
May the sea always divide for you and let you through to your promised
land. And may you be dancing and playing on Tambourines as Miriam and the
other women did as they crossed the Sea of Reeds.
Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein , originator of THE ENCHANTED SELF®, a method of bringing delight and meaning into everyday living, invites you to view her new line of ENCHANTED WOMAN products, downloadable e-books, and free gifts at http://www.enchantedself.com
from the April Passover 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine