Beth Ami fundraiser helps bring down wall of matzah

There are few things a congregation can do when it has accumulated a “wall of matzah.”

It can try to give away those oh-so-tasty squares to those in need. It can put them in the compost bin. Or feed them to the birds. Or, as Santa Rosa’s Congregation Beth Ami has done, it can make a mountain of matzah brei to raise money for its Hebrew school.

Sanford Bressic enjoying a forkful of matzah brei

“The object is to have matzah become food before it becomes building material,” joked Richard Kahn, a Congregation Beth Ami board member who helped organize the Matzah Brei Fry at the Conservative synagogue on July 19.

Kahn said the event — attended by about three dozen people — helped whittle down the congregation’s ample supply of matzah, donated after Passover by members and local grocery stores. It affectionately had become known as the “wall of matzah.”

But the truth of the matter is that the event didn’t put much of a dent in the wall.

“It’s a sliver, but it went for such a good cause, it doesn’t bother us that it’s still there,” Kahn said. “It’s not going to go to waste.”

Matzah brei is like French toast, in that the matzah is soaked in an egg batter then fried and topped with any number of goodies. Traditionalists like Kahn go for sour cream and jam, while those on the wild side will douse the brei in syrup, salsa, cinnamon, Nutella or even ketchup.

Congregation Beth Ami’s matzah stash

“We had people come and bring their own toppings,” Kahn said. Why? “Because they thought we wouldn’t have any. But we did!”

Beth Ami usually asks its members for unopened leftovers after Passover. This year, however, the congregation received a windfall from the Safeway in Healdsburg, which had ordered more kosher-for-Passover foods than usual.

According to Beth Ami member David Kahn (no relation to Richard), who works in the food industry and received the donation from Safeway, the grocery store donated about 80 to 90 five-pound boxes of matzah — which works out to about 400 individual one-pound boxes.

By the time of the Matzah Brei Fry, the congregation had about 280 boxes remaining, 25 of which were eaten on Sunday — a very small dent.

Beth Ami leadership urges its members to take the leftovers. But usually it’s the canned and jarred foods like gefilte fish and matzah ball soup that go first. And matzah is actually a difficult item to donate to those in need, as there is no demand for it and most people aren’t eager to eat more after they try it.

“This idea of the matzah brei fry started when we had a discussion on what do you do with this wall of matzah,” said Janet Stein-Larson, a member of the congregation’s kitchen committee.

The congregants decided to tie the fry in with an interfaith blood drive going on that day at a nearby blood bank. Those who donated blood could eat the matzah brei and fixins for free. Others had to pay, but not much: $8 for adults and $4 for kids. Mimosas were sold for $2 and non-alcoholic mimosas were free.

Though the turnout wasn’t grand, Kahn said he was pleasantly surprised that those who showed up were different folks — a slightly younger demographic — than those who show up for Shabbat services.

Kahn said Beth Ami will probably do another fry, perhaps a couple more — so that by the time Hanukkah rolls around, the matzah stockpile will be a bit more manageable. Maybe even totally gone.

“You know how it is with these kinds of events. People come and try it, and they like it … and that’s how we get people used to the idea,” Kahn said. “If we had 35 or 40 this time, we’ll have 50 or 60 or maybe even 70 next time because people said it was great.”

Shoshana Hebshi
Shoshana Hebshi

Shoshana Hebshi is a freelance writer and former J. copy editor living in the North Bay.