Even if you’re not Jewish, you might know that matzah (or matzo) is a big flat cracker, usually square, that comes in a box. Not true, according to Barry Dolinger, co-founder with his wife Naomi Baine of Mitzvah Matzos, a Providence-area organization that both bakes a unique unleavened bread, and uses the profits to fight against modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
“It used to be that every town and perhaps every family would bake matzah for themselves,” Dolinger explains. That changed in the 1880s when two companies, Horowitz Margareten and Manischewitz, turned this ritual and local creation into something manufactured and distributed nationally.
“Originally, matzah used to be handmade and softer,” says Dolinger, who is a rabbi. “It was a bread. Unleavened bread. Matzah became a cracker to become shelf stable and not go moldy.”
In pre-COVID times, Mitzvah Matzos organized huge community bakings, teaching dozens of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds – under careful supervision – how to bake organic shmurah matzah (made from wheat guarded against leavening even before it’s harvested) that is soft and round, thick and chewy.
“This is the bread of slaves. It fills you up,” Dolinger says. Around the world, there are more than 30 million people who are victims of human trafficking. From slaves harvesting shrimp in Thailand to the round-ups of Uighurs in China to domestic or sex workers here in New England, the problem can’t be addressed easily.
The mission of Mitzvah Matzos to reclaim the intentionality of creating sacred bread for the Passover Seder – the ritual meal that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday – raises awareness, and makes a real difference. “Mitzvah” is the Hebrew word for good deed.
“Everyone who knows about Passover should know what slavery looks like today, not just then,” said Dolinger.
Mitzvah Matzos donates a portion of its funds to the STAR program at St. Mary’s Church in North Providence, which works to release and empower people (often women). Learn more at MitzvahMatzos.org