What’s a Matzah?
I’m the child of parents with different religious backgrounds, so I got to celebrate
all of the big holidays growing up. While I’ve written before about how to me Christmas and Chanukah are one big Festival of Lights, a time of peace largely secular and yet powerfully spiritual, it’s Passover and Easter that have much more in common from both liturgical and historical perspectives. As a kid, just about the only connection besides their calendar proximity was searching for the afikoman during Passover and hunting for candy on Easter Sunday, but later on I got hip to the whole “paschal lamb” metaphor and had my mind blown when I discovered that Jesus’s Last Supper was a Passover seder and the original communion wafers were matzah.
Afikoman is not the name of a Jewish superhero. It’s pronounced “ah-fee-koh-min”
and is a piece of matzah — the unrisen bread eaten during Passover to recall the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt — hidden for children to find at a ritual dinner known as the seder (“say-dur”) is concluded. You may also see “matzah” spelled “matzo” as on the boxes above (or “matza” or “matzoh” for good measure); still, it’s pronounced “maht-zuh” in English and “maht-zah” in Hebrew, not “maht-zoh” (although the plural in Hebrew is pronounced “maht-zoht”) — unless you’re eating some, in which case you can’t say anything because your mouth is utterly devoid of saliva with flecks of the driest cracker known to humanity stuck everywhere.
Traditional matzah is about eight inches square and extremely flat as well as dry. It’s sold in salted and unsalted varieties, sometimes made with egg, sometimes flavored with onion, and in broken-up form or as powdered matzah-meal ready for use in baking cakes that will be kosher l’pesach, or kosher for Passover, since normal leavening agents can’t be used. While extremely dry on its own it’s easily moistened with egg and water to cook as fried matzah or matzah brei, sort-of like French toast, and during the eight days of Passover it’s often the basis of a variation on pizza or eaten with peanut butter and jelly or honey. You’ll even find chocolate-covered matzah sold, but in my house you could just take a bite of regular matzah from one hand and chomp on a chocolate bunny from the other.
Related: I Melt with You • The Dark of the Covenant • Why Is This Joke
Different From All Other Jokes?• Braids of Glory • Nick of Time