Jewish World Review March 6, 2002 / 22 Adar, 5762

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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Consumer Reports

The great matzah famine -- THE last deli will close at noon.

Such awful timing with many important religious holidays visible on the calendar! It's been a bad couple of years for the delicatessen business. Last year it was mad gefilte fish disease -- this year the great matzah meal famine. The price of matzah meal is rising even though matzah itself -- unleavened bread -- never does as no leavening agent is added.

There hasn't been a matzah famine since 800 CE. Droughts, floods and the war on terrorism have devastated the delicate, fussy and demanding medicinal matzah. In addition, global warming and the overuse of antibiotic pesticides have made the plants susceptible to the highly resistant Amalekite beetle.

Says Rabbi Arnold Miller of Orange County, Calif., "Matzah may be the bread of the afflicted from the time Jews wandered in the dessert, but you know I'm getting tired of all this affliction already."

According to analysts, matzah futures are climbing the West Walls of Wall Street. "I've never seen matzah futures float to these levels," said one New York trader. "If Wall Street feels it, soon Main Street--or at least Delancey Street-- will feel it, too." The matzah famine may also mean less demand for chicken soup, and many analysts fear a spill-over surplus of boiling chickens.

In the past, Matzah farmers in the U.S., led by their union Matzah Farmers United (MFU), have been concerned about matzah dumping (not dumpling!) by countries with most favored matzah trade status. But this year the farmers are consenting to lifting of the matzah tariffs.

A concerned Ariel Sharon, in Jerusalem, urged citizens not to panic nor take rash steps. "The last time we sent out matzah search parties, ten out of the 12 tribes got lost." That little-known historical event, many scholars note, may have started the slide to the end of the First Temple period, over 2500 years ago. Sharon has urged restraint and called on the Israeli Defense Forces not to overreact and to ensure the Israeli response is commensurate with the size of the matzah loss.

Ground matzah, known as matzah meal, is usually available in Jewish markets or well-stocked supermarkets, and is used in making time-honored dishes such as matzah bread, matzah balls, gefilte fish, and a variety of other dishes such as matzah brai (with eggs), matzah latkes and kneidlich. It is often used as a breading agent as in breaded veal cutlets.

Spokespersons at The Manichewitz Company in Jersey City, New Jersey are so concerned they are trying to grow their own matzah plants behind the executive offices. Just yesterday the CEO and CFO were mistakenly arrested for growing marijuana by some non-Yiddishah Italian cop. The company spokeswoman, Rose Woods said, "We've been in business since 1888 and never had a problem until last year with that mad gefilte thing. Now its the matzah meal. It's always something! Until then we never missed a delivery in 113 years."

Reached at offices in Newark, New Jersey, Mrs. Adler could hardly mutter an, "Oy veh."

The Matzah Defense League (MDL) has issued a warning about forgers in our midst who are making mock matzah. So upset was the leader of the MDL that he was recently arrested for an alleged plot to throw an exploding matzah ball into a Chinese noodle factory allegedly manufacturing copies of real matzah balls. He is pleading innocent on the grounds that no matzah ball could hold that much explosive without falling apart. "Even my grandmother's sorry sinkers aren't that solid or cohesive... Besides, to deliver a matzah bomb that size would take an El-Al 52-bomber," says the alleged matzah flinger.

From Lake Erie to the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf, delicatessens are having tsuras (grief). Lois, the Chief Seater at Second Avenue Deli in New York City, notes that revenues from soup and matzah dishes (not knishes) are way down. Similar geshries (yells) are being heard at Katz's and The Carnegie Deli in NYC; Corkie & Lenny's and Jack's in Cleveland, Ohio; Nate & Al's in Beverly Hills and those in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles; Katella Deli in Los Alamitos; Jerry's Deli, Arnie's, and Kaplan's in Orange County, Calif.

The noted Cleveland PR maven, restaurateur, and philanthropist, Jerome Schmelzer, told us, "The Saturday morning clientele at Jack's Deli in Beachwood are really depressed. What's a good pastrami sandwich without matzah balls first." Schmelzer, a 1956 graduate of Cleveland Heights High School, is well respected, having been elected recently to that institution's Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame for his deli work.

As expected counterfeiters are moving in and selling mock matzah at exorbitant prices. There are reports of $25.00 a ball in Beachwood, Ohio. The copycat recipe substitutes unbleached flour for the true meal from the pods of the white and blue matzah plant. Seasonings like salt, pepper, garlic and onion are added to simulate the taste of the real thing. To make balls they mix in eggs and oil and place in the icebox for 2 hours and the balls are hand formed.

Even priests, ministers, pastors, mullahs and other religious leaders are upset. Said Father Moriarty of Costa Mesa, Calif., "On St. Patrick's Day I like a few matzah balls in my chicken soup as a prelude to the traditional corned beef and cabbage."

Now between you and me the pseudo matzah and balls taste as good as the real thing! So maybe the Second Avenue Deli and others won't close at noon after all.

Most anyone can keep their faith or ethnicity or identity alive by consuming ethnic foods. Your body may be what it eats, but your soul needs more.

Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., of Newport Beach, Calif., writes on medical, legal, disability and mental health reform. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., of Aberdeen, Wash., is president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists who write numerous commentaries and articles for newspapers, newsletters, magazines and journals nationally and internationally. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak