For the past week, several Muslim men and women have been making thousands of crackers of matzo, or unleavened bread, for Jews across India ahead of Passover, an eight-day festival in which the community celebrates its exodus from Egypt.
The Magen David synagogue in Byculla is the only place in India that makes hand-made matzo crackers in the traditional manner, according Solomon Sopher, president and chairman of the city’s two Baghadi Jewish synagogues. It then distributes 7,000 crackers to Jews across the country, mainly in Mumbai, Goa, Cochin and Kolkata, before the festival, which starts on Wednesday.
“It makes no difference who makes the matzo, provided there is a Jewish sonekh (guardian overseeing the process) present,” Sopher said. “We don’t have enough Jews to do it. We have a very good relationship with the Muslim community, and many of them have inherited bakeries in Nagpada from Iraqi Jews.”
Nagpada used to be a Jewish area, but since many Jews have immigrated to Israel and other places, Muslims had moved in, he added.
Seven Muslim bakers have been working in a temporary kitchen behind the synagogue, kneading and baking 900 matzo crackers a day, with 21 housewives, most of them Muslims, rolling out the dough.
On Monday, four Muslim men were squatting around a large tray, kneading the dough.
In the room opposite, three Muslims were baking it in clay ovens. “I enjoy it,” said Mohamed Faiz, 60, a baker at the nearby Decent Tandoor Bakery who has been doing this for four decades. Said Shakeel Ahmed, 45,. “I bake the bread with joy.”
“It’s similar to making chapathis,” said Hayem Ezekreal, 38, the Jewish sonekh. Dozens of boxes of machine-made matzo crackers from Israel were stacked outside the synagogue. Jessy D’Cunha, who administers the Sir Jacob Sassoon Trust, was handing them over to poor Indian Jews with food parcels and linen. “It’s rewarding helping the poor as we want them to celebrate the Passover,” she said. Widow Sara Ruben, 57, said: “This will make a big difference to me as I don’t have any money.”