Better than Winning the Lottery

There is an interesting article and beautiful photo-essay by James Estrin in yesterday’s New York Times about the Rapaport family, from Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York, who are followers of the Kosov sect of Hasidic Judaism. The Rapaports have maintained a family tradition of baking their own matzo (unleavened bread) for Passover.

While most families buy their matzo ready made from different kosher manufacturers, they preserve a complicated process as “the proper wheat must be used. Water must be drawn from an underground well just after sundown. And, most important, the matzo must be made from start to finish in no more than 18 minutes, so there’s no chance of leavening.” Generations of the family gather together, pray, sing hymns and bake the matzo in a pizza oven in the back yard.

Yosef Rapaport (66) shares how making their own matzo can “bring solace to your soul.” He continues explaining how this family tradition helps him to pass his faith to his children and grandchildren, “to make the matzo with my grandchildren, who are so joyful and eager to follow our ways, is better than winning the lottery.”

I would encourage all of us to promote family traditions that accompany our liturgical rites, so that the faith is not simply something that happens in the sanctuaries of our churches, but also permeates our homes and families.


  1. One family tradition that should be encouraged is for the baptismal garment to be made by a member of the family (often the grandmother).

    1. Our family has baby sized baptismal garments that go back several generations. They are cherished.

  2. Interesting article. Unfortunately, a lot of the home and family traditions “that accompany the liturgical rites” have fallen by the wayside because they’re usually associated with ethnicity, which we know is the enemy American Catholicism. Then there’s the disappearance or reform of many of the liturgical rites that already had accompanying home and family traditions. Cart or horse? Now that you’ve got your white, middle-class, milquetoast American Catholicism, you decide. Abps. Ireland and Ryan must be pleased.

  3. A couple of years ago I discovered a Neapolitan tradition of baking Pastiera. I was pleasantly surprised to find that if the full recipe is followed (omitting the convenience workarounds that sometimes are substituted to save time), preparation of this Easter cake is precisely timed to occur on each day of the Triduum.

    On Holy Thursday you cook the wheat berries, then cool them overnight.
    On Good Friday you prepare the pastry and the ricotta filling. This too has to rest overnight.
    Saturday is baking day, when all is combined and reaches its fulfillment in the oven. But you don’t eat it at once. It’s better the day after, and becomes a glorious treat for Easter Sunday.

    The cake itself is supposed to date from pre-Christian times, and takes advantage of all the springtime gifts (such as an abundance of fresh eggs) and the lovely flavors of orange water and citron, vanilla, cinnamon and lemon. But during the Christian era the timing keyed to the Holy Week liturgies does not seem to be an accident.

    I am taking the preparation of it as a spiritual exercise, and using the time that I spend on it as a time to pray at home and, well, to serve as a reminder that some things can’t be rushed.

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