Injuries Rife in Israel's Makeshift Matza Factories

When a cooking gas canister exploded in an unlicensed matza factory in Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago, injuring several people, someone on the scene called the rescue squad to say there was no need for an ambulance.

In a jarring reminder of the proliferation of unlicensed matza factories in Jerusalem, one morning a couple of weeks ago a cooking gas canister exploded in an improvised basement bakery set up to manufacture the unleavened bread for Passover.

Among those in the building on Givat Shaul Street at the time were small children, but someone on the scene called the rescue squad to say there was no need for an ambulance.

Matza - Magen - 30.3.12
Gil Cohen Magen

The Magen David Adom emergency service dispatched personnel anyway and, in addition to seeing that the bakery had been completely destroyed, they found five people who had been lightly injured, and treated them at the scene.

The Jerusalem fire department was not surprised to hear about the call to Magen David Adom. “It’s a pirate bakery that only operates for Passover,” said Lahav Assaf Avres of the city fire department, who said it was operating without observing safety standards and without a license, and that those involved did not want it known that they were operating an illegal establishment.”It nothing new to us,” he said.

Similar accidents routinely occur in the run-up to Passover. Just two weeks before, a 20-year-old worker at another matza factory in the same Givat Shaul neighborhood was injured when his hand got stuck in a machine that perforates matza to make it easier to break into pieces.

Other pirate bakeries dot the city’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, under residential buildings, in the basements of yeshivas and in back-yard storage facilities. Various ultra-Orthodox communities have their own interpretations of what Jewish dietary laws require in preparing kosher matza, thereby spawning the proliferation of bakeries.

Unknowing passersby won’t find a sign clearly advertising the presence of the bakeries set up to produce the Passover staple, but they may get a whiff of the aroma or spot a dim fluorescent light fixture over the entrance betraying the bakery’s existence.

During the rest of the year, the bakeries’ premises are often simply left unused and locked up, springing back to life 10 months later, for the next Passover season.