| Why Is This Pesach Different? |

The Rush on Matzah

“Do I see a shortage? A hundred percent. If I usually make 100 pounds in ten hours, now I’m making 60 pounds”

Calling matzah bakeries two weeks before Pesach should have been a fool’s errand. But it turned out to be as easy as a spring breeze.

One bakery owner was home with the coronavirus and eager to talk. A second was effectively on vacation, having sold out his entire line. A third said the run on products two weeks ago meant he was seeing few customers now.

Bakeries in the tristate area were generally seeing a chunk of their average workforce staying home. The natural result was a shortage of matzos, although bakeries assured me that nobody would be left without their lechem oni.

“Do I see a shortage? A hundred percent,” said Chaim Brown, the owner of the Boro Park Matzah Bakery. “If I usually make 100 pounds in ten hours, now I’m making 60 pounds. But Yidden care about each other. If someone doesn’t have, he’ll get from another.”

Someone familiar with operations at Lakewood’s sole matzah bakery said they were “definitely” seeing a shortage. The bakery was down to half its normal staff and did not have any matzah immediately available.

“They produced the same amount as usual but people bought weeks early,” the person said, agreeing that not having matzos two weeks before Pesach or having people make their purchases so early were both “unusual.”

The owner of the Monsey Matzah Bakery said that virus fears were causing a rush to the markets. While they have a sufficient supply, anxiety led many people to buy early this year.

“This year is different,” said the owner, who did not give his name, “because a lot of people came before.”

Brown, from the Boro Park bakery, which is more commonly known as the Poilishe matzah bakery, said that about 40 percent of his workers were home sick with the coronavirus. Consequently, his shop has seen a 40 percent reduction in productivity. He has no idea what will be tomorrow, let alone whether the traditional “matzos mitzvah” baking will proceed as scheduled on Erev Pesach.

Brown himself was home with a fever and cough, primary symptoms of the virus that has sickened tens of thousands of New Yorkers. He said that customers who placed orders with him will get matzos, but he will not set aside any surplus.

“Take the Karliner kehilla,” he said. “They usually come a few days before Pesach. But I don’t put aside for them. I don’t know if I’ll have matzos when they come. I don’t feel it’s right to put aside matzos.”

The shortage is not only for the run-of-the-mill customer. It affects the well-heeled as well, said Rabbi Elozer Boruch Bald, the founder of Irgun Shiurai Torah in Boro Park and administrator of a chessed fund to help people cover Pesach expenses.

Rabbi Bald said he heard from a prominent Toronto philanthropist who he had nearly missed getting his regular matzah order. He and some friends usually rent a bakery in Williamsburg and send the matzos to the Pshevorsker rebbe in Antwerp. This year, the rebbe told them not to wait but to schedule the baking for as soon as possible. They baked on a Monday and had it shipped to Toronto — an hour before Canada shut its border with the United States.

Most people, at least in Monsey, do not have to worry, the owner of that township’s bakery said.

“There will be enough,” he said. He then added, “hopefully.”

— Yochonon Donn

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