Passover Matzo Cover

This colorful textile is a matzo cover used on the Jewish holiday of Passover. Celebrated for eight days each spring, Passover is also known as Chag HaMatzot – the Feast of Unleavened Bread. During the holiday Jewish people traditionally abstain from eating leavened bread and instead eat matzo, an unleavened flatbread made only with flour and water. This custom dates back to the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. According to the Bible, the Jews fled Egypt in such haste that they had no time to wait for the bread dough to rise. Instead, it cooked in the hot sun on their backs, producing matzo (Exodus 12:39).

Matzo was originally baked into a round shape, not the square we are more familiar with today. In the mid 1800s however, the industrial revolution challenged thousands of years of tradition and changed the shape of matzo from round to square. Easier to cut by machine, square matzo was far more efficient to mass-produce. Today, only handmade matzo retains the original round shape. Notice the matzo cover in the photograph is also round – a clue that it was designed for use with handmade matzo!

The gold Hebrew letters along the circular border of the cover reads: “Leshanah haba-ah beyerushalyim habenuyah,” which means “Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.” This verse echoes the ancient Jewish hope of rebuilding the destroyed temple and for all Jews to celebrate and reunite “next year” in Jerusalem. The word in the center of the cover says “pesach,” the Hebrew name for Passover.

The unknown artist included several common Passover motifs within the cover’s design. The buildings depict the ancient city of Jerusalem. The goblet and grapes represent the fou cups of wine Jews drink during the special Passover feast, or seder, while recalling the story of the Exodus.

Discussion Questions

  • Matzo is symbolic of redemption and freedom and servitude and affliction. In what ways does it represent both of these ideas?
  • Food plays a central role in many cultures. What are some other traditional foods you have encountered? What stories do they recall?

Classroom Extensions

  • The Streit’s Family have been making matzo on the Lower East Side for over 100 years. Take a guided tour of their factory with Martha Stewart and learn about how matzo is made.
  • Have students design a textile for a personally meaningful holiday. In creating their design, students should consider what symbols and words to include that elicit holiday themes and traditions. Exhibit students’ work and as a class, discuss common choices and themes.
  • Watch an old home movie of Lower East Side Passover rituals.
Matzo Cover. Embroidered Textile.