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Proof of Purchase

My grandfather’s been buying ‘shmurah’ matzo for more than six decades. He’s got the receipts to prove it—somewhere.

Gabi Weinberg
March 24, 2021
Courtesy the author
Courtesy the author
Courtesy the author
Courtesy the author

As we delicately slipped sets of three matzos into the hodgepodge of matzo covers for the Passover Seder, Zayda bellowed from across the table: “Gabi, you remember I’ve been buying these matzos for over 60 years—and I’ve got all of the receipts!”

My grandfather’s penchant for saving bits of history started when he was 16 years old. His new stepmother offered him his mother’s four remaining boxes of possessions, threatening to put them in the garbage bin if he declined. While he could not resurrect his mother, whom he lost at age 10, he could hold on to her stuff—and so he did. This began Zayda’s love affair with historical items, the day he became a self-identified archivist.

Zayda takes his archivist work with a marketing flare. He presents his third-grade report card where he received a C in penmanship to anyone willing to look at it; he learned his lesson and now writes like a practiced scribe. Stay at his home for a half hour and you’ll be shown digitized and reprinted photos of his stepsister on the stoop of their Crown Heights home in her blue dress or a poignant group shot in the same spot taken with the camera he received for his bar mitzvah. At any family event, he gleefully shares old images that he pulls from a jacket pocket, or displays on the yellowed pages of his photo album. The most striking folio contains three shots of his parents, both deceased before he graduated college. As a child and teen, I always treated these encounters with Zayda’s archive with equal parts bemusement, befuddlement, and admiration. I understood the preservation of his past through family photos, but I wondered: What about the more mundane items?

Zayda’s collection of 63 years of Shatzer Matzo receipts remains the most surprising set in the archive.

These receipts represent the annual purchase of shmurah matzo, literally “watched matzo,” that many opt to eat on the first night of Passover to fulfill the highest matzo-eating obligation.

After hearing about these receipts and getting glimpses of them for almost 30 years, I wanted to actually see the legendary stack. First, the original receipt from Zayda’s initial purchase, and then of course the 62 other receipts. I imagined holding each receipt and asking the four questions: Why was this year different than any other year? Who came to this Seder? What celebration was shared? Who was absent?

The absurdity of the collection also piqued my interest to gain insight into my own archivist tendencies. I’ve still got a project box that holds my 1998 World Series Yankees team poster and my Roger Federer autograph circa 2008 caught in the stands of the U.S. Open. And I can’t forget my treasured cigar box, gifted to me by my grandmother, filled with rare pennies. However, nothing I have comes close to Zayda’s receipts. I didn’t know what I’d do with the receipts once I tracked them down, but I had to find them.

Finding these receipts required a trip down to Zayda and Baba’s basement. Most trips down those five short steps are to go “shopping,” since Baba runs a Costco retail store from the unfinished basement, but today we had a different mission. The smell of a 70-year-old boiler combined with chipping lead paint never gets old. “Watch your head, Gabi,” he reminded me as we made the turn off the stairs into the lair. I’ve lost track of the number of times since my bar mitzvah that I’ve hit my head on the hot water pipe that crosses the ceiling. These cranial encounters likely explain my poor short-term memory.

We pushed forward into the first room of Zayda’s archive. It was dimly lit by a pull-string incandescent bulb and contained two generations of folding chairs that we’d bring up twice a year for Sukkot and Passover. In the back of this 4-by-8 room is a 6-foot freezer; it looked like someone might be kept in there, but it hadn’t been turned on in a generation. Behind the chairs stacked in no apparent order, lay the storied shelves of the archive. On the first shelf were disintegrating copies of The New York Times. The archive had expanded to include moments beyond family celebrations. You’ve got the 20th-century’s greatest hits: the moon landing, JFK’s assassination, and the founding of the State of Israel. But no stack of receipts. On another shelf I saw a 1940 issue of Time magazine, but still no receipts. Each historic broadside dustier than the next, yellowing and decomposing like memories. As we shuffled to the next area of this tiny room, Zayda passed me an unopened 1970s Shlomo Carlebach LP from another shelf: “It’s probably worth something, no?” It’s not. I’ve looked it up, and if you “buy now” on eBay it goes for $17.99. Again, we’d come up with nothing to show for our search. Maybe those receipts were merely legend.

We returned to Zayda’s office. Perhaps these receipts were resting in one of his drawers or standing upright next to a copy of my mother’s report card. No luck.

Disappointment doesn’t describe my feelings. I brag about this set of receipts. It must exist; how could it not? It’s too good to not be true.

I departed from Zayda’s feeling cheated of this family heirloom. The receipts would be proof that we gathered, proof of those rides from his Long Island home to the matzo factory at the midpoint between Borough Park and Flatbush that morphed into shorter jaunts around the corner to Gourmet Glatt.

The next week a letter arrived with Zayda’s scribal cursive: “Mr. Gabi Weinberg” and my address on the front along with three American flag stickers that said “Proud to be American” and “A Year to Remember” on the back to keep it sealed. It wasn’t college-acceptance-letter size, but it did have a little bulge. I was hopeful. I had gotten a tip that something would arrive, but I didn’t know what the envelope would contain. I carefully opened the letter and shook out its contents: a 2017 receipt from Gourmet Glatt, which included matzo and chocolate pudding; three handwritten receipts from 2016, 2015, and 2014 directly from the matzo mecca, the Shatzer Factory itself; and a 2013 receipt for matzo from Brach’s, another local kosher supermarket. Additionally, there was a nice form letter from the folks at Shatzer encouraging the recipient to order early so as not to miss out on getting enough matzo that year.

Sixty-three years of receipts and only five remained. What would I tell my grandchildren about this tradition? “Pics or it didn’t happen,” feels like the response I’d get when retelling this Zayda-meisa. I counted my memories of the matzos. Sitting alongside family, digesting, ever so slowly, and waiting for the next box to be opened and passed between the generations. Better yet, crunching with every bite, making crumbs, lathering the slices with butter, adding a pinch of salt, and washing it down with cold seltzer as the true lifetime value of these matzo investments, even if their price is not memorialized in saved copies of the receipts.

Listen to the author and his grandfather talk more about the receipts on Unorthodox.

Rabbi Gabi Weinberg is the co-founder and COO of SoulShop and writes a personal finance newsletter called Winnings.