Foreground: The very first mention of Manischewitz in this publication in 1905 (Screenshot/J. Archives). Background: Some years later, the brand received a very orange visual refresh (Graphic/Courtesy Manischewitz).
Foreground: The very first mention of Manischewitz in this publication in 1905 (Screenshot/J. Archives). Background: Some years later, the brand received a very orange visual refresh (Graphic/Courtesy Manischewitz).

Man, oh Manischewitz! How newspapers like this one boosted the brand for over a century

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“In America, a thousand backgrounds and cultures have merged and shaped themselves to the American pattern, making of Passover a sort of festival of thanksgiving for all the good things of life, past and present,” we wrote in 1941. “Passover delicacies, special dishes of every type and description have become a vital part of this tradition.”

So true, you might think! Passover, that spring holiday, truly is a touchstone for American Jews. But if you keep reading, you’ll see that it was less an article and more what we’d now call sponsored content … with a particular bent:

“Side by side with its growth has arisen another tradition in many millions of homes, the traditional use of Manischewitz Matzo and Matzo products to enhance the enjoyment of these Passover dishes.”

Mentions of Manischewitz, that Passover staple, have run through the pages of this publication like a golden rivulet of chicken soup. With ads, sponsored content, advertorials and even — on occasion — actual news articles, we’ve kept track of the growth of the little Cincinnati company that made its way to the tables of Jews in California and beyond, becoming a cultural touchstone.

The company came to mind because Manischewitz announced in late March that it is rebranding. The company has a whole new look that will “transcend the kosher aisle.” It’s going retro, leaning into nostalgia by employing “Yiddishisms,” decorating its boxes with charming little cartoon Jews and going for an orange, floral 1970s look.

“The exciting, updated look was initiated with the continued goal of bringing family and friends together while reaching a broader demographic, including younger and growing families,” the company trumpets.

According to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the company was founded by Dov Behr Abramson, an immigrant from Lithuania who changed his name to Manischewitz — perhaps due to the forged papers he needed to flee the Russians.

In America, Abramson-now-Manischewitz had one great innovation that pushed him along the road to American Jewish fame: the kosher matzah machine. (That’s why its matzah is square and not roundish, as home-baked matzahs tend to be.)

Before the wine, gefilte fish and boxes of Tam Tams, it was matzah that made the Manischewitz name.

The venerable company was founded at the end of the 19th century, but the first mention of Manischewitz in our pages was in 1905. It was already well known by then, as the advertisement shows.

“Rabbi E. Berman, of 962 Folsom street, is now ready to receive orders for Cincinnati matzos from the famous bakery of B. Manischewitz. Orders promptly executed. Wholesale and retail.”

Before the wine, gefilte fish and the boxes of Tam Tams, it was matzah that made the Manischewitz name.

In 1920, we carried our first mention of the Manischewitz calendar. Charmingly, we explained where you could hang it.

“Manischewitz & Co. of Cincinnati, the matzoth bakers, issued a Jewish calendar for the New Year, the feature of which is the placing of the Hebrew date next to the Georgian date, so as to enable instant comparison. The calendar can be hung on the wall.”

In 1936, we wrote:

“Passover recipes are now timely. Today’s choice is Manischewitz matzo ball soup. Soak two matzos in cold water; when tender, drain and add a cup of matzo flour, salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of ginger, 2 tablespoons of chicken fat and the well beaten yolks of three eggs — no lard. Mix thoroughly, and add the white of eggs, well beaten. Roll in small balls and boil in soup for five minutes.”

And then there is this amazing headline from 1955, as the firm began to branch into other foods: “Manischewitz Fish Gains Popularity.”

“With holiday demand for Manischewitz Gefilte Fish building up to unprecedented levels, the steady growth in consumer preference for this traditional holiday dish highlights the contention of more and more women that ‘nobody makes gefilte fish the way Manischewitz makes it.’ … Extensive taste tests lend strength to this contention.”

Gefilte fish was just part of the brand’s expansion. Manischewitz branched out into sweet Passover wines after World War II, not with its own production but by licensing an existing brand, Monarch, and shocking generations since then with its intense sweetness.

Manischewitz was so famous that the brand even made it into the heavens, as we reported in 1971.

“Now for the first time Passover meals by Manischewitz will be served on air flights. Both United and Eastern Air Lines, which regularly feature Manischewitz meals, will be serving specially prepared Passover meals. These meals are prepared in the new Manischewitz Frozen Food plant in Vineland, New Jersey under strict supervision.”

There have been some twists and turns along this crunchy path to Passover domination. In 1990, the family sold the company. It has been sold several times since then. And in one startling twist, the New York Times reported in 1991 that Manischewitz was fined for Passover matzah price-fixing:

“A federal grand jury in Newark found that at a meeting at Ratner’s kosher dairy restaurant on the Lower East Side, Manischewitz’s general sales manager had asked counterparts at Horowitz Margareten to duplicate Manischewitz’s proposed price increases for the coming Passover. Horowitz Margareten agreed, and, later, Streit’s did, too.”

Cut to today, Manischewitz survived that incident and is now leaning into modern food trends, with new products like gluten-free knishes and gluten-free matzah balls. It wants to encourage people who perhaps don’t keep a kosher kitchen to think of the brand as part of their heritage. This is an effort “to update the cultural relevancy with a younger Jewish audience as well as mainstream culturally curious audience,” according to Shani Seidman of parent company Kayco.

Can it work? Will Manischewitz become a symbol for a new generation, as Gen Z has reached adulthood and started to wonder what products to place on the seder table? Will this generation gravitate to a box of Manischewitz matzahs to consume alongside Manischewitz gefilte fish, Manischewitz macaroons and Manischewitz wine?

We’ll have to wait and see. But in the J. Archives at least, it’s safe to say that Manischewitz’s place in American Jewish history is secure.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.