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Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who oversees matzo production at the Manischewitz factory in Jersey City, N.J. (Mike Derer/The Associated Press)
Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who oversees matzo production at the Manischewitz factory in Jersey City, N.J. (Mike Derer/The Associated Press)

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Oy vey. A takeover of Manischewitz Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Wednesday, April 9, 2014.

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Tales from my childhood
I grew up hating wine because, like many Jewish kids at the time, I was raised on Manischewitz.

I’m sure that’s heresy to some, and eventually I would learn that there was something called dry wine, and that it came in two colours. But to this day, all I remember is this sickly sweet stuff that my mom would serve at the Passover seder, and that my father would put out on the porch for the prophet Elijah. (I still think it was the grouchy old guy across the street, sneaking over to drink it, because the glass was always empty the next morning.)

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I hadn’t thought about Manischewitz wine until this morning, when Sankaty Advisors, the credit unit of the giant private equity firm Bain Capital, unveiled a deal for Manischewitz Co., the 126-year-old kosher food company.

And, lo, my two worlds met, though the wine is Manischewitz in name only.

(Most Jewish families in North America must have childhood stories like mine, when the mishpocha, the extended family, would descend at Passover, the celebration of Jewish freedom from slavery, for the seder, or ritual meal. In my case – and I’m sure for most others – it was a gathering of crazy relatives. Mine included two aunts - my mom’s half sisters – and an uncle by marriage. There was also an uncle on my father’s side, who used to bring his own food for fear of being poisoned, and expounded on how the CIA killed Kennedy and red licorice caused cancer. And, of course, my Bubbie, my grandmother on my mom’s side, who had no teeth. Which made watching her eat matzo an event in itself.)

Based in Newark, N.J., Manischewitz is America’s biggest producer of kosher foods, including matzo, the unleavened bread used during the seder, gefilte fish and borscht. It was established in 1888. The wine is made by another company.

“Manischewitz has earned a position as one of the most highly recognized brands in the world, and it has distinguished itself through a passionate commitment to producing the highest quality kosher products possible,” Sankaty said in a statement, disclosing no terms of the deal.

(This may sound like a cliché, but it’s true: These were gatherings of having my cheeks pinched endlessly. And once, my father pinched my aunt’s cheek really hard to show her how it felt.)

Manischewitz sells a variety of kosher goods. Now, its matzo and crackers come organic, gluten-free, whole grain and garlic-flavoured. The wine  - including cherry, blackberry and elderberry, and a medium dry concord - is from Constellation Brands, which licenses the Manischewitz name. Manishcewitz actually never owned the wine. Despite the fact it comes in cherry, blackberry and elderberry, and a medium dry concord, all I remember is the sweet stuff.

(Don’t get the wrong idea. My mother started me off on grape juice, though in time I graduated.)

"This transaction will allow Manischewitz to continue its storied tradition of producing the highest quality kosher products, which have delighted consumers the world over for more than 125 years,” said Yaakov Horowitz, who’s the head rabbi at the company.

(As the youngest child, my starring role at the seder was to ask the “four questions,” the first of which is this: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The real answer is that matzo is eaten at Passover, which begins next week, to recall the unleavened bread eaten by Jews as they escaped slavery in Egypt. But my sisters and I used to joke that it was the night we had to put up with the crazy relatives.)

"The Manischewitz group of brands are a large part of the social fabric of the global Jewish and kosher community, and they continue to represent the innovation and spirit of the company's founder Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz,” said Rabbi Horowtiz.

(You want crazy? My uncle had a glass eye, which as a kid, of course, was fascinating. Years later, my aunt asked me and my wife whether we wanted to know what he did with his glass eye on their wedding night. To this day, I kick myself for saying “ewww, no!” Now, I really want to know.)

The original version of this article described my wife as my then-fiancee, until she reminded me we had been married for months by that point. (Ouch.)

CRA blocks site
Citing security concerns, the Canada Revenue Agency has temporarily blocked public access to its online services just three weeks ahead of the April 30 deadline for filing personal income tax, The Globe and Mail's Tu Thanh Ha reports.

The shutdown is related to the Heartbleed bug, a massive Internet encryption flaw that exposed millions of passwords and went undetected for more than two years.

A note on the CRA website said services such as EFILE, NETFILE and My Account were shutdown as a precautionary measure because of concerns stemming from Heartbleed.

The agency will take the disruption into account if a taxpayer is late filing returns, the note said.

Toyota in massive recall
Toyota Motor Co. has unveiled a massive worldwide recall of various vehicles for various issues, though the company stressed there are no known car accidents.

The Japanese auto giant said today it’s recalling almost 6.4 million vehicles for issues involving steering and seats, among others.

It did not estimate the cost of the recalls.

Greece to return to bond market
Greece is heading back to the bond market, highlighting the changing fortunes of the euro zone.

Greece plans to issue some €500-million, or almost $700-million (U.S.) in five-year paper tomorrow, The Wall Street Journal reports. The number could surge higher depending on appetite.

It will mark the first such issue for Greece since it became the poster child of the euro debt crisis, which also hobbled Portugal, Ireland and Spain.

While its return indeed underscores how the crisis in the monetary union has faded, much remains to be done, particularly where unemployment is concerned.

Almost 19 million people can’t find work in the euro zone, whose jobless rate stands at 11.9 per cent. Countries such as Greece and Spain are crippled by intolerable levels of unemployment, at more than 25 per cent.

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Editor's note: This article was changed from an earlier version to reflect that Constellation Brands makes Manischewitz wine.

Follow on Twitter: @michaelbabad

 

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