Anywhere else in Europe, a muscular cartoon character named Max the Matzah would have amounted to little more than an inside Jewish joke.
But in the Netherlands, where matzah for many non-Jews is a household item year-round, Max became an unlikely hit with the general population. Since his creation about 15 years ago as the unofficial mascot of the Children’s Museum of Amsterdam’s Jewish Cultural Quarter, Max has proven popular beyond the country’s 40,000 Jews.
Max is a frog-eyed figure whose head, rising straight from the waist of a pair of green trousers, is a round matzah. His beefy bear arms wouldn’t look out of place on a Marvel superhero.
He was born in the early 2000s as a drawing designed by the Israeli artist Ram Katzir and Petra Katzenstein, the manager of the Jewish children’s museum, which is the only one of its kind in Europe.
Since then, Max has been made into thousands of puppets by the museum. He stars and acts as a guide in the animated films accompanying the displays at the children’s museum, which receives about 20,000 visitors each year.
He has been featured on taxi cabs as part of the museum’s advertising campaign and on tens of thousands of boxes of Hollandia, the matzah made in the Netherlands in the eastern city of Enschede.
In 2010, Max received his own comic book published by the museum and currently available in children’s libraries across the country.
Max would not have resonated with large numbers of children anywhere else in Europe, according to Katzenstein.
“If you don’t know what a matzah is, then you just don’t get it,” she said. In the Netherlands, however, “on Easter, everyone eats matzah, even though they don’t really know what matzah means for us Jews.”
Max lives in a dollhouse in the attic of a Dutch Jewish family called the Hollanders with other members of his multicultural family of pastries, including one chocolate chip variety.
Max is related to Benny the Bagel, Ayalah the Challah and Gita the Pita, among others.
The family’s story, told in animated videos at the museum, “actually tells the story of the Jewish Diaspora,” Katzenstein said.
“He’s brittle and vulnerable on the one hand, but strong and robust on the other,” Katzenstein said.