For the past year, filmmaker Michael Levine and producer Michael Green have been documenting the story of the last family- owned matzah factory in America, the Streit’s matzah factory on New York’s historic Lower East Side. The result is “Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream” [www.matzofilm.com], a feature length documentary film, which after a successful Kickstarter campaign last summer, is ready to make its way to the film festival circuit.
While common perception might be that all matzahs are made the same — it’s simply flour and water, after all — the Streit’s story is a unique one. When Aron Streit first opened the bakery in 1925 in four tenement buildings on New York’s Lower East Side, it sat at the heart of the largest Jewish immigrant community in the world.
Today, nearly a century later, the neighborhood is nearly unrecognizable, as gentrification has transformed the immigrant neighborhood into a bustling mélange of nightclubs, swanky restaurants and high-priced real estate. Fifth generation family businesses are rare and manufacturing has moved out of cities. Developers regularly offer astronomical sums for Streit’s real estate.
Yet behind the walls of those four tenements, Streit’s remains, run by the fourth and fifth generations. It produces 40 percent of the nation’s matzah, using 80-year-old machinery, run by bakery union workers with 30 or more years of experience, who have become an extended part of the Streit’s family itself.
“I had passed by the factory for years, not knowing what lay inside,” says Levine. “One day, I paused to glance in the window and a worker handed me a hot matzo straight out of the oven. He must have seen my astonishment and invited me in for a tour. The moment I stepped inside, into the hum of ancient machinery, of workers and rabbis buzzing about, adjusting gears and levers, timing the bake, seeing the matzah run up and down five floors on conveyors, I knew there was an amazing history here, I knew there was a story to be told.”
For the story of another old family matzah business, this one in Wasselonne, France, near the German border, see http://azjewishpost.com/ 2014/from-alsatian-town-frances-oldest-matzah-maker-sells-to-the-world/.