Streit's Matzo Documentary Premieres Tomorrow

The Streit's Matzo documentary premieres tomorrow, just in time for Passover

"What makes this matzo different from all other matzos?" It comes from Streit's, the 91-year-old family business that is the subject of a new documentary, premiering just in time for Passover. Streit's: Matzo and the American Dream runs from April 20 to 26 at Film Forum in New York and on April 20 at L.A.'s Laemmle theaters. Not just the story of a fifth-generation family business and what that business means to so many people, the film is also a story about immigration, community and the power of tradition.

The movie chronicles the development of the factory, which was originally located in four tenement buildings on Pitt and Rivington Streets in the Lower East Side, a once-predominantly Jewish neighborhood. As luxury condos, trendy restaurants and rowdy bars started to replace the small businesses that once made up the neighborhood, Streit's held fast, a symbol of the past and of the community it fostered. The same machines that churned out matzo when the factory opened were still in operation while the film was being shot.

Profiling the owners and a handful of staff members, some of whom have worked for Streit's for decades, the film dives a lot deeper than just the process of making both the maligned and beloved unleavened bread that Jews eat for Passover every year. It reveals what a thriving factory, making Jewish food for all of New York to see, and eat, meant to immigrants fleeing countries where such openness was unthinkable. It tells the story of an Italian kid, looking for a job, who found not only employment but a whole career and community within a culture not his own. It shows resilience in the face of gentrification and the enduring power of tradition.

The documentary concludes with the factory's sad but inevitable relocation to Rockland County last year, a move lamented by many. "Can Streit's Matzo reinvent itself upstate?" wondered the Village Voice, among others. You'll have to watch the documentary—and try some matzo this Passover–to find out.

The Streit family shortly after immigrating to the United States. Founder Aron Streit (back left) with his hand on the shoulder of son Irving Streit, who co-ran the factory with his brother, Jack, from Aron's death in 1937 until his death in 1982 (c. 1910).

Irving and wife Mary Streit at Grossingers in the Catskills with comedian Eddie Cantor, Streit's Matzos on the table, 1951.

Matzo emerges from the first-floor oven on Rivington Street. This and all other factory photos were taken during shmurah matzo production. One day each year, the factory would produce a special matzo intended for Orthodox consumers known as shmurah ("guarded" in Hebrew) matzo that met the most stringent specifications. Rabbis from around the world would attend and bring matzo home for their families and congregations. The tradition continued until the factory's closing in 2015. (All factory photos c. late 1940s)

Rabbis watch the sheeting process where dough is flattened before being baked.

Rabbis watch dough coming out of the first-floor oven.

Unknown patrons at Grossingers with a box of Streit's matzos, 1957.

Examining matzo just out of the oven.

Rabbis watch the sheeting process with Streit's Matzos posters in the background.

Rabbis and workers with matzo emerging from the third-floor oven.

Rabbis again watch the sheeting process.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein inspects matzo emerging from the first-floor oven. Feinstein was one of the most influential figures in Orthodox Judaism in the U.S. in the 20th century, and an expert in halachic law, the laws regarding the "kosherness" of food.

Another picture from inside the factory featuring Reb. Feinstein and others with matzo passing on the steel conveyors that transported matzo to the second floor for packaging.

A Streit's billboard in Upper Manhattan (c. 1940s).

The poster for Streit's: Matzo and the American Dream.