"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.
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