Writing this review in the middle of Passover, one would think a movie about yet even more Matzo is more of an American nightmare than an American dream. However, while all my meals this week involve Matzo, unleavened bread is just part of the story related by Michael Levine’s documentary Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream. The recipe for Matza was developed about 3,500 years ago. The first Jewish congregation in America was established in 1654. Streit’s was established in 1916 and moved to its long standing headquarters at 150 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side in New York in 1925. At the time, 60% of the local population was Jewish and the neighborhood was squalid and overcrowded. The factory cranked out up to 40% of North America’s Matzo supply from that modest location until last year when it no longer made practical or economic sense to continue manufacturing from what has become a hyper gentrified neighborhood full of glass towers and Wall Street dudebros.
Much of the movie focuses on the many employees who have been working at the factory for decades, while other parts of the movie focuses on the family who still own and run the company and their emphasis on family business tradition and the values that have underlie the entire undertaking. Some say the movie was too long and focused on many arcane details like the specifics of baking Matzo on ancient equipment. I nonetheless watched the movie enthralled by the progress of history that it documented, fully appreciating the specificity. But that’s me – I have spent a lot of time on the LES – shopping and getting drunk at Max Fish like an idiot, but also eating at Yonah Schimmel’s and going to Shul on Clinton Street. Streit’s is part of American Jewish history and it’s also part of the history of New York City, about labor unions, politics, gentrification, globalization etc. – in other words, it’s the story of America, period. As such, Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream documents this perfectly.
You can find out more about the movie on their Web site at matzofilm.com. Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream will likely be doing the Film Festival circuit so you can see when it’ll be available in your neck of the woods. Yeah. Go see it. I loved it, I’m sure you will too!
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I’ve stumbled past that factory frunk as duck on many late night occasions. I’d say Streit’s will be sorely missed but it won’t because the neighborhood has become almost totally gentrified. Good on them for getting out of dodge and doing the right thing for their business and for their staff. New York City stopped being interesting a long time ago.
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