Monday, April 11, 2016

Celebrating Streit's

The Streit's matzo factory, on the Lower East Side since 1915, is scheduled for demolition, ironically, the week of Passover.

At the same time, Michael Levine's "Streit’s Matzo and the American Dream” will have its premiere at Film Forum from April 20 - 26.

To mark the occasions, Art on A Gallery will feature an exhibit on Streit's, opening later this week.

At the gallery, Michael will be showing photographs from the company's history, along with parts of the factory's antique machinery, which has been in storage since Streit's shuttered last year and moved out of town.

The stippler will be there--that machine that presses the little holes into the matzo--along with the cutting machine and some pieces of the Carnegie Steel rails that guided the swinging baskets of matzo through the factory.

Along with archival prints from history, you'll find the photographs of Joseph O. Holmes, who captured the last days of the Rivington factory, along with a film from the 1940s.

photo by Joseph O. Holmes

As an added treat, artist Judi Harvest will be showing her gold-leafed matzos. She's been gilding the unleavened bread since 2000, but for this show she is using rare pink gold leaf, to match the color on the classic Streit's Passover box.

She will assemble an entire wall of pink gold matzos. They will all be Streit's.

pink gold-leaf matzo by Judi Harvest

The opening of the gallery show is this Thursday, April 14, from 8:00 - 10:00 pm at 24 Ave A. Members of the Streit family will be present, along with some of the factory workers, the artists, and the filmmaker. The event will be both celebration and memorial, a piece of Lower East Side history encapsulated. For a little while.

When news first broke of the closure in 2008, I visited the factory, talked with one of the owners, and took a tour. We said our goodbyes. And then the winds shifted. Streit's was staying. As shown in Levine's poignant film, the family had the contract and a million-dollar check on their desk, but could not bear to sign it. Still, it was only a matter of time. A closure announcement would come again.

I have not been by the factory since it closed. I used to love to watch the men pull the matzo from the oven. Sometimes, I'd get a taste, hot and fresh. During their final Passover week, I bought a pink box of matzos. I have not opened them. The label says, "Baked with Pride, Lower East Side, New York City." And the address on the side is Rivington Street. I'll probably never open them.

The factory will be replaced with luxury condos. Nothing else is possible.


James said...

"Streit's Matzo my friends, for the unleavened experience of a lifetime", as Billy Crystal would say in his Joe Franklin guise on S.N.L. Streit's used to give me the confidence that New York was still just that, and the Old Jewish Quarter still held mystery. I guess the automobile and the highway meant that prime space would be something very different decades after they were developed. The loss of all this character may be unstoppable. Who eventually tears up a million dollar check? I've never done it once. We still have the right to remember what we had, just the same. It seems nodoby is trying to erase Streit's from that continuum.

I recall a great aunt of mine who came through Ellis Island in 1903, chiding me for pining for the antique ways. She remembered the family house in Dayton, Ohio which she had to clean. Parlour, living room, dining room, bedrooms, porch, basement - all the spaces, and she wondered aloud who would want to have to clean floor boards like that now. I never forgot her message that there was nothing at all wrong with now and not having to get splinters from the floor.

The Matzo (or matzoh) bakers who were alive when the plant was new are long dead. Perhaps we should be grateful that they came and produced at all. Even so, there would be no Yiddish theater for them to go to anyway now, after work.

This time, I must say "sad" though, as it is actually a death. And yet the name and family continue to remind us. Here's to those who came here before.

Donnie Moder said...

It was a real living thing in the city. Accessible. Now, a ghost where the condos are now.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

But sadly, this is all too possible.
The artisanal Gowanus "Matzo Project" & hey, they'll be collaborating with the Gowanus Ample Hills* ice cream co. for Milk & Honey Matzoh Ice Cream! And hey, Ample Hills will have an outpost at Disney World soon!!!