Jewish families celebrating Passover this year might want to take a good look at that box of matzoh in the kitchen. If it says "Streit's" on it, they're looking at the end of an era.
For almost a century, the Streit's company has been making 40 percent of the country's matzoh out of a factory on New York's Lower East Side. Now, after 90 years, the factory is shutting down, and Streit's is moving to New Jersey. But not without a cinematic send-off.
The family-run business is the subject of a documentary screening at three South Florida theaters this weekend. It's called "Streit's: Matzo and the American Dream."
Director Michael Levine says he got the idea for the film one day during a stroll on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side, or L.E.S. as it’s called these days. A Streit’s factory worker passed him a piping hot sheet of matzoh through an open window and invited him in for an impromptu tour.
“It’s like walking into 1930s New York City,” says Levine. “Machinery with 60 workers buzzing around and rabbis and matzoh going up and down conveyer belts. You get a sense of the history and tradition in this place. I immediately knew there was a story there.”
The company was founded by Aron Streit in 1915, when the Lower East Side of Manhattan was the epicenter of Jewish life. Today, the business is owned and operated by Streit’s descendants, including two great-grandsons and one great-great-grandson.
The family exhibits great pride in having kept the business in the neighborhood for 90 years (a mitzvah, according to co-owner Alan Adler). But in the end, increasing competition from other matzoh makers and the challenges posed by operating out of four old tenement buildings with ancient equipment finally caught up with Streit’s. The company announced in December that it would be moving to New Jersey. The Rivington Street buildings have been bought by a real estate developer.
Levine says he hopes people come away from the film with a better understanding of the value of family businesses. “While the products they produce may not necessarily be the cheapest things on the shelf, there’s a service they provide to their workers and to culture.”
Join filmmaker Michael Levine for post-screening Q&As at Movies of Delray (7421 W Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach) and Movies of Lake Worth (7380 Lake Worth Road., Lake Worth) for select shows March 27 to 29. Members of the Streit family will also be in attendance.
Audience Q&As will take place at The Last Picture Show in Tamarac (10036 W McNab Road, Tamarac) March 27 to 29. Theaters will treat moviegoers to a free box of matzoh while supplies last.