— by Michael Levine
On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in a series of four nondescript brick tenement buildings, sits the Streit’s Matzo factory. In 1925, when Aron Streit opened the factory’s doors, it sat at the heart of the nation’s largest Jewish immigrant community. Today, in its fifth generation of family ownership, in a rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side, it remains as the last family-owned matzo factory in America. This place is filled with history and tradition, and not only in the sense that the recipe for their product is 3,000 years old.
More after the jump.
The machinery still used here to bake and pack 40% of the nation’s matzo is as old as the factory itself. The owners still sit at their great-grandfathers’ desks, declining to clear the drawers of the contents left by their forbearers. They have, again and again, refused offers by developers for their real estate, and resisted modernizing the facility, worried of the potential effects on their fiercely loyal workforce, made of neighborhood residents and immigrants from around the world, many of whom have been working there for 30 years or more.
And yet, while in many ways Streit’s may seem a relic from another age, they continue to thrive, consistently receiving more orders than they can fill.
In a neighborhood where the Jewish immigrants have long ago moved on, in a nation where progress and profits trump all else, where manufacturing has left the cities if not the country, where family businesses are bought out by giant corporations, and workers move from job to low-paying job, Streit’s remains a Lower East Side institution, and a glimmer of hope for the American Dream.
I’ve been working in documentary film and television (Showtime, A&E, History Channel, HGTV, and numerous independent projects) for the past nine years, and having deep family roots on the Lower East Side (my father’s side settled on Rivington Street in 1910), I am truly thrilled and honored to have a chance to make this film. It has been a dream of mine, for years, to tell this story, and seeing it come together has been nothing short of amazing. And while I’m at it, let me thank you again for your support! Your belief in this project is what promises to get me through all the sleepless nights of editing ahead — I’m so excited to get this film out into the world!
I’m also thrilled to be working on this project with the my producer, Michael Green, whose long and storied career in the world of food and drink (19 years at Gourmet Magazine, appearances on Food Network, Today Show, and much more), his experience as a producer across many forms of media, and his unwavering passion for this project, have made working on this film with him an extraordinary experience.
We are joining forces to create a film, a feature-length documentary, that will tell the story of Streit’s — of the factory, of the family, of its workers, of its place in the rich history of the Lower East Side and in America. It is a story of tradition, of resilience and resistance, of the perseverance of the Jewish people, and of immigrants of all faiths, so many of whom have found home in the Lower East Side, behind the doors of Streit’s, or in the matzo they bake.
In order to make this project possible, we are raising money with Kickstarter. So far, about 300 people have chosen to support us, and we have raised close to $30,000. Please help us reach our goal of $60,000.