It’s my first Passover without the iconic Streit’s Matzo factory.
Last year, the company left the Lower East Side for Rockland County. (Shocker: The factory, on Rivington Street, is being turned into condos.) This year, we’ll have a documentary about the Streit family and an art show about the factory’s history. But I wanted to do something in more personal tribute to the end of an era. So I called to make an appointment at a hipster Asian nail salon called OhMyNails!, renowned for its mad design skillz, located a few blocks from me (and the art gallery featuring the Streit’s show).
As an homage to the 90-year-old Lower East Side institution, I got myself a Streit’s-influenced manicure.
Prior the the appointment, I emailed her several photos to MoMo, the proprietress of OhMyNails!, because she did not know what matzo was, though she soon assured me that they’d figure it out. When I arrived, the manicurist, Serena, who is Chinese, also did not know what matzo was. I found myself telling MoMo and Serena the story of the Exodus, the plagues, the bread that did not have time to rise. It felt like a nice dry run for the Seder itself.
I tried to match my base shade to the iconic pink Streit’s box, which I should have brought with me. (Oops.) After studying all the photos of the box that exist on the Internet, Momo decided that the best duplicate was Chanel’s May. Serena painted nine of my nails Streit’s-Box-Pink. (Let’s all call it that. I like the notion of renaming the polish of a notorious anti-Semite after matzo.) Then Serena got to work on my matzo nail, frequently consulting a picture of a matzo on her iPhone for verisimilitude. Using a tiny brush, she mixed acrylic paint in various shades of tan, brown, yellow and white, and painted on a tiny keratin canvas not only the matzo bubbles and blisters but the tiny dotted break-here lines.
I chose to have my matzo nail applied on my middle finger.
Symbolically, I felt, this was a (finger)tip of the hat to the daunting amount of work expected of Jewish women on Passover. As Orthodox feminist thinker Elena Sztokman asked in Lilith magazine recently, “Would elaborate meals for 30 be such a central part of communal and religious practice if the Jewish community valued women’s full participation in all parts of public ritual? Or would we have perhaps found other ways to connect and to bring the sacred into our lives?”
Not only are we supposed to be Women of Valor about getting shit done, we’re supposed to look polished and awesome while doing it. Which is not going to happen. Having gotten this manicure on Monday (so as to be able to file this story in time for the holiday), before the home stretch of cleaning and cooking necessary to put on a Seder (we’re hosting two of them), I am fully aware that even if I wear dishwashing gloves from now until Friday, my manicure will be utterly trashed by the time the first gefilte fish is on a plate. This is a Zen-Jewish lesson in impermanence and dayenu-ness. We have to decide when enough is enough. An important lesson of Jewish womanhood is that the perfect is the enemy of the good.
Could I have spent infinitely more money or bribed my infinitely talented friend Sarah (who came to our Seder in 2012 with hand-painted Ten Plagues nails she’d actually done herself, because she is a gifted freak) to paint all 10 nails fabulously? Sure! Could I have simply purchased Midrash Manicures nail decals? No! Because I have waited too long to order! The perfect is the enemy of the good. Let me marvel at the evanescence of my one perfect matzo nail and tribute to the Streit’s box, and see it as part of the Seder shel matah, the earthly Seder that is flawed and possible, rather than the Seder shel ma’alah, the heavenly Seder that is utterly unblemished and therefore inhuman.
Now I’m back at my desk, writing this and another piece today so I can resume cooking and cleaning tomorrow. I was late getting back to work because I didn’t know that the credit card minimum at the salon was $50 (one artistically painted matzoh nail plus a regular manicure costs $20), so I had to run as directed to the barber shop across the street to get cash, and the barber shop turned out to be run by Israelis who exclaimed in admiration of my Hebrew tattoos.
Streit’s may be gone, and imperfection is the way of the world, but at least my neighborhood maintains its color.
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.