Aron Yagoda, a fourth-generation Streit, has yet to see the film that captures the zeitgeist of his family’s 90-year-old factory on the Lower East Side, which sold last year after seven years on the market.
“It’s hard,” said Yagoda. “I haven’t really watched the whole movie yet, because I’m just sentimental about it. I saw a couple of scenes with my grandfather in it and I had to shut if off.”
Streit’s Matzo and the American Dream, the documentary which will screen at the Film Forum from April 20-26, held its kick-off party Thursday night at Art on A Gallery, a mile’s walk from the iconic institution slated to become another ho-hum string of luxury condos.
Director Michael Levine, whose three-year project follows the family through the highs and lows of matzo manufacturing in the 21st century, decided to throw a celebration in its honor in a matzo pop-up shop for Streit’s fans and onlookers alike, for two weeks.
“I was thinking that this is going to be the first Passover in 90 years that Streit’s isn’t going to be on the Lower East Side. I thought about generations of families going down to the store each year, who now have no place to go.”
Gilded rows of pink-gold-leaf metal matzos, designed by artist Judi Harvest (whose artwork is featured in Issue 2 of Tablet magazine), lined the walls opposite a chain of retro oven dampers and stippler machinery that Levine schlepped from Streit’s warehouse in New Jersey. A series of photographs from Joseph Holmes, who captured the last days of Streit’s before its ultimate demise, contrasted vintage photographs of the Streit’s family. A projector with archival footage played out black and white scenery of the workers happily watching planate matzo roll down the racks.
Family members and friends, factory workers, and neighborhood sympathizers stopped in for free matzos and a spread of Jewish delicacies from Russ & Daughters, Streit’s former neighbors. Patrons crammed in the tiny gallery—which fittingly played the gritty sounds of David Bowie all evening—and shoveled in bagels while waiting on line for Harvest’s gold-coated matzo samples, drenched in honey and cream cheese.
Yagoda, who stood idle taking it all in, said wistfully, “We miss the Lower East Side. If we could’ve gotten the ovens to fit inside the building, we would’ve never left.” When asked his chief hope for the new factory, which will open in Rockland County September 2016, the owner pronounced, “I hope the matzo looks and tastes exactly the same as it did on Rivington Street.”
Jillian Scheinfeld is a journalist living in New York City.