By Julie DeVito
As Jewish families around the country prepare to celebrate Passover, one of the biggest distributors of Matzo is already hard at work at their factory on Rivington St, in New York’s Lower East Side.
Austrian immigrant Aron Streit bought the old red brick tenement in 1925 and converted it into a matzo factory with his wife Netty. It has remained a family business ever since, producing 40,000 pounds of matzo per day.
For passover, the factory stops daily production their flavored matzo, and begin baking matzo with only four and water, under the supervision of rabbis at each step. Passover matzo is used for religious services and has to be baked for a specific amount of time so that it doesn’t rise.
“For passover matzo the rabbis want the water to be still so it’s mayim shelano,” Adler said. “We have holding tanks where we fill them up the night before and then the water sits overnight and then we can use it the next day. For daily matzo, we can just plug right into the NYC water system.”
Adina Snapstailer, a 20 year old Jewish student and matzo consumer in Florida, reflected upon a quote that encourages the Jewish people to live each day as if they’ve just come from Egypt.
“We eat matzah to symbolize when the Jews left Egypt and they didn’t have time to let the bread rise,” Snapstailer said. “It’s a time when our family comes together and we tell the whole story of Passover because in the Torah it says you should teach it to your children.”
Adler said that in the last few years Streits has had to compete with Israeli companies who can produce the product cheaper and sell it to the supermarkets, who often give it away during the holiday.
“It’s become a two tiered market now,” he said. “People either go to the supermarket and they want the traditional matzo that they grew up with as kids, that their parents served to them, or they are just looking for the cheapest thing they can buy to get through passover.”
In an age of modernity and efficiency, Streit’s is still doing things the old-fashioned way.
“It’s a terribly inefficient factory here,” Adler said. “A modern factory would one floor in some industrial part instead of underutilizing probably the most expensive real estate in Manhattan.”
Adler joked that one side of their matzo is always darker than the other because of their old-fashioned ovens. Although the factory considered moving to a more efficient space in New Jersey, they’ve recently made a five year plan to remain at the location, using the same machine’s they used in 1925.
They also continue to package their matzo with the box sealed in plastic, as opposed to competing companies who choose to wrap the matzo itself in plastic.
“That matzo ends up not tasting as good and then picking up odors,” Adler said. “We still do it the old-fashioned way because it makes for a more tasty product.”
The factory is expected to switch from passover matzo to their more unique varieties, including egg and onion, about two weeks before the holiday.
Although a new factory would save the company in labor costs, Adler said that Streits is here to stay. Neighbors can expect to continue to smell the faint aroma of matzo outside their windows for at least a few years more and local Jewish people can still walk into the family shop to purchase a piece of history.