This is the first Passover in 90 years without Streit’s Matzo in operation on Rivington Street. So what do you do if you get hungry after seeing the new documentary and art exhibit dedicated to the bygone Lower East Side matzo factory? Don’t get tsuris. The Museum at Eldridge Street is offering a taste of the old neighborhood via its Passover-week “Matzo Tours.”
Built in 1887, the star-covered Eldridge Street Synagogue is the very first Eastern European Jewish-built synagogue in the US. By the 1940s it fell into decline and was only used by a small congregation, but in 1996 it was designated a National Historic Landmark and a 20-year-long meticulous restoration began.
For this week, the tour (a favorite among architecture buffs, preservationists, and immigration and Jewish history lovers alike) will end with a spread of passover-friendly treats, including Streit’s matzo and chocolate-covered matzo, as well as Streit’s kosher goodies everyone remembers, like little fruit flavored candies, chocolate lollipops and macaroons.
“Because of our long history as a synagogue, we thought it would be a fun and nice thing to offer a special experience during the passover week,” said Amy Stein Milford, the museums’ deputy director. “Many people who are Jewish are observant of passover traditions, which means you can’t eat any leaven bread, you can’t eat pasta, you can’t eat cereal.”
But there’s also an added layer of significance–the chance to keep the memory of Streit’s, long an anchor to the neighborhood’s past, alive. With its ancient conveyor belt system stretching over five stories, fourth and fifth-generation owners, and longtime staff, it provided a tangible connection to the Jewish history fast disappearing from the Lower East Side.
Stein Milford said for the past 15 years the museum ran a pre-passover “nosh-and-stroll” around the neighborhood, visiting historic places important to the Jewish community and teaching about LES passover food traditions. Streit’s was always the last stop on the tour. “People would end up there and you’d seen the matzo being made fresh off the conveyor belts,” she said. “That was really an amazing experience. Someone from Streit’s would talk to the group and people could taste their matzo.”
Now, the old Streit’s building is in the process of demolition, and will soon make way for flashy luxury condos. This year the museum’s walking tour tour focused more on historical sites, like the Bialystoker Synagogue, rather than food.
Of course, the silver lining is that family-owned Streit’s didn’t close for good–it simply changed location to upgrade their machinery and keep the business competitive, continuing to provide pink-boxed matzo to families across America for more passovers to come.
And don’t forget — if you want to inundate yourself with matzo lore, you’ve got one more day to catch the documentary by Michael Levine, Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream at Film Forum. You could also check out the related exhibition of archival photos and matzo art at Art on A until May 5.
Matzo Tours, Museum at Eldridge Street, at 12 Eldridge Street New York. April 25-27 10-5 p.m. April 28 10- 3 p.m.