Blessing the matzo at Streit’s, “the last family-owned and operated matzo company in America.” Undated photo courtesy of Streit’s Matzos- Kosher Grocer Since 1925.
You all know I’m an honorary Jew, right? I’m sure I’ve boasted of this before. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. My best friends were Jewish. My first job was as shabbos goy at the orthodox synagogue. Friday evenings my job was to go over and turn off the lights. Saturday mornings I came back to turn them on again. I was paid a few bucks PLUS whatever I wanted to sample of the deserts for that day’s bar mitzvah or Saturday night’s or Sunday’s wedding, which had to be delivered on before sundown on Friday.
Naturally, I attended a few seders. More naturally, for eight days I got to feast on matzo.
This you consider a feast? A cracker?
But such a cracker!
That was our afterschool snack. Either Sandy or Chuck or Jerry would invite us all over to his house and we’d empty a box. Peanut butter on matzo! Now that’s a party in your mouth!
For years after I left home for college, every Passover I bought myself a box and a new jar of peanut butter.
Then I moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where for the first time in my life I was living among the goyim.
No Jews among my colleagues. No Jews among my students. No Jews among our friends. As far as I knew, there were no Jews in our neighborhood. There was a synagogue a few blocks from our apartment. A very small place. I’ve been in lakeside cottages that were bigger. And on Saturdays they didn’t exactly do a booming business. The only Jew I knew, it seemed, was me and without the company of my tribe I didn’t feel like my honorary-ness counted for that much. With no one to (vicariously) celebrate Passover and Hanukkah with or wish Happy Rosh Hashanah, I lost track of the holidays. No more matzo. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure I could have found any if I’d tried. Probably if I’d looked hard enough I could have bought a box at the local Kroger. But after a couple of years I started forgetting to remember I wanted to look, if you know what I mean. By the time we left Indiana for Syracuse, New York, which, by the way, is where the Midwest begins, so it wasn’t quite like returning to civilization, I was out of the habit of even remembering the I’d had the habit of buying matzo.
But this year will be different, thanks to Barry Lewis, a columnist for our local paper, and, incidentally, a friend. Barry loves matzo. He grew up on it, not as a Passover tradition, but as what he calls “a year-round delicacy.”
Which, he goes on to say, “might explain why my mom thought ketchup on spaghetti was exotic.”
In his column this week, Barry introduces matzo to his goyische readers:
For those unfamiliar with matzo, let me explain.
When Moses led the Jews and, as Cecil B. DeMille reminds us, Edward G. Robinson, out of Egypt, they carried with them in the desert dough that, in their rush, didn't have time to rise.
To commemorate the Exodus and freedom from bondage, Jews during the Passover holiday eat matzo, a bland, cracker-like flatbread made of flour and water, and refrain from eating bread and other tasty leavened products. We do this as a way to punish ourselves in the present for the pain we suffered in our past. We do that a lot in my religion.
Of course, Barry had always thought of himself as a matzo connoisseur. But as he found out, a person can’t claim he knows matzo until he’s taken a tour of Streit’s, “the last family-owned and operated matzo company in America.”
As he says, “When a Streit's guy talks matzo-making, you listen.”
Barry went to Streit’s recently. He listened. The Streit’s guy doing the talking was Alan Adler, Streit’s director of operations.
We were in his cluttered office with multiple desks and family pictures of matzo bakers, including portraits of his great-grandparents, Aron and Nettie Streit, who left Austria in the 1890s. In 1925, Aron opened a matzo factory on the Lower East Side. Today, on that same site, folks can peruse the corner grocery store for matzo, matzo meal and matzo ball soup mixes, as well as gluten-free cake mix, chow mein noodles and Texas ranch brisket sauce. Adjacent to the store and the office is the factory, with a conveyor belt that moves millions of pounds of matzo annually.
Barry was there for Streit’s “Passover Palooza”. If you want to know what a Passover Palooza entails, you should read Barry’s whole column, Think you know matzo? Listen to the Streit's guy, at the Times Herald-Record.
Maybe I’ll get to go next year.
I should be so lucky.