Throughout history it seems that Jewish people had to always run away from some sort of persecution. Recently the Russian President Poutin wanted Jewish people to register in the Ukraine at office buildings. Why? Are we approaching another holocaust? I certainly hope not. Recently they found a 80 year old man in a small apartment with millions of dollars of stolen art from the world war two era when the Jews had to register then and if they were lucky they could leave all their precious art and belongings to live another day. We can read the bible or the Torah and listen to all the stories of how the Jewish people were always running away from something and as a result, roaming the desert.
I think the clearest evidence of their past is witnessed in the type of bread they cooked which didn’t amount to much of a bread at all. They are a people that thrives on tradition so they keep the tradition of making Matzos. It is the simplest form of bread with basic ingredients of flour and water. Thankfully these days, most Jewish people don’t have to roam the deserts fleeing from something. They have settled everywhere and are thriving once again. In Manhattan on the lower east side, where it is very expensive and trendy filled with fancy restaurants and nightclubs frequented by really hip people and celebrities you will find something that looks a little bit out of place that has been in that place for many years now.
There on the corner of Riviington and Suffolk is Streit’s Matzos factory turning out 25,000 pounds of matzo every day as it has done nearly every day since 1925. Back then the lower east side was largely a Jewish neighborhood full of delis, push carts and families. The factory looks antique with the same machines they operated in the 1930s. A great grandson of Aaron Streit, the company’s founder runs the company today. The factory is converted old apartments in tenement buildings. There is a younger generation running the business now who is trying to increase the appeal of the virtually tasteless hard cracker by offering different varieties.
They now sell Egg Matzo’s, Lightly Salted Matzo’s that tastes like a cracker, Milk Chocolate Matzo’s and Mediterranean Matzo’s that have sun dried tomato basil, garlic and olive oil. Matzo that is kosher for Passover comes in only one flavor and has just two ingredients. The secret recipe for Passover matzo is 80 pounds of flour and 30 gallons of water. Talk about a product would no additives or preservatives, this is it. The process all goes back to the tradition of what happened in Egypt centuries ago. We should all know the story of Passover that is rich in the Jewish religion and tradition. Everyone needs to be respected for what they choose to believe.
The eight day holiday of Passover commemorates leaving slavery from Egypt. The people did not have enough time to make the bread dough rise so they went into the desert with the dough on their shoulders where the sun baked it and thus was unleavened bread created and they called it Matzo’s. At Streit’s there is a team of rabbis on hand to see that it is all done according to kosher law. The whole process from mixing to baking must be completed in less than 18 minutes to ensure that the dough does not rise. The clock starts ticking as soon as the water hits the flour. After the mixing, the dough is pushed down to the floor below to be rolled thin before baking. Little holes are pressed into the dough to make sure that it doesn’t rise at all. Then baked at 800°in the ovens and in a few minutes it is done. After that it is cooled as it snakes through the floors of the old tenement buildings till it arrives in the box.
In a world where everything seems to be changing, this is one place that hasn’t changed at all. It is nice to know that some things have remained the same. Flour and water mixed with tradition and respect for the past sounds like a pretty good recipe.