By Roz Rogoff
Making MatzosUploaded: May 24, 2013
Why would I write about making matzos after Passover and what does this have to do with San Ramon? It has nothing to do with San Ramon, but six months ago I wrote a blog on Crowdfunding and mentioned supporting some projects on Kickstarter. I was back on Kickstarter recently and invested $100 in a documentary film project on Streits Matzos.
I corresponded with the Streits company four years ago suggesting they make their matzos in smaller sizes to sell as cheese crackers. Carr's Water Crackers, a popular British brand of cheese crackers, are nothing more than small, thin matzos.
I also like Streits onion-poppy seed flavored matzos called Moon Strips, after mohn, the Yiddish word for poppy seeds. So I suggested the Streits Company make their Moon Strips into snack crackers the size of a quarter with moon faces on them.
Kids love to eat things with faces and shapes. I remember Animal Crackers when I was growing up. I still see them around but they seem to have lost their appeal. Moon Crackers could be a year-round seller for Streits.
I like to give nutritious snacks at Halloween, because I like to eat the leftovers and don't want to eat candy. One year I gave away little bags of Gold Fish which started out as soup crackers and morphed into a healthy cheese snack. Last year I gave away small boxes of raisons. I thought flavored matzos packaged in small bags with funny faces, would be neat treat to give away on Halloween.
Streits was considering selling their original building in New York City and moving to a larger, more modern plant in New Jersey where they could buy new equipment and expand. The movie about Streits is about why they changed their mind about doing this, largely to keep their connection with the neighborhood in Manhattan and their long-time employees. It's a movie with a heart, and shows that not all business owners are only in it for the money.
I have some connection with the Matzo business, although it isn't one I know much about. My sister sent me some information she got from my paternal Grandmother on her father, Lieb Nanes, who emigrated from Poland to American in 1878. His wife and four older children came over in 1880. Grandma Lilly was the youngest of six. She and an older brother were born here.
My sister said that Great Grandpa Nanes was a matzo maker. I couldn't imagine how anyone could make a living making matzos. After all these are only used during Passover, which restricts eating leaven bread for 7 days. Matzos, which are flat, crunchy crackers made of flour and water, without the fluffiness of Challah or bread, represent the bread the Jews ate in the desert when they escaped out of Egypt as described in the Old Testament.
My sister thought there are other uses for matzos during the rest of the year. My maternal Grandmother Ida who lived with us, used to make matzo brei, which are matzos mixed with milk and eggs and fried like a pancake. It never looked very good to me, but Grandma would eat that year round.
Grandma Lilly made matzo balls out of matzo meal. These are supposed to be light, airy dumplings in chicken soup, but hers were more like hockey pucks. So I guess there are year-round uses for matzos.
After I contributed to the matzo movie I received a thank you email from the producer and director. I replied about my contact with Streits and to my surprise received a very interesting reply.
"Rivington Pictures says:
Thanks so much for writing - these are definitely questions we've been asking as we film at Streits!
It's true, as early as mid-2008; rumors were coming out that they would be selling the factory. In fact, this is when I first considered making a film about the business. As they've explained it to me, they had real estate speculators knocking on their door every week with higher and higher offers - this just before the real estate market dropped. I believe the highest offer was over $25 million. And it was an extremely difficult decision for them. The cost to move to a plant in New Jersey that would be more efficient with a smaller workforce would have been less than a quarter of the asking price for their real estate - a tough offer to refuse, even given their obviously deep commitment to their neighborhood and their workers. In fact, it got to the point where there was a contract on their desks, when at the last minute; they just couldn't bring themselves to do it, and decided to stay. Getting to understand what it was that made them leave that offer on the table is a huge part of this film for me. They're very open about talking about it, but I think they're still trying to understand it, too, so we're kind of figuring it out together, I'd say. I can tell you this, though: their commitment to staying at the current factory is stronger than it has ever been. I think it's almost like they looked over the edge, saw the alternative, and never want to go back. Each of the owners has said basically the same thing: that they simply could never bring themselves to be the generation that leaves the family's home for the past 90 years - the connection is very deep for them.
Now, as far as smaller, cracker sized matzos of various flavors, this is a subject of discussion there on a regular basis. Apparently there was a short period of time in the 1940s or 1950s where they did make smaller, cracker sized matzos, but they've haven't done so since. They'd like to, but all their equipment and their workforce is set up for the full-sized matzos. They would have to build new cutting machines to cut the smaller crackers. Also, the matzos come out of the over in large sheets of 8 matzos each, which the workers break at the perforation points by hand into individual matzos, and then place them in cooling baskets that circulate around the factory to the packing room. Separating them by hand, it would take twice as long to break them into quarter-sized pieces, and they don't break as cleanly either into small pieces, so they'd have to run at most at half speed. Plus, the cooling baskets are wire baskets with big gaps to allow w the large matzos to cool properly. Thousands of these would have to be replaced to hold onto the smaller crackers, and stacking them in the baskets by hand, as they do, would take even more time. So, it's tough - it's doable, but it would take some doing. It's definitely on their minds though, so we'll see what happens!
And if you're having trouble finding moon strips where you live, my recommendation would just be to give them a call (212-475-7000). Rabbi Kirshner, the Supervising Rabbi at Streits, spends a good part of his day packing orders for people who can't find their products at their supermarket, and I'm sure they'd be happy to send some Moon Strips your way!
Rosalind, thank you so much again for being a part of this film. It really means so much. We're so excited to be working on this project, and learning new things every day. If you have any other questions, feel free to write anytime - I'm happy to ask the owners anything I don't know the answer to - you just happened to mention a few things that are constant topics of discussion there!
And of course, (I've gotta say it!) feel free to share the project with anyone who might be interested - things are coming along really well, thanks to amazing people like you, but it's going to take many, many people to make this project a success and we need to make sure they know about it. I'm so thrilled to have you involved, and I love it when I can answer questions - keep them coming!
All the Best,
I continue to correspond with Michael Levine. I asked if he could find out about my Great Grandfather Lieb Nanes, who died in 1922 at 84. Aron Streit started his matzo company in 1925, so there appears to be no overlap between the two matzo makers. Mr. Levine said he would check Streits' records to see if he could find anything in the archives about my Great Grandfather, but so far he hasn't uncovered any connection.
The Streit film sounds like a heartfelt story about capitalism, success, and staying with your roots instead of going for the money. This film is getting a lot of attention including a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
I'm writing this to help the producers reach their Kickstarter goal of $60,000. They have six days to go, and are only up to $36,090 pledged so far. They need the other $24,000 by May 31, at 2 am EDT or they will lose the $36K already pledged.
I hope some deep pocket contributors will invest in this movie. Whether you care about Streits or matzos or don't even know what they are, this movie will show a family business that treats its employees and neighbors as family. That's worth making a movie about.