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Good Times: The Matzo Files
October 17, 2005 by Howard Blas

Streit’s Matzos Factory Store, 150 Rivington Street, New York, Tel: (212) 677-0876, http://www.matzofiles.org, Hours: Tues-Thurs 3pm-6pm, Sun 12 noon - 5pm, appointments possible.

Though Passover’s more than half a year away, there’s a lot of action at Steit’s Matzos on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the oldest family-owned-and-operated matzah bakery in the U.S. Two men in the baking area carefully take finished matzot from a conveyor belt; at the front of the store Bella, the clerk, is selling matzah and other products at off-season prices (all flavors of macaroons for $1 a can; matzah ball and low-salt soup mix, $1.50).

But the steady flow of people is mainly here for what the sign outside advertises as “The Matzo Files.” I expect matzah murder mystery or a comprehensive list of matzah recipes, but instead I find more than 1,000 pieces of artwork by 250 artists in a range of media. Diagonally across from Streit’s, an old school has been converted into an artists studio, and the Files help local artists who don’t appear in galleries or museums show their works.

An old-fashioned file cabinet holds 180 folders, each with a different artist’s creations; other works, including jewelry, miniature sculptures and self-published books are kept in 70 cardboard boxes on bookshelves. The guide, an artist whose works are on exhibit, asks me to put on soft white gloves as I examine Lisa Dahl’s embroidery, Riva Weinstein’s heart goddess figure, Pam Cooper’s mixed media work, and Maria Levitzky’s Crime Scene Images (photos of “real places where something happened,” like the one I’m nervously holding entitled “After Abductee Escaped.” Prices of those works for sale range up to $500.

When the pace of matzah baking picks up before Passover, the files are temporarily relocated and replaced by matzah boxes awaiting shipment. Then the artists pitch in and help sell the real thing.

Howard Blas
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