Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday Closed

 . This is a photo of my grandfather David taken in front of his store in Brooklyn in 1938.There are many reasons that I love this picture and have it hanging on my wall. First of all, I have very fond memories of my Zaydee Dovid who I remember well. I remember the adventure of going with my mother by subway to Brooklyn to visit him in his grocery store. I have a memory of coming into the store and he was sitting behind his counter with a book open propped against the counter. As we entered he put the book on a shelf under the counter and rose to greet us. He was a very tall man and in the shop he wore a large white apron and I remember looking way up at him as he handed me a red box of animal crackers. My mother told me that he once asked her, "do you think she'll remember that I gave her cookies in my store?" I do, Zaydee,  I do! 

I guess it was around the time that I started school my grandfather suffered a stroke. Early one day the regular customers came to get their fresh rolls and when he didn't come down to open the shop they called an ambulance (he was always there early in the morning). I was not allowed to visit him in the hospital but I remember my mother telling someone that there was a note on his bed saying 'kosher food only'. Eventually he was released from the hospital but it was clear that he could not live on his own any more nor keep the store. The doctors thought he would probably no be able to even walk much again. He came to live with us. But my Zaydee Dovid was a very determined man. He was determined not to be an invalid. He had been independent too long for that. At first it was difficult but he would walk with my mother and hold on to my brother's carriage. (Baby carriages in those days offered a lot more support than the folding contraptions we used to nowadays.)  My father made him a cane and he slowly started walking by himself. He had soon surprised everyone and was taking long walks in the neighborhood.  

It wasn't until I was much older that I realized the real strengths of my grandfather's character. Now when I look at this picture I can read the "Saturday Closed" (and in Yiddish on either side שבת געשלאסען shabbes geshlossen). In New York there were laws that forbade opening stores on Sunday so in order to keep Shabbat  an orthodox Jew had the choice of keeping his store closed two days every week or to open on Sunday and if a policeman passed by pay a fine. My grandfather did a little of both. So what was only a marginally profitable business in the dark days of the Great Depression became even more marginal. That book he kept under the counter, it was a Talmud. His father had been a Talmud scholar but my grandfather was the youngest of his children born from a second marriage when his father was already a grandfather himself. My Zaydee Dovid was jealous of his older brothers who had studied with their father longer. But he kept the study of Torah part of his life. Even in America, even where it was hard to keep you store closed on Shabbat.He could have given up on the Shabbat, rationalized like so many others did that family obligations took precedence. But he didn't. He had his priorities and he stood proudly by them. 

And that's why I love this photo.  

Hat tip to Leora who mentioned that her grandfather sold eggs in Brooklyn in a post about watching a movie with her 7 year old daughter about the Great Depression of the 1930's (here). I have been meaning to write about my grandfather for a long time. 


Leora said...

Did I inspire you to write about your grandfather? My grandfather was also a determined man - he had risky surgery in the 1970's, because he wanted to visit his grandchildren, and it cost him his life. I'm sure today the surgery would be much less risky.

And my grandfather, too, kept Shabbat during that period. His two daughters married rabbis - I am sure Torah was an important part of their childhoods.

Anonymous said...

I copied that picture a few years back and gave it to each of our sons so they would understand that their true yichus came from their greatgrandparents.

Risa Tzohar said...

Leora, thanks for the inspiration!
Amerbro, I think he's smiling down on us and proud of Torah scholars in the family.

Melissa said...

Your grandfather sounds like he was a wonderful man.

It's funny, this morning I woke up and told my husband that I wish that I could open a kosher grocery store here in Boise, Idaho. I pictured a quaint little store with an old fashioned counter and brown kraft paper to wrap the goods in.

Also, I pictured the white apron. Now, I just need a name for the store. I had one, but it is taken. There is a store in Florida named Sarah's Tent. That was the name that I had thought of. I'll have to keep dreaming.

Thank you for sharing your memories with us.


Frugal Dougal said...

What a wonderful post, Risa - thank you!

Batya said...

Risa what a great post. Please send my love to your mother.

Anonymous said...


What a beautiful post. That photograph looks like one in a history book -- except it is YOUR history. How wonderful. And wonderful that you still have such strong memories of him.

RivkA with a capital A said...

What a beautiful post. I have tears in my eyes. Our grandparents had so much strength, so much integrity.

I miss mine, so very much.

My grandparents worked on Shabbat when they came to America. But when my mother was pregnant with me, she had pneumonia and my grandfather made a pact with God. If I was born healthy, he would never drive on Shabbat again. Both God and my grandfather kept their part of the deal.

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