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Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie in King and Oy garb.JPG        Happy belated (by now very, very belated) Purim! You may think it’s supremely cavalier or dismissive of me to be finally posting about this festive occasion a full 12 days after the fact. You might even surmise from the delay that I regard it as a second-tier holiday – say, the Jewish equivalent of Columbus Day versus the Fourth of July.
        If so, you would be wrong. Dead wrong! Purim rates so high in my book (and my household) that all other activity virtually ceases right before it, and afterwards I need at least a week to recover, making it the religious equivalent of having the flu or a laparoscopic appendectomy.
But now that I’m finally back on my feet, and at my computer, my abject apologies, and also, in honor of the holiday we celebrated with hamantaschen last week, a quiz.
Just three words: “Home for Purim.”
Is this...Waiting for Guffman DVD.jpg
        A)   A new mash-up sung by Madonna and Jewish reggae wrapper Matisyahu?
B)   The name of the movie-within-a-movie in the classic Christopher Guest send-up Waiting for Guffman?
        C)   One of the Ten Commandments followed in the home of Nice Jewish Mom, ranking right behind “Call your mother” and “Thou shall not kill”?
D)   None of the above.
              Madonna as Game of Thrones character.jpg
        OK, Kabbalah-holic Madonna, who evidently took the Hebrew name Esther when she converted in the late 90s, did dress up for Purim this year as “Daenerys Targaryen,” a character from Game of Thrones. Yet the 55-years-young diva has not yet to my knowledge recorded any overtly Jewish songs (unless you count “Material Girl,” which could arguably be considered an anthem of sorts for many an affluent young Jewess).Levys at Purim 2012.JPGFor Your Consideration.jpg
        As for B) although “Home for Purim” was indeed the name of the movie-within-a-movie being filmed in a Christopher Guest spoof, it was not 1997’s Waiting for Guffman, but rather For Your Consideration, from 2006, in which a trio of actors in a B movie erroneously become convinced that their performances are creating “Oscar buzz.”
As for my own personal Ten Commandments, I can assure you that I never have and never will issue a decree commanding my kids to come home for Jewish holidays. Why would I? They already choose to do it themselves.
And when it comes to coming home for the holidays, in our house Purim happens to be chief among them, ranking as even more de rigueur than the High Holy Days. That’s because, as I’ve mentioned in this space many a time before, I always write the annual Purim spiel for our temple, and then I perform in it… as does Nice Jewish Dad.The King and Oy image.jpg
Each year, I choose a different Broadway musical, from West Side Story to South Pacific, and rewrite the lyrics so that it conveys the age-old story recounted in the Megillah. Last year, I created “Kiss Me, Esther,” based on Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. This year? The King and Oy.
We began rehearsing weekly starting right after New Year’s, an epic effort that dominated my life as always throughout the entire winter. So it was a bit disconcerting to have my daughter Allegra admit two weeks ago that she had a scheduling problem.
One of her two roommates in NYC was turning 35 the day before the spiel. Courtney wanted to celebrate with Allegra, my son Aidan, and his girlfriend Kaitlin. But the spiel was being performed here in Connecticut early on Sunday morning. Allegra didn’t want to disappoint her friend on such a significant occasion. Nor did she want to disappoint me. Yet there was no conceivable way that she could manage both events. Unless…Courtney.jpg
“Is there any chance that Courtney would be willing to come home for Purim with you?” I asked. “We could do something really nice to celebrate her birthday here.”
Yes, it seemed a little improbable. Courtney isn’t Jewish. And who would rather mark such a major milestone in suburban Connecticut when they could go out in NYC?
But I am here to tell you that miracles do happen, and I am not just talking about the Red Sox finally winning the World Series or the parting of the Red Sea. Because to my infinite delight and utter amazement, Courtney readily accepted our rather dubious invitation and said she would be more than happy to come for Purim.The King and Oy full house.jpg
Had she not, I would have understood, of course. But the fact is that even if we get a huge turnout for the spiel each year, with upwards of 500 congregants turning out, it doesn’t mean quite as much to me as being with and cheered on by my own kids.
So as the weekend approached, I went into full-scale party mode. Never mind that we had three dress rehearsals that week, and that I was busy putting the finishing touches on the program for the show, which I also am in charge of creating each year.Courtney's birthday cake.jpg
I ordered a beautiful birthday cake in fashionable black and white embellished with a big black bow, multiple curlicues, and Courtney’s name embossed in hot pink.white and black jacket.jpg
I bought an assortment of gifts, including a chic black and white blazer that I thought would look very Audrey Hepburn on the birthday girl, who’d recently bobbed her hair.
And I assembled an assortment of hors d’oeuvres and wines with which to toast.Courtney imbibing on her birthday.JPG
As for the birthday dinner itself, we deliberated at length about whether to eat in or take everyone out. But in the end, we realized that I am, in essense, the Purim queen, and should the queen really be shopping, cooking, and cleaning on Purim? We considered going out for Thai food, to get us in the mood for The King and Oy. But Courtney had her heart set on Chinese, so we went out for that instead.Allegra and Courtney in Connecticut.JPG
Afterwards, we came home for cocktails and cake. Courtney loved it all, including all of her gifts. Then she said that all she wanted to do next was play board games.
Seriously. (A “material girl” she is not.)
She didn’t mean Monopoly, however. Allegra had brought along an assortment of hipper games from the city, the kinds that young people apparently play these days. And the one Courtney chose did not involve a board, nor was anyone bored playing it.Cards Against Humanity.jpg
The name of the game was Cards Against Humanity, and this is how you play: Everyone starts with 10 white cards, each bearing a random and rather odd phrase. Then each player in turn chooses a black card bearing a question, and all the other players select the white card from their hand which offers the silliest possible answer. The person who asked the question chooses which is the most ridiculous, and eventually the player who has the most answers chosen wins.
Be forewarned that many of the answers are extremely tasteless. Here are the most printable examples I can find, reflecting three rounds from the game we played.

Question: What is there a ton of in heaven?
1)    Sexy pillow fights
2)    Daddy issues
3)    Full frontal nudity
4)    Advice from a wise old black man
5)    Synergistic management solutions
        Question: The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History has just opened an interactive exhibit on:
1)    Hulk Hogan
2)    A mating display
3)    My collection of high-tech sex toys
4)    An asymmetrical boob job
5)    Horrifying laser hair removal accidents
        Question: Coming to Broadway this season, _________ the musical.
1)    Puberty
2)    Switching to Geico
3)    Lactation
4)    Barack Obama
5)    Incest
        The winning answers were Daddy issues, a mating display, and incest.
        Nice.Geico gekko.jpg
Even nicer, though, was that all of these festivities did a bang-up job of distracting me from Purim the musical, which was not about incest, puberty or switching to Geico (although those are all now in the running as potential themes for next year).
        Here’s the thing. Purim, for which we all dress up in costume à la Halloween, may be the closest thing we Jews have to a genuinely fun holiday. (Yom Kippur, on which we fast and search our souls – not so much fun. Tisha B’av, on which we commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem and exile of the Jews, also not a barrel of laughs).
So, like all of the other regular cast members in the spiel, I look forward to it with bated breath and try to make it seem like we’re having a ball up there.
The sad truth, though, is that I am far from a natural performer or someone who craves the limelight. I’d just as soon stay behind the scenes and let others perform my words… or I would if we had a vast reservoir of talented thespians to do it for me.Waiting for Guffman.jpg
Instead, our rather motley crew of players vividly brings to mind that first Christopher Guest movie I mentioned, Waiting for Guffman, in which a ragtag group of amateurs at a community theater butt heads while rehearsing “Red, White, and Blaine,” a musical revue about the history of their fictional Missouri town, all the while eagerly anticipating the arrival of a major New York theater producer, in hopes that their corny cabaret may be destined for Broadway.Beth Fox as Vashti.jpg
This is not to in any way malign the talents of the dedicated few who invariably snag the lead roles in our off-off-off-offffff Broadway Purim production each year.
My friend Beth Fox was once again supremely sassy as Queen Vashti, the first wife, who adamantly refuses to perform before the king and his men in the nude, crooning “I Won’t Dance” to the tune of “Shall We Dance?” from The King and I. It began like this:
I won’t dance! (No! No! No!)
For I have self-respect and I have pride! (Oh! Oh! Oh!)
When he rants (Oh! Oh! Oh!)
I don’t like how he makes me feel inside! (No! No! No!)
      Beth Fox as Vashti in gold harem pants.jpg  
There’s no chance (No! No! No!)
That I’ll sell my own soul to keep my crown!
I must pack my possessions
For I will make no concessions
I must flee from this flawed romance!
With the clear understanding
His demands are too demanding
I won’t dance! (She won’t dance!) I won’t dance!
                  Mitch Cohen as King.jpg
        Meanwhile, Mitch Cohen, a longtime veteran of our spiels, was also thoroughly convincing as the bon vivant yet boorish King Ahasuerus as he serenaded Esther, the young Jewish queen-to-be, to the tune of “Hello, Young Lovers.” It began,
         selfie with king and friends.jpg  
        Hello, young Esther, whoever you are
Such beauty I’ve never seen
Romeo just found his new Juliet!
Marry me! Be my queen!
        Hello, young Esther, my wish on a star
Who knew such wishes came true?
Sending our selfies on Snapchat tonight
They will say I love you!...
        And Jeff Smith, a Purim stalwart dating back to long before my time, was stellar as always as the noble Mordechai, who entreats the young queen to save the Jews from wicked Haman (sung to the tune of “I Whistle a Happy Tune”):
       Jeff Smith as Mordechai.jpg
        Although you may feel afraid
And under great duress
Go tell the king you’re a Jew
No one will ever guess you’re not brave!
        Forget you are filled with fear
Put on your finest clothes
Go tell the king you’re a Jew
And no one will suppose you’re not brave!
        (Bridge) The result is unexpected
But wonderful as well
For when you face the things that you fear
Your fear goes straight to hell!...
        (Are you a little surprised that I would use the word “hell” in a song sung in synagogue? Don’t be. The only surprising thing is that the director, Cantor Pamela Siskin, actually let me.Cantor Pamela Siskin The King and Oy.jpg
        Then again, it was also her idea for me to be giving a pedicure to Vashti while she sings and to pretend to get shicker
(sloshed) on champagne during Queen Esther's song.)
        When it comes to the production values, however, let’s face it.  We don’t have much of a budget for costumes or props. And when I say “not much,” I mean nada.
The only reason Nice Jewish Dad and I looked remotely authentic and presentable in Thai-type garb this year was that, as usual, we bought matching costumes ourselves.TheKingandOy cast members.jpg
Then there is the quality of the cast. Every winter we hold auditions (and I use the term very loosely). But this being a temple event, we automatically accept all comers. And many of those comers are either 8 to 12 years old or coming up on 80.
That is not to suggest that youth has the corner marketed on talent (although it does have the market cornered on being able to dance or move around freely on stage). Fred FitzGerald, another old hand in our Purim lineup, managed to embody the dastardly persona of the wicked-to-the-core Haman once again this year with as much bravado and stage presence as the entire post-pubescent cast of Glee combined.Fred Fitzgerald as Haman.jpg
But no matter how many times I’ve been through this amateur enterprise myself, I still approach it with a peculiar mix of monumental pride and mounting dread.
That’s because, although I hung up my shingle as a prospective Queen Esther about a dozen years ago, my husband and I still assume lead roles by narrating the generic script that I wrote, which holds the production together.
To add a touch of drama and humor, that script is structured as a dialogue, with one person telling the inspiring story of Purim and the other offering silly answers (although not quite as silly or outrageous as the ones in Cards Against Humanity).Pattie and Harlan narrating King and Oy.JPG
In past years, I’ve made my husband play the fool (requiring less acting prowess). This year I decided to shake things up by switching places with him.
For example, Narrator No. 1 notes, “Now, the song we just heard mentions a king,” then asks his sidekick, “Can you tell me the name of the king in the story?”
Narrator No. 2 (making a wild guess) “Elvis?”Elvis.jpg
To breathe fresh life into the tale and convey it in terms that young people will relate to, I also insert a wide range of current cultural references. So when Narrator 1 asks about the identity of the one person who refused to bow down to wicked Haman, his partner guesses, “Kanye West? Kim Jong Un? Oprah?”
Although we always read directly from the script, rather than trying to memorize it, this still remains live theater. That leaves it wide open to calamity. During the final dress rehearsal this year, I accidently omitted a whole page of dialogue and an entire song.
And so even after rehearsing for weeks, I worried as always that I’d make a major flub in front of everyone. Never mind that it always goes off without a hitch, and if someone messes up – and I prove to be the mess-ee – everyone enjoys it anyway.
So having a houseful of guests to distract me may have been just what the rabbi ordered. It wasn’t until I got into bed late the night before that I remembered I would be performing before hundreds of people the next morning. My mind seized up with terror. Yikes! But within minutes I fell asleep.My family in front row.jpg
The next morning, when I saw hundreds of congregants filing into the sanctuary, I was again seized with a moment of pure panic. But then I saw my kids, along with Kaitlin, Courtney, and my Cousin Susan, in the first row, and I overflowed with pure joy.
Also there to witness my one moment of glory each year were a few good friends: Liz, who had journeyed up from NYC just for the occasion; Pat and Michael, who’d gotten up at dawn after baby-sitting in Boston for their grandson while their son and daughter-in-law were in the hospital giving birth to a new baby; and Suzy and Stan and Suzy’s parents Marty and Lorry, who never fail to show up for this, even early on a Sunday morning when most people would rather sleep in.
As I said, good friends (but I don't blame anyone who didn't show up).TheKingandOyPattieandHarlan.JPG
The Glantzes admired the matching costumes my husband and I were wearing, like a pair of Asian salt and pepper shakers, and asked if we were going to lead off the procession of players that would start from the back of the sanctuary and march up to the bima when the spiel commenced. And even though we had rehearsed it differently for months, with my husband in front and me in the rear, I realized that they were right.The King and Oy finale shot.jpg
So as the band launched into “March of the Siamese Children,” I seized my husband’s arm and we strode triumphantly up the aisle. Maybe it wasn’t actual glory. But it was actual joy.
And as the age-old story from the Megillah slowly unfolded, I could see that I was not alone.
I am delighted to report that there were only a few hairy moments, like when my husband inadvertently read one of my lines, so we had to switch parts for a page or two. But who knew?
So once again it went off without a hitch, and before I knew it we were raising our arms high at the end of the grand finale, a closing number sung to the tune of “Getting to Know You,” but entitled – what else? – “Getting to Know Jews.” It started like this:The King and Oy grand finale.jpg
        Getting to know Jews
Getting to know all about Jews
There’s no one like Jews
No one who prays like we pray
        Getting to know Jews
Putting it our way – in Yiddish
Vey iz mir, gornisht
Gezunt, gevalt! (That’s our gestalt!)…
        Every year, my daughter, a professional singer in NYC herself, likes to speculate what the show would be like if it were performed in New York by actual professionals. That, of course, would be a dream come true for me. But I kind of like this dream as is.Michelle Meyer and Ella Oganjanov.jpg
A large part of the thrill is doing it with and for people who get few if any other chances to seize the spotlight in their lives, if only for a moment. Yes, of course, it might be stellar if it starred Emma Stone as the daring young queen who saves the Jews. But I would much rather share the stage with Ella, a 75-years-old-plus Russian redhead who had a heart attack last year, but was still back beside me on the bima once again.
Courtney, Aidan, Kaitlin, Allegra and me.JPG
After the show and making an appearance at the lively Purim carnival that followed, we went out to celebrate with our entourage over a post-Purim brunch.
But first, as usual, people began asking me within seconds of the spiel ending what I’m planning for next year. “The Book of Haman” (based on Book of Mormon)? “Esther Get Your Gown” (based on Annie Get Your Gun)? Or forget about Broadway musicals altogether and do a Beatles spiel? (As someone suggested, “Across the Jew-niverse?”).Pattie in King and Oy dress 2.JPG
Are they crazy? Or just full of chutzpah? Who can even think about that? I take my spiels one Purim at a time. And even if and when I make up my mind, I’m not telling anyone. Not even my kids. If they want to know, they’ll have to come home for Purim. Again!
5:41 pm 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Everything bagel with cream cheese.jpg        The dire news leaked out on a Tuesday afternoon last month and instantly began to spread faster than you can shmear cream cheese on an "everything" bagel.
The Crown was closing. The Crown was closing!
The Crown Market? Closing? Oh, say it wasn’t so!
Established in 1940, this haimishe, family-owned supermarket had long reigned as a cornerstone of my local Jewish community, selling Glatt kosher meats, sliced Nova Scotia lox, schmaltz herring, potato latkes, and other such delicacies for the past 74 years.
There are enough Jews in my town for it to boast a vibrant Jewish community center, a Jewish swim and racquet club, an annual Jewish book festival, an annual Jewish film festival, and multiple synagogues serving every conceivable Judaic sect, including the temple to which I belong, which is among the largest Reform congregations in the Northeast.
And yet whenever I try to convey to people just how Jewish the area I live in is, I always hasten to point out that we have a full-size kosher supermarket to call our own. You might call it, in essence, the crown jewel of Connecticut Jewry.The Crown Market exterior.jpg
OK, maybe The Crown Market didn’t exactly look like a crown, or much of a jewel. After 74 years of purveying everything from hot pastrami on rye to hamantaschen, the big brick building on Albany Avenue had grown to look a little dated both inside and out.
But that, let’s face it, only added to its old-world charm. There was nothing like the sights and smells of the freshly prepared specialties in its bakery and deli departments to transport you back to the days when you visited your grandparents in Brooklyn and got to dine on lokshen kugel, lox, bagels, and your bubbie’s homemade chicken soup.The Crown deli department.JPG
“It’s unique!” declared my cousin Susan, who since moving to Connecticut has shopped there regularly for the fresh-baked rye bread, sour pickles and creamy whitefish salad. “Nowhere else do you have a Jewish Mom and Pop supermarket, except in Brooklyn.”
And so my entire women’s book group, the Shayna Maidels, was ready to plotz.
“Really? I can't believe that! When and who did you hear it from?” wrote a member named Ruth when news of the store’s imminent demise circulated among our ranks within seconds.
“Hard to believe! When? Why?” responded another member named Renee.
But their No. 1 concern, along with distress over all of the lost jobs and how we’d manage now during major Jewish holidays: What were we going to do without The Crown’s tuna?The Crown tuna on pita bread.JPG
Personally, to be perfectly honest, I’d never been a devotee of the store’s special tuna salad, a practically pureed version prepared with some sort of secret ingredient that they have never deigned to divulge. I prefer my own recipe, light on the mayo, yet heavy on the celery... and motherly love. But I was apparently almost alone in that regard. Everyone else seemed to consider it a lifeline, about as integral to survival as oxygen.
And at the thought of doing without it, along with The Crown’s matzah ball soup, mandelbreit, and prune danishes, they all went into mourning en masse, hook, line and sphincter.
OK, it might sound a little extreme for us to be ready to sit shiva for a supermarket. But there you have it. This felt more like losing an old friend, or even a whole way of life.
Never mind that this was the one place on earth where it takes me 45 minutes just to  pick up a loaf of challah, and I have to put on stylish clothes and makeup just to buy milk, lest all of the yentas I invariably run into there begin to gossip that I’m looking a little shvakh.The Crown seven layer cakes.JPG 
        So e
veryone went into total shock. Including me, of course. After all, The Crown had long been there at many of the most pivotal moments of my life. It had catered the big dinners we’d held on the eve of both our children’s bar and bat mitzvahs. It was where I went for rugelach or seven-layer cake each time I made a shiva call. (A good Jew never arrives anywhere empty-handed, least of all to a house where people are in mourning.) And it had known exactly what kind of spread to supply after each of my parents and my mother-in-law had died and we’d needed provisions for people paying shiva calls to us.
Although I like to fancy myself a true ballabusta – one who cooks most traditional Jewish foods from scratch – it also had long served as my mainstay on important Jewish holidays. Now where would I ever hope to find freshly made gefilte fish for Passover?Gefilte fish.jpg
Yet the unfortunate truth was that I rarely shopped there anymore, other than for major occasions. If I had known they were in trouble, I would have gone in more often. Then again, if I’d gone in more often, maybe I would’ve known that they were in trouble.
        In making the grave announcement, the owner cited the rising prices of goods and the record cold weather we'd been battling all winter. Indeed, a disproportionate number of people flocking there for kosher chickens weren’t exactly spring chickens themselves. All that snow had no doubt been enough to make elderly customers stay home.The Crown shoppers.JPG
There also may have been some issues about how kosher the place really was. Their choice to stock trayf like clam juice was viewed as an affront by some clientele.
But the main issue, no doubt, was mounting competition from local chain stores. There were already a Big Y and a Whole Foods Market nearby, and within the past six months or so a so-called “Neighborhood Market” run by Walmart had opened its doors.
Although The Crown may have the market virtually cornered on many Jewish items like kasha varnishkes, some of these stores had shown the good sense to offer kosher fare themselves. And let’s face it, there was no way a solo business could compete with such rivals when it came to items like detergent, diapers, and paper towels.Walmart Neighborhood Market.jpg
I don’t know about you, but I’m usually too busy to visit more than one store in a single day, and I’m inclined to save money whenever possible. So more often than not, I’d opted to go to the places where I could find everything on my list at the lowest price.
That, to me, had seemed like showing sechel -- good sense. Now it seemed like a shonda.
Yes, as with most issues of the Jewish persuasion, there was more than enough guilt in this case to go around, and I instantly blamed myself as much as anyone else.
But if I was part of the problem, could I also be part of the solution? Suddenly, I was ready to shell out a bit more for everything if that would help keep The Crown open.The Crown Market crown logo.jpg
And I was far from the only one. Every Jew I knew seemed eager to do the same. But was it too late? Or might some local hero still rise up and turn The Crown around?
“There’s only one person in this community who can save it,” asserted my good and well-informed friend Arlene, who was feeling under the weather and craving Crown chicken soup.Chicken soup.JPG
“Who?” I replied, proceeding to barrage her with the names of various rabbis and big machers (Jewish movers and shakers).
        I got it on the third try.
great Jewish hope she had in mind was a prominent businessman named Henry Zachs. But Arlene said he had already made overtures to the current owner, and it was too late.
Word was that the store would close by early March, or as soon as its inventory ran out.The butcher department was almost bare.jpg
So I went shopping there that very night. The place felt like a funeral parlor. Patrons pushing carts wandered throughout the aisles in disbelief, fighting back tears. There already had been a stampede of devotees snapping up the last of the kosher chickens. The meat case, normally brimming with quartered pullets, was nearly bare.
Seeing that, I rushed over to the bakery counter, where the usual happy-faced cookies were now sporting frowns. I opted instead to snag the last pound of chocolate-covered macaroons, even if Passover was more than a month away.The Crown Market sad cookies.jpg
What about the longtime employees who’d served us there for decades? I was relieved when an unfamiliar woman behind the deli counter called out my number. What would happen to Eddy, my favorite clerk in the takeout department, the 5 O’clock Shop, whom I’d known for nearly 20 years? I couldn’t bear to look him in the eye.The Crown Market Eddy in deli.jpg
When I got home, I discovered that a petition was already circulating online asking the owners to do whatever possible to allow this deeply cherished store to stay open.
        “The Crown Market is an institution serving both Jewish and non-Jewish members of the community,” it stated. Offering the area’s largest supply of kosher meats and prepared foods, “It provides a valuable community service and another option to the big box stores that surround it.” So it urged the owners to renegotiate their lease and seek community support to remain afloat.
Without hesitation, I signed and forwarded it to almost everyone in town I know.
One friend, to my surprise, wrote back something that sounded a bit snippy.
“Don’t they need business and money? How is a petition going to solve anything?”
Yet nearly everyone else seemed to feel like I did – that it was at least worth a try -- and quickly added their names.
And they were far from the only ones. Within a week, nearly 2,000 people had signed as well, hundreds also posting comments about what The Crown meant to them, some from as far away as California and Tel Aviv.The Crown Market mandelbreit.jpg
“The Crown is indeed an icon,” wrote Steven Bernstein of West Hartford, CT. “I will mourn their closing with much sorrow. (Their mandel bread -- my family's Friday night dessert of choice throughout my childhood -- is unmatched in the world.)”
“An institution such as the Crown and all that it has offered for so long cannot be allowed to 'go under'!” wrote Heske Zelermyer from Delray Beach, FL. “…Owners: change your goals, it's not only about money, it's about a Jewish community and history and loyalty.”
“Like my mother before me, I have spent most of my married life shopping at the Crown,” wrote Rhoda Peskin of Longmeadow, MA, noting that she and her husband drove there regularly, making the hour-plus round-trip to stock up on kosher meat and other items they couldn't find closer to home. “…Please find a way to keep the Crown open,” she pleaded. “Pesach will be here sooner than we think!”The Crown lox platter.jpg
Many people wrote to suggest that the place remain open, but that they eliminate the grocery and produce aisles and just retain the kosher meats, deli, bakery, and takeout sections and put in tables so that people could meet there to eat and schmooze.
Kind of like a kosher Starbucks, only with lox, smoked sturgeon, and coffee cake.
Meanwhile, Colin McEnroe, widely known locally as a newspaper columnist and radio talk-show host (although not a Jew) tackled the issue in his weekly blog.Colin McEnroe.jpg
The Crown is not just food. It’s culture,” he wrote. He proposed that it be reincarnated as something he called CSK -- “Community Supported Kosher.”
“If you love this market, you buy a ‘share,’” he explained. “Every month, they deduct $100 from one of your cards, and you have that much credit.”
Personally, I wasn’t convinced that either move was quite the way to go. But I did think it was time for the whole community to come to The Crown's aid together.It's a Wonderful Life.jpg
Forgive me for referencing, of all things, a Christmas movie, but perhaps this was the moment when we needed to reach into our collective hearts and pocketbooks and cough up whatever we could, the way the citizens of Bedford Falls do for good ole George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. We needed to be there for The Crown because it had always been there for us, not just at Pesach but day in and day out, at key moments of our lives – assorted simchas, busy nights when we were too beat to cook, and every year on Yom Kippur, when we broke the fast with its luscious store-made cheese blintzes.
And so I chose not to write about it in my own blog quite yet, hoping that if I waited a bit, some miracle might occur and permit me to pen a happy ending.
In the meanwhile, I began shopping there every day for the first time in years.Macaroons from The Crown Market.JPG
After biting into one of those scrumptious chocolate-covered macaroons, I decided to go back to buy another pound to store in the freezer until Passover.
I also stocked up on staples like toilet paper and Tide, not bothering to check the price.
I even bought a tiny container of that famous tuna, just to give it one more chance. Turned out to be much better than I remembered. My husband took one bite and quickly inhaled the rest. Then he insisted I go buy another pound.
        So I went back again the next day.Harlan eating Crown Market tuna2.JPG
And on my way out, I struck up a conversation with the customer service manager, who divulged that there was not only a ray of hope, but an actual reprieve in the works.
He said negotiations were still under way and that an announcement wouldn’t be made public for a few more days. But as large as the Jewish community is here, it’s a very small town when it comes to spreading gossip, and it couldn’t be kept under wraps.
That very night, the news leaked out online, and it was widely broadcast the next day.
Henry Zachs, a prominent local philanthropist and the founder and CEO of Message Center Management, had indeed come forward to lead the effort, along with Alan Lazowski, chief executive of LAZ Parking, and Brian Newman, a past president and chairman of the board of the local JCC.Henry Zachs in The Hartford Courant.jpg
"The community really, really came together,” Zachs told the Hartford Courant. “People from all denominations, people that were unexpected."
Zachs declined to say how much had been raised or what the purchase would cost. But I later heard from a friend that they had managed to raise about $1.8 million from over 40 investors, most of whom agreed to ante up at least $25,000 apiece.The Crown 5 O'clock Shop.jpg
"We are blessed to have a community that cares so deeply about saving this precious asset, as well as saving valuable jobs," Zachs said in a prepared statement, according to the Courant. "We are honored to be part of this local communitywide effort, all working together toward the common goal of ensuring that The Crown Market... can continue to thrive for future generations."
Those generations may not see the exact same Crown we now know and love. After 74 years, it is slated to be brought into the Top Chef era with an organic department, along with a much-needed facelift both inside and out.Kosher pullets at The Crown Market.JPG
It was later announced that the store will not only be spared the chopping block, but continue to sell chopped liver and other wares without interruption.
Indeed, the next time I stopped in to stock up on tuna for my husband – and OK, I’ll admit it, for me to nosh on too – the butcher case was packed with plump kosher pullets again.The Crown's Eddy smiling again.JPG
I also had no hesitation about placing my deli order with Eddy, who was beaming.
        Needless to say, the smiley faces were back on the happy cookies, too.
And so, like The Crown itself, I get to have my happy ending, after all. Or do I?The Crown cookies happy again.jpg
I worry that this episode is just one example of much more pervasive problems in modern Jewish life. My temple, as sizable as it may be, struggles due to dwindling membership to pay its bills and continue to support programs like its nursery school (and how can anyone really be surprised, with family dues topping $2,500 a year)?Aidan with kippah in third grade at SSDS.JPG
Many Jewish day schools are also in jeopardy of closing due to declining enrollment, thanks to rising tuitions and fewer families opting for a Jewish education. My friend Arlene has heard that there are only four kids enrolled in kindergarten at the local Solomon Schechter Day School. Back when my children both attended, it was packed.
“I think there’s a bigger problem here,” she said.
Can we afford to count on there always being a big macher to rush to the rescue?
Who knows? All I know is that we cannot afford to continue taking the schools, stores, and other institutions on which our Jewish future rests for granted.Hamantaschen I baked.JPG
We need to support them by joining and/or just showing up. We must continue to use them or we will surely lose them.
I will still bake my own hamantaschen this Purim (please see my recipe if you want to, too). But from now on I intend to keep chowing down on The Crown’s world-renowned tuna, whatever the heck that special ingredient is. Maybe it's schmaltz. Or motherly love.

11:24 pm 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.