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It’s Hard to Be a Mensch at a Crowded Kosher Supermarket on Thursday Night

It’s a challenge just to walk through the door of my kosher supermarket in Crown Heights on a Thursday night—someone’s kid is usually standing in the entrance, blocking me. Inside, the place is jammed with shoppers, all making their pre-Shabbos purchases. It takes a veritable pas-de-deux for two people pushing the store’s old, unwieldy shopping carts in opposite directions to pass each other in the aisle.

I do not shop there because the prices are good. They are unspeakable. I shop there because it’s kosher, and it’s convenient. Still, the crowded, chaotic experience of shopping for Shabbos groceries tests my patience each week.

I’ve gotten used to wearing a wig. I’ve gotten used to the extra chapters of Tehillim, and kindly explaining to people that although the restaurant they’ve suggested is kosher, it’s not kosher enough. I’ve even almost gotten used to walking through the fashionable neighborhood where I work dressed like somebody’s grandma in a mid-calf skirt and sweater set. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the slow pace of Hassidic life.

Nowhere is the unhurried cadence of life in Crown Heights more visible than at the supermarket on a Thursday night—and it’s where I learn how to really be a Hassid.

No one is ever in a rush. Everyone seems to have an unlimited amount of time and an uncanny ability to pull Shabbos dinner together at the last second. I possess neither extra time nor the ability to leave things until the last moment. I have an anxious, type-A personality. I delegate. I write lists. I rush. But here, I try.

It would be extremely un-Chassidish to push past the lady in front of me, who has stopped to gaze at the spice display and is blocking the aisle. I find myself apologizing whenever I pause to compare the prices of paprika. The truth is that I have no idea which brand of paprika is actually the cheapest per ounce because I’m so focused on not clogging up the miniscule passageway that my fellow shoppers are all trying to push through at the same time. Men with beach ball bellies and full beards, ladies in waist-length sheitels and short skirts, holy old widowers who are forced to buy J&J Cholov Yisroel yogurt and $12 jars of Nescafe for themselves—they must all pass the spice racks to get to the meat section.

But sometimes people just stop in the middle of the aisle, which we all know is narrow enough without a human blockade. They’re not picking items from the shelves or having conversations with fellow shoppers—they just stop in a particular Hassidic supermarket reverie. Are they suddenly realizing that the molecules in the jars of Gefen mayonnaise are being moved by a higher power? Are they rapt in wonder that the Lieber’s canned corn and the Ben-Z’s tuna fish are all part of Ein Od Milvado?

It’s not the restrictions and customs of being Hassidic that I find difficult. What’s difficult for me is acting like a Hassid. Having absolute love for my fellow Jew requires total self-control, which I must summon completely when shopping erev-Shabbos.

If anyone tells you that it’s easy to be a Hassid, she’s either extremely spiritually tuned-in, or she’s never shopped at my kosher supermarket on a Thursday night.

54 Comments

  • 1. Yungerman in CH wrote:

    On top of that add scantly dressed teenagers and young mothers.

  • 2. Confused wrote:

    Not sure where u grew up but shopping in a busy supermarket w isles being blocked by others has nothing to do w kosher or chasidic.
    Cant stand the wY people put down being chassidic like u were not taught right.
    Well. Where j grew up i was taught that being a mentch is even going out of your way for another human being chasidik or not.

    • 3. Plan better instead of kvetching wrote:

      One of my jobs made it necessary for me to do a week’s shopping on Sundays, with Thursdays reserved for a fast pick-up of challa nosh and wine. Some weeks I had to buy the nosh and challas on Sun. and freeze them. NO ONE OWES ANYONE ELSE RED CARPET TREATMENT. Work it out like everyone else does, and yes, I’m BT too

  • 4. preplexed wrote:

    Can someone please tell me what does this person want?? (Cuz the more I read the article the more I don’t have the foggiest idea what they r babbling about!)

  • 5. Keep this for your diary wrote:

    This is not the king of thing that should be published, I’m sorry. Discuss your struggles with your mashpia or get them off your chest in your diary- don’t publish making fun of our neighborhood and th people who live in it. It may be funny to you, but it isnt funny when other people make the jokes as well.

    This is opposite of a kiddush Hashem. WIshing you haztlacha in dealing with whatever issues you have with your yiddishkeit and may you be blessed the ability to say gam zeh ya’avor. Que sera sera

  • 6. The problem wrote:

    The problem is that the isles are not wide enough. Every shopper is entitled to take as much time as they’d like.

    Go into any proper store such as Shop Rite or Wal-Mart or Costco, they have hundreds of shoppers at any given time, and plenty of room to navigate the isles.

  • 7. ??? wrote:

    what are you talking about???
    uh why don’t you just go when its less crowded.

  • 9. confused! wrote:

    What a cramped supermarket has got to do with being a chossid?
    Here’s a tip – if u dont like the crowds , do ur shabbos shopping on a tuesday or Wednesday ( like I do) , the shop will be empty and the avocado’s will be ripe!

  • 10. Keep on wrote:

    This is called a personal essay. It’s not venting or anger, persuasive or otherwise. It’s a person writing about her struggle to synchronize her life. That said, I totally hear you, author, and I feel the same way when I wake up early and try to get errands done. Only to find that stores don’t open till midday-when I am at work! I retain hope tho, even after eleven years here, that those early hours can be practical and useful. Keep on keepin on, crown heights is indeed its own neighborhood :)

  • 11. Language Police wrote:

    aisle = a walkway between or along sections of seats in a theater, classroom, or the like.

    isle = a small island.

  • 12. Mavin wrote:

    What this author really needs is a one-time shopping experience in chassidic Boro Park on a Thursday eve. — or any other day for that matter — and she’ll never complain about the situation in Crown Heights again.

  • 14. Crown heightser wrote:

    What is your problem? You are not used to frum people so you don’t understand our wy of life. Any store, place of business is sometimes more and sometimes less crowded. Did you ever try calling some offices at peak time and “due to the large call volume you have an extremely long wait.try calling at a different time.” And no we do not have all the time in the world” we are in a hurry. You are not in our lifestyle. We have jobs, have families to feed, laundry, homework, shiurim, volunteer work, etc. etc. etc. try our life. We are always rushing. And yes comparing prices to stretch that already stretched dollar, takes time in the aisle. Hatzlocha and try shopping in a litvish store. Maybe you will be happier there.

  • 16. Shop at the marketplace wrote:

    If someone stops to compare the price of paprika at the marketplace, you can still get to the meat section. Not sure why anyone still shops at EK.

  • 18. shopper wrote:

    Been there done that. As a full time working mother I try to fly through the aisles and am constantly having to say excuse me to pass people standing around like it was their living room. Talk outside or at least move the heck over and dont make ppl say excuse me 100 times because it makes me feel rude — KEEP MOVING – men aer the worst. totally oblivious with ther lists,.. cmon, its a supermarket – things are always in the same place. MOVE OUT OF my way

  • 19. baffled wrote:

    and the point of your piece is???????????
    darling, you sound like you feel you have done the world a favor by being frum.
    It is YOU who benefit by living a life the way HAshem wants a Yid too and the shopping’s got nothing to do with it. Is your condescending and often overly-exaggerated description of the shoppers and the shopping experience some time of personal punching bag for you?
    And the reason you had to go and publish all these feelings of negativity about Yiddishkeit and other Yidden through Jewcy.com is????????

    • 20. shmegegi hoopla wrote:

      ye like “wow bravo to u for being chassidish and shopping in crowded stores!!!” good job!

  • 21. oddd wrote:

    that’s what we call a waste of time.
    this blurb has no merit to be published, your free to think your thoughts but there is little point and definitely an odd train off thought

  • 22. once upon a time wrote:

    This was great. I became frum and learned to love Chassidus through a shliach and moved to CH. I was so excited to move here…and after two years of living in CH have left frumkeit totally.

  • 24. crownheightzer wrote:

    So go shop at the marketplace!!! Wide aisles- no crowds

  • 25. Anonymous wrote:

    Have you ever been to Trader Joes in Brooklyn – same shopping experience – different people. Go figure!

  • 26. a local wrote:

    I thought this was laugh-out-loud funny. Thanks for publishing it. Not sure why so many people think that website/aggregators like this one are supposed to be advertisements for the community. It’s nice to have a variety of voices — especially amusing ones.

  • 28. Chaim wrote:

    Isnt the answer most obvious???
    DON’T shop on Thursday night!
    End of problem!! No more hassle, no more aggro, and no more frustration!

  • 30. Chaya wrote:

    Try shopping at the marketplace – wide isles, fresh produce and great customer service!

  • 31. Ch shopper wrote:

    Interesting article. (In a weird way) Don’t even know what to say. All I can suggest is do like me – shop in the marketplace on Wednesday evening. Wide aisles, not that many shoppers. It’s a pleasure!

  • 33. Citizen Berel wrote:

    This is a very hard issue to negotiate, especially for type A personalities what are very efficient and what delegate and make lists.

    So Berel the Citizen suggests you make shoppings what are not on Thursday nights.

    No need to thank me.

  • 34. just me wrote:

    Hey author fun read – I enjoyed it – and could relate totally.
    Unsure why most are knocking – so she wrote an essay it fun, its life, much is comical and true.
    Stop analyzing it – just smile and move on.

  • 35. ??? wrote:

    Maybe the aisles aren’t wide enough? What’s chossid got to do with anything?

  • 36. yechei habonot wrote:

    Please i love to shop in crown heights, because of these scantly dressed mothers. Dont make an issue of it. Or the Rabbonim might stop it, and i will be forced to shop in my native villiamsburg. Like they say in yiddish. “You go girls”

  • 38. Nice article!! wrote:

    Wow you people are uptight. Chill!
    It was a really nice read!
    Not appreciating this type of writing style usually stems from a low level of secular education. Well, that or you identify yourselfes as the person who spaces out in middle of the aisle.
    I hope to see more from this author.

  • 39. no need for slurs wrote:

    hey lady, if youre such a type A personality,etc. etc. WHY dont you shop on tues. or wed.? also, is there a need to describe peole so negatively? would u do that in a shoprite,or walmart? /what if I tried to describe you rushing in the aisle’s, angry,resentful, look on your face? and forget your clotheing.

    In additon, many women here work out of the neighborhood- and they dont look NERDY at all. Why do you? just compare the women in frum neighborhoods, and how put together they look on any aft. compared to other neighbohoods, where ripped torn, etc is all the rage..

    what is REALLY your complaint?

  • 40. SEREL MANESS wrote:

    YEP,THE BEST THINGS IS SHOPPING ON TUES OR WED,ALL THE BEST,WED THE STORES ARE OPEN TILL 11PM THAT SHOULD MAKE A DIFFERANCES OR FAX A LIST

  • 41. Ok whatever wrote:

    Not exactly worthy of an op-ed. EK can be annoying but there are thousands of ppl in our neighborhood. It is what it is. Bottom line, shop on Wednesdays. New York in general is a city full of waiting, waiting in traffic waiting on lines at the bank, grocery, PTA, clothing stores etc….

  • 42. It's called patience... wrote:

    Well written, but without a point. Also, points were made that are untrue, and then contradicted. Crown Heightsers (I guess that now includes me) Are always in a rush. I have never been rushed by so quickly as I have here. Also, saying “beach-ball Bellies” seems a tad inappropriate for a clearly sensitive soul.<(insert sarcasm font here) Also, Be more patient when dealing with others, and care less about what others think. In other words, If someone is comparing Paprikas, just wait till they're done, or come back to it. When it's your turn to check out the spices, take your time and be less concerned with what other people are thinking. If they're really not in a rush like you say, it won't matter.

  • 43. Why I left Chabad wrote:

    I am shocked, but not surprised, at the outpouring of hate towards the author of this article by so-called hasidim of Lubavitch.
    I too was a Baal Tshuvah for 20 years. I kept telling myself that the nasty comments made when Lubavitchers thought I couldn’t hear them were just exceptions. Eventually I realized it was far too widespread.
    Lubavitch officially talks about how great the BT is, and so much energy goes into being m’karev young nonreligious Jews, while all the time behind our backs you are mocking us.
    Goodbye, and no regrets. It won’t be much longer until the author of the above article also sees the light and gets out of that hate-infested neighborhood.

    • 44. hypocrite wrote:

      IF you feel this way why do you still read chabad news and comment on our sites????

  • 45. Anonymous wrote:

    Miss the good old days when Rivky’s grocery sped through the cost of purchases with a pencil on a paper bag, when Singer’s(?) had pretty windows for the holidays and you could see the owners who had survived the holocaust, when Shloimy’s knew each customer and sometimes had the flour and other things you wanted. And there’s still Kahan’s that still delivers groceries and has even improved their prices, Raskin’s has a good variety of fruits and vegetables, and House of Glatt still delivers meat.
    Everyone likes being able to buy all of their food in one place. You can still go to the smaller stores.

    • 46. SECOND THE EMOTION!! wrote:

      Yes thanks for the memories!!. Do you remember Aufercthig’s, later Lipskers, on the corner of Kingston and EP directly across from 770, and Ess and Bench a few doors down toward Union!?? I remenber some salesman coming into Eand B and asking to see either Mr. Ess or Mr. Bench. The guy behind the counter told him Mr. Ess is out to lunch and Mr. Bench is at prayers. It was all we could do to keep straight faces until the salesman left the store.

  • 47. Please ignore ignorant commenters wrote:

    They have no understanding of literature, nor do they think deeply enough to see the beauty of this lovely piece.

    • 48. Citizen Berel wrote:

      Citzen Berel will ignore ignorant commeneters what fail to appreciate deeply beautiful literature what is like this lovely piece.

  • 49. One good thing wrote:

    When we read this fluff we realize how little we have to worry about in Crown Heights. No OTD teens, no single mothers trying to raise their kids alone, no poverty, no kids who cant get into school, no kids who are thrown out of school, no hunger, no Jewish homelessness, no sickness, no Rabbinic in-fighting and other problems…..all we have to worry about, judging by the numerous comments, is getting our shopping done.

    I am truly happy about what our priorities really are.

  • 50. Esty B wrote:

    This was a fun and funny essay. Every single article doesn’t have to be so serious and informative. If more people were open about the places they struggle in life, it could help us all be more compassionate. Just remember, author, stressful shopping turns into something nicer when you run into an old friend. Also, if you feel like you’re dressed like someone’s grandmother where you work, take an example from some of the more sharply dressed frum women in your neighborhood. You’ll feel happier in you Yiddishkeit if you feel good about yourself-including how you look. :)

  • 51. to #40 wrote:

    can you read????????????

    It is actually the author herself who writes so, so, so, negatively about others

  • 52. um no wrote:

    What the author is c;era;y stating is how she joined a community where things are done “differently”, where, because of religion, things are all nice and dandy.

    What she is admitting whether she realizes or not, is that this community, or any other ultra orthodox community, is no different than any other non religious. In fact, here’s a nice little instance of basic manners that this community fails miserably at.

    Ever been to Whole Foods while it’s packed? Yea, most everyone is cordial and cool headed, unlike here where the balagon causes blowups and a fracas.

  • 53. Who is this person??? wrote:

    Yes ,the store is crowded,yes, people can be very annoying; what does that have to do with Jews in Crown Hts. You could be describing the scene in many an ethnic neighborhood in the city

    And the reference to your dowdy clothing. Why the need for all the stereotypes? Glad you found religion but you have way more learning to do.. A tad too much self-hating Jew and plain old ignorance about Chassidic practice as it actually is.

  • 54. Yossel wrote:

    Which “fashionable neighborhood” is being referrred to here? Crown Heights, with its crumbling, ancient houses, rusting broken fire escapes, dark alleys and blackened-brick hulking apartment buildings?

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