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Flower Power in Flatbush

By Eytan Kobre

It’s a bright and breezy Friday morning in May, and at 9:30 AM, the Sasregen shul at Avenue M and 24th Street isn’t even close to emptying out. As yet another minyan gets underway, the Sasregener Rebbe, Rav Rubin, is putting away his talis and tefillin at the front of the shul. And in the back, at his post, is Reb Yehoshua Danese, who in less than a year’s time, has made Shalom Bayis Flowers a Flatbush byword – and, he’s hoping, a buy word, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

man with bouquet of flowersReb Yehoshua Danese was a successful kiruv rebbi for 11years and has also have written several books, including the most popular one of Rav Avigdor Miller’s books, called Path of Life. “It consists of his Shabbos drashos, which I would memorize and transcribe after Shabbos,” he explains. He also wrote a kids’ book called Yoni Ploni Never Talks to Strangers, about how kids can stay safe.

But after years of teaching, the school effectively went out of business, and he was struggled with unemployment for a very long time. “Then one day,” he recounts, “a very concerned Jew called me up and gave me the strangest instructions: I bought you 25 bouquets of roses; go out and sell them.”

The proposal wasn’t quite a bed of roses. “I must say,” he admits, “I was not pleased with him at the time, but what could I do? I had to do something to support my family.” And that’s how Reb Yehoshua’s flower business got its rocky start.

Right Place, Right Motive

Ever creative, Reb Yehoshua realized that he could fuse the two top motives for buying flowers — kavod Shabbos and enhancing shalom bayis — by offering ready bouquets to men on their way out of Shacharis on Friday mornings.

The location he chose is Flatbush’s Sasregener beis medrash, a very busy hub of Torah and tefillah. The brand became “Shalom Bayis Flowers.” The salesman retained his rebbi uniform. And the rest is history. “The Sasregener Rebbe and his balabatim are very supportive,” Reb Yehoshua says gratefully. “His rebbetzin is a very good customer.”

About 1,000 people move through the shul every morning. From those original 25 bouquets, Reb Yehoshua is now selling 150. After he finishes, he makes about 50 home deliveries.

“We’ve got lots of great varieties,” he gestures enthusiastically at the tall plastic containers, “peonies, ginger from Africa, Sweet Williams. Our highest-end flowers are the cymbidium orchids, but they last for a month. One guy told me, ‘You’re a kollel guy who doesn’t understand business. I’m not buying today because the flowers I bought last time are still in perfect shape. If you want to make money, you’ve got to sell flowers that die within four days!’”

With time, he’s branched out to other locations and time slots as well. “Mordechai Ben David gives a shiur to balabatim in the area on Thursday nights,” he explains. “I go to the shiur and afterward he and the balabatim buy flowers from me.”

Flower selling seems a world away from chinuch. Was it a painful adjustment for Reb Yehoshua? “At least now I get paid on time,” comes the quick rejoinder. Then the smile fades. “Seriously, sometimes, especially back when I started, I felt embarrassed and sometimes even humiliated, especially when seeing people who knew me as a rebbi. These days I spend hours learning the business, understanding flowers. It’s a different life. When my old talmidim buy from me, it’s particularly difficult. But I squelch these feelings and just persevere, since I have to make a living. “

 

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