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They arrived in the Holy Land destitute but confident in their butchery skills, and swiftly gained the trust and loyalty of Jerusalem’s residents. Decades later, the Hackers have exchanged their iceboxes and bicycles for modern freezers and delivery trucks — but their butcher shop is still the city’s prime address for Shabbos and Yom Tov fare
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Jerusalem, 1938: Abba Luria looked at the two figures who’d just entered his tiny makolet on Rechov Chofetz Chaim, next to the Zichron Moshe shtieblach. The young men were shabbily dressed, with a foreign air. It was clear to the shopkeeper that his visitors were new immigrants — which in 1938 meant they had likely sailed illegally to bypass British immigration quotas, perhaps spending months at sea before making it safely to some beach in Eretz Yisrael.
Sensing they were searching for some sort of livelihood, he engaged them in conversation. The two men were brothers, he learned, originally from Austria. When he inquired about the family occupation, their shoulders straightened and their eyes lit up as they told him that their family had been butchers for generations. On the spot, kindhearted Abba Luria made them the best offer he could, considering the entire Jerusalemite yishuv was entrenched in poverty: He would buy a kilogram of meat, and the brothers could cut it and sell it at the front of his store. The availability of meat would attract customers to Luria’s grocery, and the profits would feed the penniless brothers.
The first kilogram was sold. Luria bought another two kilos, which the brothers carved and sold as well. He ordered more. Soon the cramped store held a butcher shop as well as a grocery. Abba Luria, always on the lookout for chesed, contacted the owner of an unused storefront next door. The key was given to the two brothers and they began to sell meat there. The trickle of customers became a stream, as word spread through Jerusalem that the new butchers were erlich and reliable.
Their name was Hacker.
Today, at the helm of stores in Sanhedria, in Neve Yaakov, and in a factory in Givat Shaul, the Hackers have retained their good name; generations of Jews have relied on them for kashrus and quality.
Their little store on Rechov Achinoam in Sanhedria is nondescript, and doesn’t even have a sign. Yet everyone seems to know where Hacker’s is, because the place is packed on this Thursday afternoon. “Come seven o’clock, when the kollelim finish. We can hold a minyan here in the store,” jokes Mrs. Miriam Haker, the owner’s wife, as she chats with and serves her customers.
Alter Eliezer (Altie) Haker, son of one of those immigrant brothers, is currently the boss of the Sanhedria store. His younger brother Motti works with him, while his older brother Avraham owns the Hacker factory in Givat Shaul, which produces frozen meat products sold in supermarkets all over Israel.
Many of the original Yerushalmi families still come to Hacker. “We have many third-generation customers,” says Mrs. Hacker. But Jerusalem has grown beyond anyone’s dreams. Once, Yiddish, Hebrew, German, and some Hungarian could be heard at Hacker. Today, a constantly expanding clientele includes English speakers, as nearby Ramat Eshkol, Sanhedria Murchevet and Givat Hamivtar have been saturated with American families. “The young wives come here with their carriages and their babies in the afternoons,” says Mrs. Hacker fondly. “It’s like a trip, you know — these young women meeting their friends here, schmoozing, and buying some schnitzel for supper.”
Besides the immediate Sanhedria residents and those from the nearby northern Jerusalem neighborhoods, Hacker’s clients come from Rechavia, Shaarei Chesed, and Katamon.
“We’re not a supermarket — we’re a butcher shop,” Mrs. Hacker clarifies the difference. “You want service, you come here. Everyone has his own preferences when it comes to meat and chicken. Long flanken, short flanken; thicker steaks, thinner steaks; chicken cut into quarters, chicken cut into eighths.”
As an owner’s wife, one of Mrs. Hacker’s jobs is to take down phone orders. “It can take me ten lines in the notebook to write down a four-chicken order. People want large chickens, small chickens, skin on or off, wings separate for soup, necks separate for cholent. We’ll do anything our customers want,” says Mrs. Hacker, “but I drew the line when one lady made an order for a number of chickens and wanted each wing bagged separately.”
The ethos of customer service far outsizes the cramped store. Mr. Hacker himself emerges from behind the counter carrying several white bags out to a customer’s car. “He’s a tzaddik,” the lady, a Los Angeles native, says. “I’m living in Jerusalem 27 years and I only buy my meat here. There’s no one like the Hackers.”
“The cleaning is on us,” Mr. Hacker reassures his next customer, directing his son Motti (not to be confused with his brother Motti) to give extra attention to a housewife who is particular that her chickens leave the store ready for the broiler. She watches the process carefully.
It’s all in a day’s work for Motti, who says he enjoys dealing with people. “The only thing that’s hard for me is if a customer wants something specific and we don’t have it in stock. We like to be able to provide what they want.”
It’s in the Veins In a conversation with the Hacker family one evening after hours, Reb Alter Eliezer travels back in time to Kolbersdorf in Austria, where his family sold meat for several generations.
Kolbersdorf was one of the “Sheva Kehillos” of the Burgenland in Western Hungary, at times part of Austria. The other six communities were Eisenstadt, Mattersdorf, Lakenbach, Tzehlem, Kitzee, and Fruenkirchen. All were organized Orthodox kehillos since the 18th century, with an official rav who administered kashrus as well as every other aspect of life. Meat in Kolbersdorf was bought from the butcher at a price which included a charge for the shechitah and for the rav’s wages.
“My ancestors back in Kolbersdorf were butchers, but not shochtim. Better that way — they didn’t have the temptation to declare a questionable animal kosher,” he explains.
When the Austrian government enacted a law requiring every family to adopt an official last name, many Jews named themselves after their professions, and so the family chose the name Fleishhacker [“meat butcher”], which later was shortened to Hacker.
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