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Street Beat

Mishpacha Contributors

8 global shopping strips. 8 communal heartbeats

Monday, October 02, 2017

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Eternal Profits on Kingston Avenue

Ahava Ehrenpreis

The Street: Kingston Avenue

The Location: Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York

It's two weeks before Rosh Hashanah and I’m on Kingston Avenue, possibly the friendliest, liveliest shopping strip I’ve ever walked. A whiff of positivity permeates the air, with knots of people talking, laughing, waving to each other. My assignment: Hear the heartbeat, catch the spirit of this avenue spanning the center of Crown Heights, New York.


My guide today is my close friend, Crown Heights insider Chana Devorah. She starts our tour — where else — at “770.” Located at the top of Kingston Avenue, just opposite the modern gray Jewish Children’s Museum, this is the original red-brick castle-like edifice bought by Lubavitcher chassidim in 1941 for the Frierdiker Rebbe, Rav Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, when he came from Russia. 

It continued to be used as the court’s headquarters by his son-in-law and successor, Rav Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, referred to in these parts simply as “the Rebbe.” 770 holds the Rebbe’s office — once the humming locus of the chassidus where blessings and dollars were distributed — and the courtyard outside still hosts local weddings.

The Rebbe has long departed this earth, but as I make my way among the iconic stores on the avenue, I find that his imprint is very much alive. In this particular shopping venue, the proprietors seem to share a mission from their Rebbe: to dispense respect, genuine concern, and a dash of spiritual uplift to every individual who enters their doors.


Round The Clock on Rechov Rabi Akiva

Sara Pardes

The Street: Rechov Rabi Akiva

The Location: Bnei Brak

The time is nine o’clock in the morning, and Bnei Brak’s Rechov Rabi Akiva is slowly coming to life. As the country’s locus of Torah and chassidus, it’s also become a city that never stops. There’s always a shiur, a simchah, an event of some sort happening here, no matter what the hour.

With Yom Tov in the offing, Bnei Brak’s main shopping thoroughfare is already awakening. No storekeeper, whether veteran or newbie, wants to miss the opportunity to earn a bit — or a lot — of money, even if he just closed up shop a few hours earlier, at 2 a.m.

Locks are opened with a grating squeak and the storeowners move their wares outside to the sidewalk. They’re careful not to put out too much — certainly nothing like the street bazaar that existed until a few years ago, when stand after stand of merchandise made it almost impossible for passersby to traverse the sidewalk. The municipality cracked down on these storeowners and succeeded in driving most of the merchandise back inside. But you can still easily find displays outside the official store territory.

Rechov Rabi Akiva is the first and main street of this city, named for the Tanna Rabi Akiva, who dwelled in the Bnei Brak of long ago. The street was paved back in the 1930s. Only 20 years later did construction on the buildings begin; most of them were five stories high, on average, and the original stucco structures are still there today, although there are also newer buildings interspersed along the route.

Stamford Hill’s Square Mile of Piety

C.S. Teitelbaum

The Street: Stamford Hill junction

The Location: London, United Kingdom

With its gaggles of uniformed, modestly dressed schoolgirls, its knots of bearded chassidim, and its steady parade of young mothers pushing their buggies across the junction, Stamford Hill has surely earned its nickname of “a square mile of piety.”

Now holding the largest chassidic population in all of Europe, the neighborhood has a long and honorable history, dating back to 1603. Notable historic residents included Sir Moses Montefiore, who lived here in 1763, and banker Nathan Meyer Rothschild — his daughter married Montefiore’s grandson — who lived on Colberg Place, off the junction, in the early 1800s.

But the strictly Orthodox influx, while robust enough to have overtaken many of the stores and schools, is still recent enough so that older residents remember a street with a different character. Mrs. S. Berger, whose grocery Berger & Twersky was located opposite the main neighborhood cinema for years, still remembers with relief the day it closed in 1972 and, after a decade of abandonment due to a murder there, was replaced by a modern supermarket.

With the cinema — and its accompanying culture — a distant memory for today’s young residents, Stamford Hill today buzzes with Yiddish, and local shops do a brisk business in seforim and heimish apparel. What brought these new residents to the neighborhood? One expert says it began with a school. “When Yidden first moved from the East End they settled in the Cazenove Road area,” asserts Mrs. Ita Cymerman, today of Agudas Israel Housing fame but back then an early student of Yesodey Hatorah School (YHS). “Chassidishe life burgeoned there so that the English neighbors dubbed it Jewland. But the opening of Yesodey Hatorah School by Rav Shmelke Pinter ztz”l on the Stamford Hill junction was the life spring of chassidic life there.”


Still Shopping on 13th Avenue

Esty Heller

The Street: 13th Avenue

The Location: Boro Park, Brooklyn, NY

Nothing beats the diversity on 13th Avenue. There’s Bugaboo Bee and Bugaboo Cameleon, and if you stick around long enough, you might even spy a stroller with a canopy that isn’t heather gray.

The modern millennial may do most of her shopping online, but 13th Avenue buzzes with humanity, and its brick-and-mortar stores are as overcrowded as they’ve always been. The rushing bustle, the shock of smells, the variety of colorful characters — even the Internet with all its practicalities cannot divert Boro Parkers from their beloved shopping strip.

Ebb and Flow 

The pull remains constant, but the face of 13th Avenue is always changing, with stores opening and closing, renaming or remodeling. It’s changed beyond recognition from the postcard marketplace it was at the turn of the 20th century, when the first Jewish immigrants settled in Boro Park. By the late 1930s, brick-and-mortar stores replaced pushcart vendors and shoeshiners.

After the Holocaust, many survivors found a welcoming home in Boro Park, and they brought a strong European influence to the area. In fact, on December 9, 2012, the Avenue was officially renamed “Raoul Wallenberg Way,” in tribute to the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of 100,000 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust — a large portion of whom settled in Boro Park. Over the years, the neighborhood demographic has further evolved, and Boro Park’s population is now decidedly chassidish, with several major chassidic courts housed in the neighborhood.

So Far, So Close on Carlisle Street

Rochel Leah Greenwald

The Street: Carlisle Street and Ripponlea Village

The Location: Melbourne, Australia

The bagels can compete with Brooklyn’s best, and the fish store produces a full line of ready dips for your Shabbos table. If not for the piquant turns of phrase and the flavorful accent — along with the upside-down weather — a visitor would have a hard time believing that this thriving commercial strip chockfull of kosher products is located Down Under.

Melbourne’s veteran “Jewish” consumer strip, Carlisle Street, begins with the instantly recognizable 7-Eleven on the corner — yes, there’s a 7-Eleven, although not all The bagels can compete with Brooklyn’s best, and the fish store produces a full line of ready dips for your Shabbos table. If not for the piquant turns of phrase and the flavorful accent — along with the upside-down weather — a visitor would have a hard time believing that this thriving commercial strip chock-full of kosher products is located Down Under.

The “Street” 

Melbourne’s veteran “Jewish” consumer strip, Carlisle Street, begins with the instantly recognizable 7-Eleven on the corner — yes, there’s a 7-Eleven, although not all kashrus authorities agree if the Slurpees are kosher — and ends all the way down at St. Kilda Beach, a popular Tashlich destination. It’s a colorful, noisy venue. Jews of all stripes are busy going about their lives, pushing prams, shopping, chatting, meeting for lunch, or running errands as they exchange greetings and news with the friends they invariably meet.

Carlisle Street is also where you’ll find Kollel Beth HaTalmud, which opened its doors some 35 years ago with ten yungeleit sent by Lakewood mashgiach Rav Nosson Wachtfogel ztz”l. Today the kollel includes about 20 regular avreichim, as well as many balabatim who learn for a few hours before or after work. The Russian shul is a few doors down.

Devon Avenue, the Jewish “Magnificent Mile”

Beth Perkel

The Street: Devon Avenue

The Location: Chicago, Illinois

Chicago’s Devon Avenue literally spans land, sea, and air. Stretching from the cool waters of Lake Michigan almost to O’Hare International Airport, it’s one of the main arteries of the city — and it links three of the largest Jewish neighborhoods within “Chicagoland”: West Rogers Park, Peterson Park, and Lincolnwood.

The Jewish version of Chicago’s famed downtown shopping hub, the “Magnificent Mile,” can be found between Western and Kedzie Avenues. Here, Jews from all walks of life have shopped, laughed, dined, and davened together for over half a century. Culinary inventions have been inspired, Russian immigrants have taken their first stroll to a Jewish store, and many a child has grown up tugging at their parents’ hands asking if they can tag along on the pre-Shabbos errands or just ride their bike with some change in their pocket to good ol’ Devon.

Devon has its share of legendary stores: It housed New York Kosher 999 Market, the first kosher grocery store in the Midwest, as well as Rosenblum’s World of Judaica, the Midwest’s largest Jewish bookstore. The first kosher bakery in the city, Tel Aviv Bakery, also planted itself on Devon. For a period of time, this one-mile stretch housed three separate bakeries, as well as many restaurants, Jewish-owned clothing and jewelry stores, and even a famous toy store where children were required to be accompanied by an adult but many snuck in alone nonetheless.

Lange Kievistraat’s Jewish Heartbeat

David Damen

The Street: Lange Kievitstraat

The Location: Antwerp, Belgium

Try asking elderly Jews who spent their childhoods in Antwerp for their sweetest childhood memories. Without a doubt, they will mention the delectable confections of the legendary Kleinblatt Bakery — and then, they’ll turn nostalgic as they remember Bobatch’s candies.

Bobatch was a small candy store on the Lange Keivitstraat consumer strip, and all the Jewish children remember are their large eyes as they used to pass by it, unable to purchase anything because of the lack of a hechsher. “Mr. Bobatch himself would actually try to convince us that his candy was kosher, but we didn’t quite believe him,” says Reb Chaim Zev “Wolf” Gross, the second child in the Gross family, who grew up on Antwerp’s renowned shopping boulevard. “Often,” Wolf relates with some amusement, “the melamdim would find Bobatch candies in children’s schoolbags. The children claimed that Mr. Bobatch himself had insisted they were kosher.”

It’s been many years since Mr. Bobatch was last seen on Lange Kievitstraat. That section of the street, on the other side of the railway bridge, was razed and replaced with huge high-rises. Jewish children in Antwerp today can buy as many kosher candies as they want. But some things haven’t changed: Lange Kievitstraat is still the main shopping street for the Jewish community, and young and old still stream there every Erev Shabbos and Yom Tov to stock up on everything a Jewish home needs, from fragrant challos to gefilte fish, yeast cakes, and fresh fruit.

Where the East Broadway Legacy Lives On

Baila Rosenbaum

The Street: East Broadway

The Location: New York City’s Lower East Side

There are many famous and familiar streets on the Lower East Side of Manhattan — Delancey, Essex, Orchard. It’s an area rich in Jewish history. But when it comes to retaining a Jewish presence even today, East Broadway has outlasted them all.

At the foot of East Broadway, where it intersects with Grand Street, a popular triumvirate stands sentinel: East Side Glatt, Moishe’s Bakery, and East Side Kosher. If you live in the area, most likely you’ll purchase something when you’re going to the subway, picking up your kids from the bus stop, hurrying to shul, or walking home from any of the local yeshivos. At the very least, when you pass this corner you’ll certainly stop to chat.

East Side Glatt restores your faith in the age-old Jewish palate. This is where you can still buy a good pastrami sandwich, along with any traditional as well as not-so-traditional Shabbos takeout. And the chopped liver is so good it has a strong following across town. A few steps away, you’ll find the grandfather of the block, Moishe’s Bakery. Here you can buy challah, pastries, and the iconic “potato-nik.” Not a bread, not a cake, and not a kugel, a potato-nik, for those unfamiliar, is a distinctive, crunchy combination potato kugel-potato bread that deserves its place alongside the two other iconic Lower East Side foods — pickles and bialys.

The baby of the block is one door over. East Side Kosher, only 15 years old, offers the more contemporary choices; amid the groceries, you can order pizza, ask for bagels and salad or choose your oh-so-necessary sushi. Manager Dovid Frank is always ready to help out shoppers and the local businesspeople stopping in to pick up lunch. He handles the afternoon rush of invading schoolchildren with patience and a smile too. But you’ll have to wait your turn for him to allow you to call home. Everyone else is also waiting to ask Mom if they can make a purchase.

Pastrami, potato-nik and sushi. What else could a Jew need?

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 680.

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