December 20, 2010

The Other Kosher Market: The Have Nots

The young 30-ish woman was walking up and down the Passover aisles of a Brooklyn store ever so slowly with a toddler in the shopping cart and a 2-year old in tow. While other shoppers passed her by filling their carts, this woman inspected every item, noticeably the price. When she finally reached the register, she carefully observed each scanned item and then began a systematic return of items until it met her budget. The cashier observed the scene quietly as if it were something she had become quite accustomed to seeing. Sadly this woman is part of a growing number of Jewish families who will make do with a lot less this Pesach. Many will be shopping for the specials that may take a tour of neighborhood stores to complete. William Rapfogel, the Executive Director of Met Council on Jewish Poverty, told me that with two weeks left to Pesach, his agency had distributed 2.5 million pounds of food and over $300,000 in food vouchers, on track for a 15-20% increase over 2009 in the food given out and a 30% increase in vouchers. Similar increases were also experienced by other agencies.

While the woman I observed in the supermarket was in obvious distress in putting together her Passover order, one can only speculate that the same scene might have repeated itself in a shoe store or a clothing store as a family on a fixed budget prepared for the holiday. It is ironic that while we celebrate the maturity of the kosher market with its many new gourmet items and 2010 vintage magnificent stores, there is another kosher market, which in New York alone involves nearly 100,000 Jews, according to Mr. Rapfogel. One storeowner said that it was heart wrenching to watch as shoppers picked up items that “their eyes feasted on but their pocketbooks could not afford.” The recession has obviously added many to the numbers of the have nots. Many families will celebrate Pesach this year with a breadwinner having lost a job. Most likely, they are already balancing tuition payments with food and clothing. As depressing as this may sound, there is a bright spot. The agencies say that despite the recession, contributions to help the poor this Passover are up. In one novel act, a Brooklyn storeowner told me that a local resident who refused to be identified had left him a check for $1000 to provide foods to those who come into the store and are obviously in distress. Too bad this woman was in the wrong store