Spiritual Investments
Staff Writer
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At West Side Judaica, seder plates are the hot item these days. A little south, at Manhattan Judaica, a new Haggadah by the late philosophical leader of the Modern Orthodox movement is a best-seller. Further south, at J. Levine Books & Judaica, novelty items like a Pharaoh punching bag and a where-did-the-wine-go? Elijah’s Cup are popular. In this national time of recession, in the Jewish period before Passover, business is off for many merchants – but it’s not as off as expected for businesses selling goods for Pesach. Owners of several New York-area Jewish bookstores and Judaica shops report sales levels that nearly match or actually exceed, in the weeks before yom tov, the figures of the last few years. “It’s not as bad as everyone predicted,” says David Vesely, owner of Manhattan Judaica, which is on West 45th Street in Midtown. “People are still buying, but they’re buying less-expensive stuff.” Pre-Passover business at West Side Judaica may end up “as good as last year,” says owner Yaakov Seltzer. The information is mostly anecdotal, since there is no central source for such Passover sales at Jewish businesses, and Judaica shop owner are reluctant to divulge specific figures, but the need for Haggadot and other basic Passover items appears to be keeping some businesses out of the red this year. “Passover is such a central time for families to get together,” says Steven Bayme, national director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Contemporary Jewish Life. “One always invests heavily in Passover.” Everywhere, members of the Jewish community are looking to cut expenses, but they’re still spending money for Pesach, says Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, who as associate director of the National Jewish Outreach Program keeps in contact with representatives of the Jewish community of all denominations. For example, people who in past years bought American hand-made shmura matzah are buying the less-expensive Israeli brands this year, Rabbi Rosenbaum says. He says he’s heard of families pooling their holiday food purchases in order to get bulk prices, and cutting back on purchases of such luxuries as expensive candies. “Some people are not buying so much [new] clothes. People are clipping coupons. They’re looking to economize. “I’ve heard that the hotels are suffering,” Rabbi Rosenbaum says of the empty rooms at kosher-for-Passover places upstate or in warmer climates. Reports over the last several months indicated a decrease in the number of Jews going to Israel or going to such venues as resorts or cruises for the holidays. Instead, observers say, many are opting for less-expensive Passover options. Staying home, or spending yom tov with out-of-town family. Which means more money spent on at-home seders. Many families that are hosting their own seders for the first time in a long time are planning creative, inspirational meals, spending money on food and on items that reinforce the holiday’s message of hope and liberation. Because the economy is suffering and people are worried about keeping their jobs, because the value of investments in the stock market or Bernie Madoff scams has plummeted, many people planning seders “want to make the holiday more exciting,” says Danny Levine, owner of J. Levine Judaica on West 30th Street. “People are investing in it spiritually.” Levine says the Elijah Drinks cup designed last year by comedy writer Marc Jaffe (like a regular wine cup, but the contents mysteriously disappear) and a new Pharaoh Punching Bag (inflatable, it bounces back after being punched) are especially popular among parents who are looking for innovative way to keep children interested at the seder. Many parents, he says, will not depend on friends or resort owners to make seder this year. “People are taking responsibility for it. They’re going to make it a more-memorable event. No one is cutting back on these things.” “People are still buying” books like Haggadot and seder guides, as well as other items like seder plates and Kiddush cups that can be reused in future years, Rabbi Rosenbaum says. “We’re definitely selling more seder plates,” says Yaakov Seltzer of West Side Judaica. “People are always going to buy the necessities,” says David Vesely of Manhattan Judaica. Customers “are asking for discounts,” he adds. The best-selling Haggadah at Manhattan Judaica, Vesely says, is the new “An Exalted Evening: The Seder Night”  (OU Press), commentaries by the late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik edited by Rabbi Menachem Genack. In times of limited resources, families are willing to spend their money on Passover because they look forward to spending time with loved ones, and because the Haggadah’s message of delivery from slavery offers needed inspiration, Levine says. At his century-old, five-generation business, which has weathered the Depression and other economic downturns, the current recession is simply the latest hurdle, Levine says. “We’ve always adapted. I know we have survived everything before. We are going to survive this.” steve@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

11/02/2009 - 10:25

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