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Glen Cove Loses a Friend #737

07/29/2022 04:46:30 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Matot-Massei

“After all, what have we got here? A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A pot, a pan, a broom, and a hat." Anatevka, Fiddler on the Roof

Glen Cove Loses a Friend


According to the store receipt, I paid my final visit about an hour before the end.

I left the synagogue at about 1:45 pm, Thursday, on the premise that our shul’s coffee nook needed a new bottle of Coffee Mate.

But it really was an excuse to say goodbye to a friend.

As members of any community, we acquire many friends; “These are the people of our neighborhood,” the Sesame Street song reminds us,

The dry cleaner, the pharmacist, the trash or recycling collector, the cashier at the bagel store, the technician who answers questions about our phone or computer when we are too embarrassed to ask anyone else.

These acquaintances in some way make our often impersonal life journey a bit more manageable.

“How are you?” “How is your family?” “Have a good day.” 

In many ways, these places of business - especially those in a small community - take on a personality of their own.

And this past Thursday, Glen Cove said goodbye to an old friend – the King Kullen Supermarket.

This morning, I was thinking about what that friendly little store meant to this area. For many of us, it was a sad moment. 

I’m sure that many of you who live outside our area can relate to this situation. You, too, must have become close to small businesses, employees, and shop owners in your neighborhood.

As I returned my debit card to my wallet, I looked around at the blank stares of those who worked there. 

There were also four or five corporate types standing by the cash registers, arms folded, apparently supervising the passing of this treasured community hub to another business – doors shut. 

And I reflected.

This was the store where employees, often with limited protection, helped us weather the worst of the pandemic.

Through everything, they kept a cheerful disposition as they ensured that we had everything from bread, eggs, and produce, to toilet paper.

This was a place where I developed a friendship with Sam, a middle-aged Muslim cashier originally from Alexandria, Egypt. “As-salaam 'alykum,” I would say to him as I sometimes entered the store near closing. “Shalom aleichem,” he would cheerfully reply.

Many nights, when the store was empty, we would talk about how if everyone would just live by the heart of their scriptures, what a wonderful world this would be.

We had set a date for him and his family to join us at our Pesach Seder. But then pandemic hit.

I recalled one of the younger cashiers, often approaching me with a Bible in her hand, asking me a question about Moses or Abraham.

There was also the floor polisher. We would nod at each other some evenings as he passed by.

I remembered the kindness of many of the employees, who were patient and caring when our son John, a person with autism, insisted – as my wife completed our major shopping – that he wanted some item which, according to him, she had failed to place in our shopping cart.

I remembered the sound of the Salvation Army bell each December. I recalled Girl Scouts selling cookies on the sidewalk, or street entrepreneurs cashing in their bottles in the recycling room.

Yes, there is the business aspect to this. Two minutes away, there is a large Stop & Shop, with fully stocked shelves.

There are also smaller, friendly supermarkets in Locust Valley, Glen Cove and on the Sea Cliff border.

Yet, Thursday’s passing was about more than business.

It was about that song from Fiddler on the Roof, as the villagers of Anatevka prepare to depart.

“After all, what have we got here” sings Golda. “A little bit of this, a little bit of that. A pot, a broom, a hat.”

What is a supermarket anyway? A bag of apples, a block of cheese, a piece of fish, some milk, a box of cereal – but in the end, it is a gathering place where people connect and sometimes even bring warmth into this increasingly impersonal world.

There is a parallel that this is the week in our Torah reading where we complete Bamidbar – the fourth book of the Torah.

But today, I am thinking about the closure of another chapter - the loss of a brick-and-mortar-store that housed countless interactions, relationships, and examples of community service.

So, before I left the store with my Coffee Mate in hand, I approached each employee to thank them for their years of service – especially during the pandemic.

They are union members, who have been reassigned to other stores. The stock on depleted shelves will be boxed and relocated to other King Kullen supermarkets.

Life will go on. Another friendly place of business will be forgotten – replaced next year by a hardware store.

But there are those of us who are saddened as another business fades into history. These are the small and medium stores that our parents and grandparents owned or worked in six or seven days a week. They sustained us.

Maybe in the long run, the closing of King Kullen won’t matter. But as I think about it, we - as people - rely perhaps most of all upon our relationships.

As this world becomes less relational and more transactional, perhaps yesterday’s closing provides an opportunity to embrace those small businesses where employees and owners still provide the warm, personal interaction that underscores our humanity.

Later in the day, I passed by the King Kullen. The parking lot was empty.

Yes, it was just a store, not the first or last to close during these challenging times, but within its walls, its dedicated employees made our lives just a little bit more sustainable. This was especially true during the pandemic.

We thank them, and all front-line workers in our neighborhood, for their service and dedication, and for making our lives just a little bit more human.

Their contribution to the community deserves to be mentioned this week, as we conclude a major chapter in the Torah.

Ultimately, the closing of King Kullen represents a small moment in Glen Cove’s history. Yet, in a week where we transition from old to new, the passing of this community institution is worthy of mention.

Yes, it was only a store. But in my heart, as Shabbat approaches, I am moved to reflect upon this place where relationships and stories flourished.

The Torah teaches that God can be found in all places - even within the aisles, the shelves and at the checkout of a supermarket.

“Goodbye, old friend.”

And so, we move on.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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