For the past six months that I’ve been saying Kaddish, my weekday mincha stop has been at Manhattan Judaica on West 45th Street, a few blocks away from The Jewish Week’s office.
It’s a quick, no-nonsense minyan where I often see people I know, including the owner, David Vesely, a friend since high school. Another advantage is that it’s an opportunity to pick up occasional necessary items, like mezuzut, a talit bag cover or havdalah candle.
On Tuesday, the store hosted its last minyan. As Helen Chernikoff reported last month, Manhattan Judaica is closing its doors today, a victim of high Midtown rent and a weak economy. It’s sad, but not surprising, to see another small business knuckle under in these troubled times, but it’s also impressive — and a testament to the proprietor — that a store that sells no necessities, like food or clothes, but only ritual, educational and gift items could survive for 13 years in one of the world’s busiest retail area, dominated by chain stores and bank branches.
That fact is in no small part because of the daily influx of people from the mincha minyan, who wandered around the aisles and perused the merchandise during repetition of the amida. But those sporadic purchases couldn’t forestall the inevitable. Losing the store is more than just an incovenience for Judaica shoppers or minyan-goers, but a small chunk of the Jewish soul of New York chipped away.
At the final minyan Tuesday, a long line formed at the front counter, not just to make final purchases but to thank David for years of hospitality. One man presented him with a plaque, which will hang all-to-briefly on a shelf over the register. One by one, we shook his hand and said yasher koach, then left, having fulfilled the mitzvah not only of tefillah but of Hakores Hatov, expressing gratitude to a righteous person.
Hopefully, my friend David will, God willing, go on to a new successful venture in 5772.