When Heshy Friedman saw a flier warning Borough Park Jews to steer clear of a Muslim-owned grocery on 13th Avenue, he reacted swiftly. But not how the printer of the flier intended.
“I went out of my way to shop there to show that this is not the way most people in Borough Park behave,” said Friedman, a 43-year resident of the heavily Orthodox neighborhood and director of the business program at Brooklyn College.
Friedman, who recently began teaching a course on Jewish business ethics at Brooklyn, says he will join a group of Orthodox Jews on Sunday at 2 p.m. in a show of support for the proprietor of Kosher Garden.
Melih Karamiloglu, a Turkish immigrant, says a chasidic competitor is trying to force him out of business and that he is on the verge of closing.
He has filed a federal lawsuit against Leib and Rachel Reichman, owners of Fruit Plaza, which is on the same block as Kosher Garden.
Karamiloglu claims that when he opened a year ago, the Reichmans demanded that he buy out their store. He said the couple engaged in a campaign of alleged harassment and intimidation after he refused.
According to court papers, the campaign included fliers branding Karamiloglu a terrorist and “Jew hater,” and advertising unkosher goods supposedly available at the store.
The Reichmans’ lawyer, James Klatsky, said his clients had nothing to do with the fliers. He said it was “the Turkish guy” who “hounded the Reichmans day and night” about buying the Kosher Garden business.
“My client has no interest in buying his business or having him buy theirs,” said Klatsky.
Seeking as much as $32 million, the suit filed last October in Federal District Court in Brooklyn includes charges of conspiracy, interfering with business, and deprivation of civil rights.
The suit invokes the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organization statute, which is generally used in criminal prosecutions but can apply to civil suits in certain circumstances.
The defendants include the Reichmans, several kosher food suppliers who allegedly have withheld merchandise, and a rabbi who allegedly threatened Karamiloglu on the Reichmans’ behalf, referred to as Jacob Deutsch in the suit. That is not believed to be his real name.
A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 27. But even before the case comes before a judge, a group of Orthodox Jews — outraged by reports of the dispute — say they will make a show of grocery shopping at the beleaguered Kosher Garden.
“I felt it was important to take some action to let others know what we, as Jews, understand to be the just, social concerns of the Torah,” said Jonathan Weiss, a graduate student in social work at New York University who is planning the rally.
Weiss said he was not jumping to conclusions about the validity of Karamiloglu’s claims.
“We’re not saying anything against the people who allegedly perpetrated this,” said Weiss, 39, of Far Rockaway, Queens. “We’re just saying that we are willing to welcome non-Jews to do business in our community.”
Friedman said heavy-handed business tactics were “not that rare an occurrence in Borough Park.”
“Whenever a meat store opens and their prices are somewhat lower, someone will say that it’s not a kosher store and you can’t shop there,” he said.
But Friedman quickly added: “That is not to say that this is the way most people in Borough Park behave. It gives us a bad reputation. It’s a minority of a minority that thinks this is the way to conduct business.”
City Councilman Simcha Felder, who represents Borough Park, said he was confident the facts of the case would come out at trial.
“We live in a democracy and, thank God, we have a system where things go through the courts,” said Felder. “There are many stores in the community — Pakistani, Turkish, Jewish or Asian — where people have worked together to serve the community, even though they sell the same products.”
Karamiloglu’s attorney, Gary Rosen, called the planned Sunday shopping spree “fabulous.”
“We’re not talking about the entire community that’s a problem,” he said. “A number of people have come into his store to say this is terrible.”
Rosen said his client’s store has been shunned by some chasidim and that he is no longer able to pay the $15,000 rent.
“He can’t operate,” said Rosen.
A visit to Kosher Garden Tuesday found the store mostly empty, but traffic in general was light on the shopping strip at 10 a.m., with temperatures in the 30s.
Several of the customers who did stop by were Orthodox, including an elderly man with a long white beard who said he was aware of the conflict.
“I buy where I want,” said the man, who declined to give his name, filling a bag with bell peppers. “I’m not a politician.”
Rosen said a dozen suppliers — a who’s who of New York kosher food manufacturers including Kedem, Tuv Ta’am, Paszkes candy, Klein’s Real Kosher Ice Cream and Mehadrin dairy products —had refused to do business with his client. About half, including Kedem and Tuv Ta’am, had begun to supply Kosher Garden in exchange for being dropped from the lawsuit.
Most of the food manufacturers contacted by The Jewish Week declined to comment. But Shlomo Weinberger of Golden Flow, a leading kosher milk company, said he had never been asked not to sell to Kosher Garden.
Rosen said Golden Flow, which does business as Upstate Dairy Farms, had begun supplying the store after the lawsuit was filed but has since stopped delivering milk there.
Weinberger said he did so only because the products weren’t selling and he had to take back as much as three dozen bottles at a time.
“It’s a free country, anybody can do business,” said Weinberger, who insisted no one had asked him not to supply the store. “I’d do business with him tomorrow, but he has to sell what he buys.”