Crown Market of West Hartford announced this morning that it is closing after 70 years of business. That’s 70 years of serving the Jewish and general community of Greater Hartford. 70 years of bar (and then bat) mitzvah, bris, and shiva house catering, 70 years of challah baking (and delicious 7-layer cakes), and 70 years (ok, I haven’t checked to see if this was part of the original store) of the world-famous 5 o’clock shop, where busy moms, single guys, and the elderly all mixed together (and pushed a bit) to get a knish, a corned beef sandwich, a rotisserie chicken, and of course, the best tuna fish ever (with a secret ingredient……I wonder if we’ll ever know what it is).
This is a tragedy. Not just for the Jews of Greater Hartford who have made the Crown their home-away-from-home and the gathering spot for running into anyone who’s anyone (you’re only cool in this town if you can say “I saw him/her at the Crown”). Not just for the incredible workers at the Crown (and I knew most of them by name, and as a substitute mashgiach from time to time, I even knew the kitchen staff and loved spending time with them downstairs). Not just for those who are preparing to celebrate a family event soon and have booked the Crown and are now scrambling.
This is a tragedy for Judaism.
What is a Jewish community without a kosher butcher? (Yes, we have others, and I know you’ll tell me about Big Y and Walmart, but they’re part of the reason the Crown is dying so I’m not going to have that conversation right now.)
What is a Jewish community without an easy place to run in and grab a kosher sandwich?
What is a Jewish community without a standard, institutionalized kosher caterer, with the kind of staff members who can put the simcha (joy) into any family occasion?
What is a Jewish community that cannot see beyond its differences of opinions in order to sustain a small, intimate, family-owned business?
And finally: what is a Jewish community that does not feel keeping kosher is important enough, where so many say “my grandparents were kosher” but do not feel the need to declare “and my grandchildren will be kosher too”?
Yes, these are tough questions. And yes, there’s a lot of pain and anger and disbelief right now.
As my husband said to me: I feel like I’ve just learned that someone died.
And I responded: but there’s no one to cater the shiva meal.
We are all guilty – of not supporting this local Jewish business enough (for a variety of reasons, I know). And we are all responsible – I don’t know how, but if there’s any way to save the Crown it’s now or never.
We must now ask: is this what we want for our community, that we need to rely on our neighbors in Boston or New York for Jewish sustenance? What other institution has to close before we realize that the entire future of Judaism rests on our shoulders…..and we are failing? (a bit dramatic? I don’t think so!)
It is time for all of Greater Hartford’s Jewish community to come together, to ask some big questions and to figure out how to strengthen our Jewish community. We need to support our synagogues, to increase enrollment in our Jewish day schools, and to do everything else we can to ensure a vibrant future for all of us.
This is a sad, sad day in Greater Hartford. Let us work together so that we can make a better tomorrow.