A few weeks ago I wrote about the death of West Hartford’s Crown Market, the beloved kosher grocery store that has been serving the greater Hartford Jewish community for three-quarters of a century.
God forbid that I should leave the impression that this was the end of the story. For within days, Henry Zachs, the community’s preeminent philanthropist, had assembled a group of investors to buy the joint, and the continuation of the under-capitalized enterprise is now assured for the foreseeable future. Happily for all, the facilities will be upgraded, perhaps even to include a place to sit and eat some of the prepared foods that have been the Crown’s, well, crowning glory (tuna fish salad to die for, etc.).
In my original post, I noted that in recent years the ultra-orthodox have withheld the hem of their garments from the Crown, alleging that the food is not kosher enough for their palates. As connoisseurs of kashrut certification know, this is an issue that sometimes has less to do with the character of the food than with identity of those certifying it. Suffice to say that negotiations are ongoing to enable all to shop on the premises.
Lurking in the background of this story is a question of Jewish identity. In a society where Gentile hostility no longer serves to keep Jews together, religion per se has come to be seen as the only sure bastion of communal solidarity. Mere ethnic culture — bagels-and-lox Judaism, as it’s dismissively called — just won’t cut it. Or so the thinking goes.
But the resurrenction of the Crown Market shows that bagels-and-lox Judaism is not so easily separable from religious observance. The Crown may not be a place of worship, but as one community leader told the trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford yesterday evening, no communal institution is more important. So to the Crown let us lift a glass and say, L’Chaim!