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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Meditation on a Liver Knish

Up in the Jewish shopping mini-mall on Bathurst Street in Toronto there was my Zayde's (may he rest in peace) store, Stroli's Strictly Kosher Food Products. Canada's Jewish Tribune memorialized him pretty much exactly as he was:

"Remember Rabbi Stroli who, when you reached the back counter at his butcher shop, stood ready to thrust a hot liver knish into your hand so you shouldn’t starve on your way home and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer?....Toronto’s kosher butchers have always had character."

Over his lifetime my Zayde was an officer in the Romanian army, he was imprisoned in a labor camp, he was a Rabbi, and only later on in his life did he become a kosher butcher. He was also a son, husband, father and a grandfather. But history books being selective like they are, he will always be remembered for the butcher part. People who know "old Toronto" remember his liver and potato knishes, TV dinners, and cooked chickens. (And yes, they debate over whether the rest of the food was as good as his specialties.)

The butcher store gave our family a living and the community a badly needed resource for living an observant Jewish life. And that made it functionally important. But Zayde took a special joy in those liver knishes. It made him happy to feed people, and more than that, to give them joy in the food that they ate. Food that satisfied religious requirements, but that also took the eating experience from the necessary to the sublime.

I went to the kosher butcher yesterday and got some chopped liver. It was good; they had sauteed onions into it and mixed the two together. But there was no joy in the liver, you know? It was just...what it was. Packed in a little plastic container, with a label.

I find myself missing my Zayde, and the generosity he infused in those knishes.

When you sell somebody something, infuse it with spirit, love and joy. That's what it means to deliver real value. It's more than just the thing-in-itself. It's the gift of yourself that you are giving along with it.

Have a good weekend everyone, and good luck!