Open season: Orthodox Jews march against stores

Shop till you drop — except on Shabbat!

Hundreds of Orthodox Jews participated in Midwood’s annual “Shabbat Parade,” an ebullient Saturday morning demonstration meant to encourage Jewish store owners to shutter their shops on the Sabbath.

The procession, which drew an estimated 500 worshippers from area synagogues, began on Kings Highway and Ocean Parkway and snaked its way down Kings to Ocean Avenue. Along the way, organizers stopped to address the singing crowd, which was separated by gender — as is the custom in Orthodox synagogues — with men and women walking on opposite sides of the street.

“Life is more than just your money or your store,” said participant Benzion Greiper. “You should enjoy life!”

Similar marches have been held in the neighborhood for the last decade, and elsewhere in the borough since the 1940s. Organizers credit the demonstrations for helping to bring a “palpable” feel of the Sabbath on 13th Avenue in Borough Park, for example, where virtually every store is closed on Saturday, considered a day of “joyful rest” to observant Jews.

But Kings Highway is a long way to becoming 13th Avenue, organizers conceded. The polyglot roadway is home to a range of businesses serving a wildly diverse clientele from all parts of the world.

But organizers aren’t daunted.

“We would like to see our brethren enjoying and observing the Sabbath as we do,” said Yosef Friedman of the Sabbath Observance Council, the parade’s sponsoring organization. “Kings Highway is not totally a lost cause.”

Friedman said he doesn’t look at stores that remain open as not being observant. “We look at them as not-yet-observant.”

Stores that are closed Saturdays said they never felt pressured to do so.

“It just depends who owns the business — it’s their choice to close,” said an employee of a store that is closed on Saturday. “If someone is a devout Christian, they can close on Sundays.”

At a different store, an employee said she didn’t think demonstrators had an affect on who stays open. “We close because we’re observant,” the person said.

Shops that remained open were unfazed by the march. At Kingsway Liquors, manager Seamus O’Msaidhe said his store isn’t hurt by staying open. “I have a whole kosher wine section here — they still shop here,” he noted, adding that only “naive” people would have a problem with the march. “This is New York,” he said.

But not everyone was as welcoming.

“Get out of my way!” one man hissed as he passed the streaming crowd to his car. When asked for his opinion, he said he had none.

Business leaders called the demonstration a “non-issue” for merchants.

“It’s great to see the community come together, but does it have any business implications — no,” said Phil Nuzzo, executive director of the Kings Highway Business Improvement District.

The march lasted about an hour, and concluded in Sgt. Joyce Kilmer Park on E. 12th Street and Kings Highway.

Saturday shoppers had mixed reactions to the parade.

“The stores should be closed if they practice their religion to the extent that they do,” said Howard Kaplan.

But Ilona Labonov disagreed.

“I think the stores should be open,” she said. “Whatever they want to do is their problem, but Saturday is my day off — that’s the only day I have to go shopping.”

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