It’s a rainy Monday afternoon on the corner of 235th Street and Johnson Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. On any other Monday many storefronts would be open and ready for business in this predominantly Jewish neighborhood, but many businesses catering to this community closed at noon for Passover.
With an estimated population of 21,600 observant Jews, according to The Jewish Community Study of 2002, Rabbi Judith S. Lewis, of the Riverdale Temple still says the community is diverse.
People of various ethnic backgrounds and of different ages, scurry along the sidewalks attempting to stay dry. While others park along the street to grab last-minute items, like Manischewitz and packages of matzo in bulk.
The strip is a world market, loaded with ethnic restaurants from Chinese and Indian to Thai and Japanese, with Italian eateries too, none of which are crowded, because many have rushed home already to prepare the seder.
Although he expects business to be slow the week of Passover, Salim Ahmed, owner of Cumin, a local Indian eatery, keeps his restaurant open for other customers who may be in the mood for some spicy cuisine.
“It’s usually like this during Passover,” Ahmed says, looking around his empty restaurant. “This year Easter’s this week too, so I know it’ll be slow.”
He says he decreases the number of staff working and also prepares less food to adjust to a slow week. But he’ll probably see some regulars during the week like modern Jewish families or those who don’t practice.
Liebman’s Delicatessen, off 235th Street, is the only business that is busy, with customers rushing in and out the front door with their orders of potato kugel, coleslaw, sweet-smelling brisket and roasted chickens.
The deli, which has been in the neighborhood since 1953, serves traditional foods and isn’t Kosher for Passover, according to its owner, Yuval Dekel, who grew up in the neighborhood and worked at the family business his father bought in 1981.
“I was thrusted into this business after my pops passed in 2002,” says Dekel, who runs the deli alongside his wife and brother-in-law.
“Most of the Kosher establishments are closed, but they should remain open since Passover is the busiest day of the year,” he adds.
As customers pile into the restaurant to eat a quick lunch with family, the staff promptly fills orders. Dekel says the restaurant rents a refridgerated truck for the holiday to hold the extra orders of meat and poultry. The menu stays traditional to cater to the families and people who have been coming there for years.
“We also have people order ahead for the holidays,” he says. “This year there’s been a lot of chopped liver, but also brisket, roast chicken, stuffed cabbage and matzah ball soup.”
The only changes to the menu since Dekel took over are two chicken marinades — olive oil with rosemary and thyme with lemon.
“If I changed too much, people wouldn’t come,” he says.
Although other Jewish restaurants cleaned their entire store over the weekend for Passover, he says Liebman’s operates through the weekend until 5 p.m. on Monday when they close for the week.
As the afternoon wears on, the number of pedestrians on the street decrease as some head to local synagogues and others join families to celebrate the holiday.