My community’s beloved Crown Market–serving the Greater Hartford community for 74 years with kosher products, butcher, deli-style prepared foods, and catering–announced this morning it was closing its doors. The Jewish community here is reeling. Increased competition in the area is cited as the cause but the horrifying truth is I am the cause.
We are all the cause.
I chose to shop at the new neighborhood Wal-Mart because we wanted to save money. What I realize now, much too late, is that if I had shopped at Crown and paid a little bit more, I would have been supporting this important part of the Jewish community that we cherish and love. And now, with a heavy heart, I admit I was wrong. I apologize. I know that isn’t enough. I wish it were. I wish I could promise to shop there for now on. I wish I could get 500 families to pledge to do the same. I wish I had known they were in trouble so I could have done something, anything.
This is indicative of a much more widespread problem in our communities. I see Jewish day schools in peril of closing because of rising costs and parents who cannot afford the tuitions (I’m guilty as charged there, too). I see synagogues struggling to attract new members, trying to collect member fees from families with their own stretched budgets to consider (I don’t know how we will be able to afford to renew our membership when it comes due later this year). This is all so painful to watch, to see our Jewish community wither away. And today, my heart aches…for the owners of Crown Market, for the employees who have worked there for years and expected to work there for many more, for the customers, and for our community.
I have only been part of this community for less than two years, but already I have so many fond memories of the Crown. My son goes to the JCC here and every Friday when I pick him up, the second best thing to his warm hugs is the Crown challah waiting in his cubby to be brought home for Shabbat. Crown catered our girls’ baby naming ceremony and I ordered their Passover seder meals and Shabbat dinners. Our family and all of our guests loved their food. Every. Single. Time. My husband and I moved here to West Hartford to raise our children in a vibrant Jewish community, and now we are witnessing it disintegrate before our very eyes.
For those people who have lived here longer than my family, this loss is devastating. I see people on my Facebook feed reminiscing about Crown’s seven-layer cake and world-famous tuna. We are so tied to food, and Crown Market has fed Hartford-area simchas (celebrations) and shivas for generations. We are profoundly saddened that we failed to shepherd it to the next generation.
The Crown failed within a larger socioeconomic context that isn’t affecting just my community of West Hartford. It’s touching almost every corner of the United States. On the one hand we have all the factors outlined in the Pew Report: Increased secularization means less Jews are eating kosher, sending their children to Jewish day schools, and joining synagogues. And on the other, we have an economy that has frayed the middle class to the point that we are starting to see our institutions unravel. A vanishing Jewish middle class means many of us can’t afford to pay our children’s private school tuition, synagogue dues, summer camp, or JCC fees. It means some of us can’t afford to buy at kosher markets, even if we wanted to.
I cannot put it more eloquently than Rabbi Ilana Garber of Beth El in West Hartford, who wrote, “What other institution has to close before we realize that the entire future of Judaism rests on our shoulders…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.”
The closing of Crown Market hurts us all deeply in our community as it signifies the end of an era and a possible bellwether of more to come. What can we do to prevent this from happening to YOUR community?