The man who re-opened his store last Thursday in defiance of New York law – garnering national media coverage – is a Jew who flew to Israel in 1973 to volunteer for the IDF.
“I was a designer at the time, and when Iraq entered the Yom Kippur War on the third or fourth day, I got mad,” said Eliot Rabin, 78, owner of Peter Elliot, a high-end clothing store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “So I went to my boss and said, ‘I’m quitting and going to Israel. I can help. I was a captain in the United States Army.’
“‘You’re crazy,’ he said to me. ‘You’ll never be able to get on a plane.’
“I said, ‘I’ll get on a plane.’ A friend of mine – a major Israeli nurse – got me on a plane, and I sat across the aisle from Abba Eban. It was the most interesting flight in my life. As we entered Israeli airspace, on each wing came up two F-4 Phantoms to bring us in safely. No one sat in their seats, no one put on their seat belts. Everyone stood up and sang Hatikvah.”
When he landed in Israel, Rabin was told that the IDF didn’t need fighters but could use someone to drive a vehicle to transfer troops back and forth from the Golan to the Sinai Desert. “So that’s what I did for about two weeks till the end of the war,” he said.
Rabin said he decided to reopen his store after seeing big businesses receiving government help while he got “bupkes,” despite applying for government loans that he needed to stay in business and pay his workers. “I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to let this inequitable, unconstitutional, dictatorial edict destroy the soul of my business – which is my employees, one of whom has been with me for 30-plus years.’ I said to myself, ‘Not on my watch.’”
In his store, customers are asked to wear masks and stay six feet away from each other. Rabin provides hand sanitizer as well as whiskey to make his customers “feel a little a better.” So far, the city has not fined him or forcibly closed his store, although two policemen did briefly stop by on Monday, he said.
Asked how people have reacted to his decision, Rabin said, “We’ve gotten responses from China, England, Australia… It’s off the walls. People call on the phone and say, ‘Listen, I don’t want to buy anything, but here’s my credit card, put 50 dollars on it. Good luck.’” He has also received 2,000 supportive e-mails, he said.
Rabin said he is a member of Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El on 5th Ave., and every night when New York residents clap and cheer for the city’s doctors and nurses at 7 p.m., he stands on his terrace and blows shofar.
He also noted that he does a lot of business relating to bar mitzvahs. “Last summer, we would have probably lost money if it weren’t for the bar mitzvahs,” he said.