Photo Credit: Nati Shohat / Flash 90
Jewish children shop in a kosher supermarket. (illustrative)

“They attacked the butcher!” says Michael Jaffa, manager of Kosher Palace in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

As the number of New Yorkers testing positive for Covid-19 continues to rise, so does the level of hysteria among consumers as they flock to stores and buy mass amounts of basic necessities like toilet paper and water.

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Purell, Lysol, and Clorox wipes were the first items to quickly vanish off shelves as worried customers hoarded cases of the disinfectant products – enough to last them months.

For the Jewish consumer, the coronavirus epidemic is causing extra fears relating to shortages in kosher food – especially poultry – which isn’t accessible just anywhere. With Pesach just weeks away, many fear stores won’t be able to accommodate the many families who had planned on spending Pesach abroad or in a hotel but who will now be home for the holiday. And so a meat madness began last week as Jews ransacked shelves leaving them practically bare.

“I walked into Supermarket of Ave. N on my way to work Thursday morning,” relates Chaya Solomon of Marine Park, “and they were fully stocked with a variety of meats.” Fast-forward to noon and all that was left was a lonely piece of flanken as news hit that the New York tri-state area had over 700 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including a death. Locals started to panic as the prospect of Brooklyn being on lockdown became a distinct possibility.

“I heard that people were flipping out, but I assumed that everyone was shopping at big stores like Moishe’s or Gourmet Glatt. I thought a small, unassuming place like Supermarket of Ave. N would have some meat – but they didn’t,” says Chaya, who ultimately told her husband who works in midtown Manhattan to purchase chicken there at an inflated price.

Rumors started spreading that Shop Smart, Moishe’s, Kosher Palace, and Glatt Mart were all sold out of meat – but it was nearly impossible to confirm these rumors without going to the stores in person.

This reporter had a scheduled meeting with the manager of Shop Smart, scheduled for 10 a.m. Sunday morning, but gave up after calling the store numerous times only to be met with a busy signal. Attempts to reach Glatt Mart also failed as this reporter was told by someone from accounting, “It’s crazy here! You must call back later.”

“When the butcher came, people lunged at him and began grabbing meat off his tray,” recounts Jaffa, manager of Kosher Palace, who said he had to pacify two ladies who got into a heated argument about whose chicken belonged to whom. “I told them I’m not the chicken police!”

Typically Kosher Palace sees 800-1,000 customers on Thursday – its busiest day – but last week it peaked at 4,000, reported Jaffe, who says he has never seen such consumer pandemonium before. “There were no available shopping wagons from 8 a.m. till 11 p.m.,” he said.

Moishe’s Supermarket had lines out the door last week with people eagerly waiting to get in. “It is still insane over there,” says Tova S. of Midwood. The store has been reportedly working around the clock, literally, trying to keep shelves stocked with Pesach food and basic essentials.

Kosher Palace has been working closely with its butchers to make sure there won’t be a shortage before the holiday. But Jaffa cautions the public to calm down and stop panicking or else distributors will not be able to keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

And it’s not just meat. “One lady bought 40 packages of salmon and another bought 10 cases of Bounty and tissues,” Jaffe reported. He said people are blowing this situation way out of proportion.

In charge of ordering Pesach products for Kosher Palace for the past 18 years, Jaffe said he bases his orders on previous years’ numbers. This year, considering the circumstances, he is unsure how to proceed. “It’s going to be a gamble this year. If I order too little, I will have angry customers, but if I order too much, I will be left with unsellable boxes of Passover cake mix and matzah farfel that no one wants.”

Store managers say the kosher consumer need not panic. There will be food, they say, if people cease worrying and hoarding.

In last week’s parsha, we see what happens when we allow anxiety to take over, says Jaffe, recalling the Jews’ hysteria when Moshe didn’t promptly return from heaven. “It’s human nature, I understand, but we need to get off social media and WhatsApp and instead daven,” he said.

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Ita Yankovich is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in various Jewish and secular publications. She also teaches English and Literature at Kingsborough College and Touro College. She can be reached at itayankovich@yahoo.com.