Shabbat is the weekly Jewish day of rest. It begins a few minutes before sundown every Friday and ends with the appearance of the first three stars on Saturday evening. During this interlude, Jews are encouraged to reflect and to remember, to appreciate family and to seek a sense of peace. And to eat.
For the large population of Syrian Jews living in Gravesend, Brooklyn, the eating part is often sorted out, in the last moments of daylight before Shabbat begins, at a cherished local shop owned and operated by Simon Leviov and his sons.
On a recent Friday the greeting “Shabbat Shalom” was heard constantly at Kings Highway Glatt, a corner butcher on East Second Street at Kings Highway, the thoroughfare that splits the bucolic side streets of Gravesend. Among the buzzing patrons and employees, there was a current of urgency nearly as frenetic as the oil sizzling in the army of fryers in back, under the eyes of the elder Mr. Leviov.
Scores of foil trays — stuffed with cereal-crusted fried chicken or deep-fried eggplant or a variety of appetizers crisped or baked to various shades of brown — were ferried out of the kitchen, past the rotisserie chickens and through the savory fog of roasted meat, to be sealed and stacked on the crowded orange counter. Stationed there was Rony Leviov, 22, the younger of the brothers, facing a line of customers waiting for their takeout orders.
Adding to the intensity was the constantly ringing phone, manned by Rony’s big brother, Shemaya Leviov, who answers to the nickname “Shy” and takes orders with great economy and care: “Hello, butcher. Yes. Hi. Of course. Tell me.”
Shy scribbled down an order that would be rung up by Rony, processed and packed into the ubiquitous orange bags, then loaded into custom-painted vans and Smart cars that would deliver them nonstop, as long as light and custom would allow.
Kings Highway Glatt was opened in 1988 by Mr. Leviov, who grew up in Israel and immigrated to Brooklyn as an adolescent. A butcher by trade, Mr. Leviov saw the need for a “glatt” (technically, a butcher shop that prepares meat in a strict religious fashion) that also offered prepared foods for the well-heeled local residents responsible for feeding their traditionally large families not only daily meals, but special-occasion repasts during Hanukkah, Passover and, of course, Shabbat.
“It’s like Thanksgiving once a week for us,” said Rachel Mamiye, who was picking up a few items with the eldest of her four children in tow. “You know how hard it is to make these things?” she asked, pointing toward the freezers stacked with Middle Eastern delicacies, all manner of stuffed and rolled meats and dough and vegetables. “I do it all myself, of course,” she added, “but not everybody can make homemade food anymore.”
The fresh meats, displayed along the store’s other wall, run the gamut from racks of lamb to aged prime beef. An assortment of general grocery and specialty items that would make any Syrian expatriate feel at home are crammed wherever there is space, a problem on Fridays, when so much product is moved.
“I need tables!” Shy yelled as the takeout orders began to pile up and more trays of fried delicacies arrived from the back.
Despite the fervor, the atmosphere was informed by the cordiality of community and respect for the ritual nearly at hand, for it would not be long before the sun faded and the families of Gravesend would close their doors, shut down all electronics and enjoy a day of peace, family and food.
Published on The New York Times: In Brooklyn, Racing Against the Shabbat Clock at Kings Highway Glatt