A couple weeks ago we hosted a community Shabbat dinner in the tent at our Chabad in Peabody. While there was great enthusiasm, the crowd was fairly thin as many are still worried about Covid. Of the sign-ups was a former Hebrew School mom, Alana Plotkin Catalfamo who we hadn’t seen for quite some time decided to join us.

She was a welcomed addition to the meal and because she sat up close to us we were able to schmooze more than we might otherwise have been able to. She asked where our family had been or what we were doing for the summer? We shared that we were going to spend a bit of time up in the Catskills, in the borscht belt. Where specifically? Which city she wanted to know?

Surprised at her curiosity for the details, she shared that she was originally from Monticello, NY. Well that is exciting, since the place in the Catskills where we were to be was in Monticello. After asking if she still has family out there, she said, yes, my dad has a liquor store right there in Monticello. After exchanging identifying landmarks we promised to visit.

Well, today that visit happened.

As soon as we walked through the door he said, “you must be the Schustermans. My daughter said you’d be by.” After some short introductions, I said to him that I want to do a “trifecta” on our first meeting.

Tefillin, Mezuzah and Shofar. He inquired about the Shofar, saying it wasn’t quite Rosh Hashanah yet. I explained that it is a custom to blow the shofar during the entire month of Elul leading up to the High Holidays. Regarding the tefillin, he demurred at first. He was excited about the mezuzah for his store, announcing that he already had two at home.

We put up the mezuzah, and then my chabad charm kicked in, promising that I could get the tefillin on and off in just 60 seconds. (He didn’t know that I meant Jewish time, closer to 3-4 minutes Shhhh.) As I was putting on Tefillin, my wife asked him when the last time he put them on was.

He answered that he had never done it in his life. He was bar mitzvah’d but no one ever offered to put on the Tefillin. In that case, I explained it was sort-of-bar-mitzvah since kabbalistially, a head that has worn tefillin even once is in an altogether different category as one who has never laid the tefillin in their life.

He said the blessing like a pro, and we saw hints of his Hebrew School days in his recalling of the Shema prayer.

We closed out with a shofar blast, kissed the mezuzah and promised to be back for another visit to take advantage of his fine array of kosher wines right there in the store.

So, if you find yourself near 9 Forestburg Rd. in Monticello, stop by Route 42 South Liquor Store. Kiss the new Mezuzah on the way in, and say hello to our new friend and Alana’s dad.

Oh, and his name is Shloimeh!