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How an Indiana Deli Brought Love and Support to Flint's Jewish Community

How an Indiana Deli Brought Love and Support to Flint's Jewish Community

“Eat this, you’ll feel better,” my Bubbie used to say. “Can I make you a little soup? Maybe a bissel cinnamon toast?” And Howard Wolowitz of The Big Bang Theory once said, “Oh, my God, could it be? Yes! My mother put an ‘I love you’ brisket in my backpack!”

Indeed, we are a people who express our love through food.

In the midst of the water crisis here in Flint, MI, Shapiro’s Delicatessen of Indianapolis – purveyors of exceptional Jewish foods since 1905 – traveled 300 miles to deliver a “We stand with you” meal to Flint’s Jewish community on the last Shabbat in January. Staged with help from the Jewish Federations of both Indy and Flint, Shapiro’s delivered kosher-style corned beef, pastrami, chicken noodle soup, saltine crackers, mustard, mayo, bagels, cream cheese, Kaiser rolls, onion rolls, bread, dill pickles, potato salad, coleslaw, chocolate sheet cake, mandel bread, rugalach, and five cases of Dr. Brown's soda pop. 

I spoke with Sally Shapiro, who told me:

“It’s the Jewish tradition, to send food. It’s like when a family is mourning: We send food, not flowers. Flowers die, right? That reminds the family of their loss. Your community is suffering. We felt a kinship, so we sent food. It’s what we do. We hope that providing food will ease the burden for a while.”

The Flint water crisis is real. I first wrote about in mid-January , and for the most up-to-date info, I recommend following Ron Fonger on the MLive website. (His investigative reporting on this topic should, in my opinion, earn him Pulitzer consideration.) In short, the history is this: Whilst Flint was under state-mandated emergency financial management, decisions were made, from the governor on down, to willfully and negligently ignore the health of the Flint community. These decisions created a situation in which improperly treated water caused lead to dissolve into the water from pipe joints in an aging water infrastructure. Now, the city is buried under media scrutiny – and the water still isn’t safe to drink.

In the last 10 years, Flint had finally begun to dig itself out from under the morass caused by the auto industry’s headlong rush out of town in the 1980s. Our city has been beaten down before, but lead poisoning in our children will stretch forward into the mid-21st century.

In other words, we needed a chin-up.

Nancy Epstein, Temple Beth El Flint doyenne, expressed the congregation gratitude to Shapiro’s:

“Thank you for the delicious dinner you so generously donated, prepared, and drove to Temple Beth El Flint. Spirits were lifted and tummies were filled. What a mitzvah [good deed] you did for us. Our entire community benefited and will be forever grateful. Shabbat shalom. Todah raba [thank you].”

Others echoed her appreciation. Temple member Hilary Straus Rubin said, “Thank you, Shapiro’s, for your incredibly generous and delicious delivery to the Flint Jewish community,” and Shapiro’s regular Ed Bennett said, “No surprise to me that the people at Shapiro’s would do something wonderful.” The Jewish Federation of Indianapolis posted a photo album of the delivery to its Facebook page, along with the hashtag #‎DoGoodEverywhereFromAnywhere. And on our congregation’s Facebook page, more than 1,000 people have seen, commented, and shared our community’s warmest regards for the people at Shapiro’s and the Indy-area Jewish community.

The food was exceptional. The gesture, out of the blue and completely unexpected, was overwhelming. From our hearts to yours, Indianapolis and Shapiro’s, todah raba – thank you so much for sending such love to our community in this time of need.

David L. Stanley is a teacher, author, voice-over actor, and speaker. His wide-ranging work has appeared in national magazines on topics from professional bicycle racing to men, depression, and suicide. He speaks on melanoma awareness, fatherhood and life, and the need for interfaith unity. He is currently employed by his area’s only Islamic day school, where he teaches high school science. 

His next book is From Jim Crow to CEO, a biography of Willie Artis, a successful Black industrialist born in Memphis during the Great Depression. It is due out in fall 2019.

On Twitter, you can find him @DStan58.

David L. Stanley
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