Sunday, December 18, 2011
A Store Where Toys Must Be Kosher
IN this toy store, Batman and Spider-Man are not heroes.
For one thing, said Barbara Shine, manager of Double Play Toys in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the characters encourage interest in television, and the Orthodox Jewish families who make up her clientele do not watch television. More important, those toys might also teach lessons Hasidic parents don’t want their children to learn.
Thomas the Tank Engine “is a kosher character,” she said, illustrating her store’s philosophy. “He’s not hitting and killing people. We don’t want kids to learn violence.”
Even if gift-giving is not central to Hasidic celebrations of Hanukkah, which begins Tuesday evening, toys are crucial year round. Families tend to have flocks of children, and mothers need ways to amuse them when the fathers are at synagogue or study hall and when the parents take their customary Sabbath naps. So Mrs. Shine, an effervescent mother of seven who is strictly Orthodox but does not follow any sect’s grand rabbi the way most Hasidim do, knows she has a ready market. And her business flourishes because she understands the neighborhood’s unwritten codes.
The store is not the kind of airy boutique that might be found in one of the city’s tonier neighborhoods. Its aisles are narrow and the shelves run floor to ceiling, crammed with all manner of toys and games so her customers — dark-suited men, and women in long skirts and wigs — can pick out what they need.
“You have something for an upsherin?” a bearded Hasidic customer asked on a recent Friday, inquiring about a gift appropriate for the celebration marking an Orthodox boy’s first haircut, usually on his third birthday.
Mrs. Shine steered him toward a tool set.
Little boys with coiling earlocks and girls in long sleeves do come in for toy figures like the Mitzvah Kinder or the magnetic building set Magna-Tiles, though school days that stretch to 5 p.m. limit their presence.
Hula-Hoop-like toys are a hot item, but Mrs. Shine keeps them tucked away because the packaging has pictures of scantily clad women. “We have a certain code of dress,” she explained. She said she had persuaded the manufacturer of the popular card game Perpetual Commotion to change the packaging because she considered the clothing immodest.
Double Play has been in business since 1994, when Mrs. Shine, now 42, founded it in her home to earn some income for her growing family. She is now on 14th Avenue. Mrs. Shine, who grew up in Minnesota — her mother went to a Zionist camp with Bob Dylan when he was still a Zimmerman — was not raised Orthodox, but she was deeply influenced by her Minneapolis yeshiva. She sold the store 11 years ago, but remained as the manager.
One customer, Alexander Rapaport, a father of six who is executive director of the Masbia Soup Kitchen Network, said the community had confidence in her judgment. “She is her own mashgiach,” he said, using the Yiddish word for a kosher inspector.
Mrs. Shine knows not to sell stuffed lions to a Lubavitch family because members of that movement do not want their children playing with animals not kosher to eat. She is very careful about stocking books because some themes may not sit well — like the “Chronicles of Narnia” series and its Christian symbolism.
On the other hand, she is not afraid to sell an Advent calendar that consists of intriguing small toys. Though the set literally counts down to Christmas, it does not trade in religious imagery or mention the holiday by name, only Advent. “And nobody in the neighborhood knows what Advent is,” she said.