A grandmother from Roswell came into Judaica Corner, where I work part time, with her son and two grandchildren on a recent Monday.
“Can we see the menorahs?” she asked.
I showed them children’s menorahs in the shape of fire engines, trains, cupcakes, toe shoes, wrapped presents, Noah’s Ark and others, including some with sports themes.
“You have the best selection,” the grandmother said.
The children looked starry-eyed. I thought I showed them too many, but they knew what they wanted.
The boy chose a Maccabees airport menorah, and the girl chose the one with wrapped presents. They added colorful candles and singing dreidels to the grandmother’s purchase.
Judaica Corner, celebrating its 29th anniversary, is owned by Janet and Bijan Afrah. Janet started the business for her late father to replace the gift shop he lost when he left Iran.
Because of his language barrier, which did not hurt his ability to communicate warmth toward customers, Janet worked with him. Eventually, her husband, mother and other members of the family joined her.
Today, Judaica Corner remains open at 2185 Briarcliff Road in Toco Hills despite competition from the Internet.
I agree. In the summer of 1994, after I took a leave of absence from teaching at Torah Day School, I started full time at Judaica Corner. I didn’t think that anything could be as rewarding as teaching in a day school, but this store is like a magnet that pulls at my heartstrings.
I’ve seen a match made here, a mother’s eyes light up as her child puts on a tallit for the first time, an anonymous doctor pay for a stranger to have a kosher mezuzah scroll and an engaged couple choose a promising ketubah.
“You can get everything online today,” Janet said, “but no computer can replace the human touch.”
My experiences here have touched my life. One day, a bride asked whether I would show her how to bring Shabbat into her home. I helped her choose candlesticks, a challah cover and a Kiddush cup.
A proud father was looking for a bris pillow cover. A woman sought a gift for her niece’s bat mitzvah celebration. Someone needed a book to uplift a friend who was ill. A prospective convert asked for books from a list given to him by his rabbi; I noted the titles for my own growth.
Often, we’re the place newcomers come to ask where to find kosher restaurants, synagogues, Jewish family services and other Jewish connections.
Recently, a man approached Janet and said that he wasn’t Jewish, but his father-in-law, who had just died, was. “He didn’t practice Judaism while he was alive,” the man said, “but now that he’s gone, I know that he would want a proper Jewish burial.”
Another non-Jewish customer asked me for the Bible, saying, “I want the real thing.”
Customers searching for the real thing, Jewish or not, show respect for Judaism and a need to connect to enhance their lives and those around them.
The same day that the grandmother came into the store looking for menorahs, a young mother walked in with her 4-year-old sucking on a lollipop.
“It smells so good in here,” she said. “Is it the metal of the menorahs? The candles?”
Behind the counter, Mrs. Naghi, as everyone affectionately calls Janet’s mother, answered, “It’s the neshamas (souls) of the people who come here.”
Connecting to precious souls in search of Jewish heritage may be why the Afrahs keep Judaica Corner open and why I keep coming back to be inspired.
Nearly 30 Years Without a Strike
When I first went to work at Judaica Corner, Janet Afrah handed me a tablet and told me to think up ads for the merchandise.
I had never written an ad, but I sat on a stool behind the cash register and looked around at the myriad of Judaica: challah boards, seder plates, Kiddush cups, mezuzahs, candlesticks, kippahs, jewelry.
I went from one corner of the store to another, making up slogans for each item. It was a great way to learn the merchandise.
My first slogan, “Sit Under the Stars in Style,” advertising Sukkot decorations, appeared a few months later in the Atlanta Jewish Times. It was exciting.
In an ad in November, when the Marcus Jewish Community Center holds its Book Festival, I reminded everyone that Atlanta had a great place to find Jewish books after the festival.
But before Chanukah, I still didn’t have an ad when the account executive from the AJT walked into the store. She picked up a porcelain menorah depicting baseball players — one of the first sports menorahs on the market.
At that time in 1994, to the anguish of baseball fans, the Braves were on strike. “Why don’t you feature this menorah and write ‘We’re Not on Strike!’?” the rep suggested.
That was 22 years ago. Today, we have many more menorahs.
A well-dressed couple, in Atlanta for a convention, came into the store recently to buy gifts to take home to their children. They bought Chanukah coloring books.
Before they left, the man said, “You have a larger selection of menorahs than we have in New York.”
Besides menorahs, candles and prepared oil, which burns longer and brighter than candles, Judaica Corner has books and gifts to celebrate being Jewish year-round.