It is early morning as Janet Afrah opens her Toco Hills store and prepares to greet customers. For 30 years she has begun each business day with her own special prayer: “Hashem, please help me guide the people who come into our store today. Allow me to imbue their lives with the meaning and comfort they seek so they can emerge inspired.”
Judaica Corner is more than a business. Judaica Corner has a mission.
Many years ago a middle-aged woman entered the shop. Several customers were milling about, and Afrah flitted from one to the other, trying to be of assistance.
“May I help you?” she asked the unfamiliar woman.
The woman shrugged and continued wandering through the store. After a few more moments, Afrah approached her again, sensing a need.
“Would you like a book?” she asked.
The woman lifted her tearstained face. “My mother passed away a short while ago,” she said, “and the nursing home just called to let me know. As I was driving over there, I noticed your store, and something pulled me to stop here first.”
She added: “I always knew we were Jewish, but we never observed anything. My mother sometimes spoke about the possibility of cremation. But I’m just wondering — what special rituals are done when a Jewish person dies?”
Afrah made eye contact with a prominent rabbi who was browsing a few feet away. Taking her cue, he edged closer.
“I know why you’re here,” Janet said, and she introduced the woman to the rabbi, who offered to accompany the woman to the nursing home and arranged a full Jewish burial.
Although this story happened many years old, it encapsulates the magic that regularly takes place at Judaica Corner, a little alcove where ordinary days become extraordinary.
Afrah and her mother, whom everyone calls Mrs. Naghi, never know who will walk through their doors or what baggage they carry. But they are committed to greeting every person, Jew and gentile, with warmth, caring and respect.
“Is your mother here?” customers often ask Afrah as they walk in. Mrs. Naghi’s geniality engenders sharing, and many confide in her about personal situations.
“Your prayers worked!” they declare when they come back, and she shares their exuberance as if it is her own.
In the pre-Uber days, someone called Afrah to ask whether she made deliveries.
“What do you have in mind?” she asked.
The caller explained that a relative who had gone through some hard times was coming to an Atlanta hotel for a convention. “I wondered if you could bring a cheer-up gift to the hotel for her.”
After some discussion, they settled on Tehillim (Psalms). Hopping into her mitzvah mobile, Afrah drove the half-hour distance and left the package at the front desk. The gift-giving cousin wanted to remain anonymous, and Afrah was glad to have a part in lifting the heart of a fellow Jew.
“Do you have the prayer Jewish people say after using the bathroom?” a customer once asked.
“Sure,” Afrah said, showing him laminated cards with the blessing and its translation.
“That prayer saved my life,” the man said. “I was in the hospital with metastasized cancer, and the doctors gave me two months — that was it. Then a friend brought me this prayer. I began saying it regularly, and to the doctors’ befuddlement, I outlived my prognosis. Months passed, and I went into remission. So now every time a friend of mine is sick, I bring along this prayer. It’s powerful stuff.”
Afrah shook her head as she rang up the sale. The man was a gentile, but giving thanks through prayer is universal.
With a click on Amazon, a sale is made, and a package is delivered. But the human touch is missing. Judaica Corner has served the Atlanta Jewish community for 30 years, opening its doors and making a difference.