WSJ: From the Heart: Fish for City’s Kosher Soup Kitchen

Posted on: July 12, 2010

By: Melanie Grayce West

This filet has soul.

The Stefansky family, owner of Brooklyn kosher fish company Dagim, is donating 2,500 portions of tilapia, flounder, salmon and tuna to the city’s only kosher soup kitchen. The donation arrives on time for the “Nine Days,” a mourning period that began Sunday evening and ends with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av.

Fish can be expensive, especially for a soup kitchen that relies primarily on private donations to serve about 450 kosher meals a night, says Alexander Rapaport, director of Masbia, the soup kitchen.

Masbia opened in 2005, and has grown to four locations throughout Brooklyn and Queens. Masbia receives most of its funding from private donations and what Mr. Rapaport calls “kosher pork,” or member items from city officials as Chistine Quinn, Dov Hikind, and David Greenfield.

Mr. Rapaport said, “there isn’t a day when we don’t feed women and children, mothers with strollers.” According to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, almost 250,000 Jews in New York live in households with incomes 150% under the Federal Poverty Guideline, or about $33,075 for a family of four.

He recently met a woman who makes just enough to be ineligible for food-assistance programs. “She’s single, goes to sleep without eating, has medical woes,” Mr. Rapaport said. “She said: ‘It was the first time in six months I had a hot meal.'” Dagim began donating fish for this period three years ago, when Mr. Rapaport sent Samuel Stefansky a text message asking for support.

“He says, you know what, you got me in a good mood today, you got it,” Mr. Rapaport recalls. A few hours later, he learned that Samuel had suffered a heart attack. “My first oh boy was about his health,” he said. “Next, it was oh boy, the fish!”

But after the first call came another, this time from Stefansky brothers Abe and Steve. One of the last things Samuel had said before losing consciousness was an imperative to make the fish donation. While Samuel was in the hospital, his brothers took 700 portions of fish to the Masbia.

“I was unconscious for four weeks,” Samuel said. “That’s one of the things that probably saved me, that God saw that I donated.”

After recovery, he donated money and gefilte fish for Rosh Hashana. Samuel, along with father Isaac and his brothers, have been donating from that point. Since then, though, Masbia grew, with demand ballooning. The growth prompted this year’s gift, Dagim’s largest ever, estimated at a value of $8,000 to $9,000.

“The soup kitchen reached our hearts, and something was telling me to give,” Samuel said.

Samuel Stefansky

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