The front page New York Post photo by Pulitzer prize nominated photographer Helayne Seidman, says it all. On the right you see little Yisroel Mordowitz, head dwarfed by his big fur hat, being faced down by an angry mob of large, wildly gesticulating men of middle eastern appearance. Below them in all-caps and massive type-size, is the word “INTIFOODA!” The underlying article tells the sorry tale of the aforementioned Yisroel who wanted to sell kosher sausages and deli products from his duly licensed food cart but was thwarted at every turn. The New York Post described the situation as follows:
Yisroel Mordowitz insists he just wants to peacefully peddle sandwiches piled high with brisket or pastrami from his Holy Rollers cart in the lucrative Rockefeller Center area, 48th Street off Sixth Avenue … But a group of irate Egyptian competitors block the kosher vendor from setting up on the sidewalk, literally squatting on the curb or placing umbrellas and beverage cartons to cordon off the space … “This guy is hungry — hungry for money,” bellowed 48th Street Sabrett-slinger Mohamed Mossad, who along with nearly a dozen others successfully kept Mordowitz off the block. “I have a family, too!” … “Why doesn’t he go to 47th Street?” Mossad shouted, referring to the Hasidim-heavy Diamond District. “He’s just coming to this particular spot, and he wants to grab it from me — and kill me, actually. Kill my business.” … Escalating tensions so concerned Avram Wolpin, the mashgiach — or on-site supervisor who certifies food as kosher — that he feared a veritable falafel fatwa. He told Mordowitz he was worried he would “disappear.” … “I thought I could bring peace to Midtown,” lamented Mordowitz, 30, of Queens. “I’m not an enemy — I’m a friend.” … “This is not Palestine!” one vendor shouted, according to Mordowitz… The kosher vender said, “They’re trying to say that the Jews in Israel are pushing people out, so don’t do it here.” … Mordowitz said one rival even followed managing partner Yosef Salzbank around in a Jeep Cherokee, making sure he parked the cart far enough away… “I said, ‘Why are you terrorizing me?’?” Mordowitz recalled.
Falafel Fatwa! Intifooda! An Egyptian called “Mossad!” Palestine vs. Israel! Muslim vs. Jew! It’s a dramatic life and death struggle punctuated by bon mots and Nitrate infused deli-products. Is it indeed a struggle of civilizations played upon a canvas made up of processed meat products? Well… apparently not. According to Mordowitz’s Holly Rollers Facebook page:
While we appreciate the NY Post’s role in raising the level of awareness of this situation, we want to emphasize that our issue is with a specific group of cart owner’s. These particular cart owners have a history of using intimidation and bullying tactics to achieve their goals. This group does NOT represent all Halal cart’s, and definitely NOT all Muslim-owned cart’s in NYC. This has nothing to do with religious conflict, despite what was implied by the headline of today’s New York Post… To clarify, we are NOT making broad statements about food cart owner’s who serve Halal food or happen to be Muslim. This is simply a method used by a specific group of food cart’s to eliminate even the slight possibility of competition. (Despite the established fact, we aren’t competitors) … Most Cart owners offering Halal food are peaceful and kind people, they would never resort to such underhanded tactics. In the year’s I’ve worked in this business, I have formed very close relationship’s with many of these operators, I am proud and happy to call many of them my friend… The original location we setup our food cart, inciting this conflict, was vacated by an Outdoor Oven Cart six months ago. No one has the right to claim food cart locations according to New York City law. This kind of tactic cannot be tolerated regardless of who’s behind it, a specific race or religion, be it Jewish, Christian or Muslim, or any other faith. This is not about Jews & Muslims or Israel & Palestine, its about liberty, justice and the American dream which cannot be trampled on by intimidation and underhanded tactics.
Mordowitz provided further clarification in an interview with the Observer where he stated emphatically that “What occurred before had nothing to do with Israel or Palestine, or Jews and Muslims.” It’s all about providing kosher options for folks in midtown Manhattan where few currently exist apparently. Now can we all sit around a campfire, roast some kosher wienies and sing kumbayah?