Brooklyn, NY – Boruch Kievman still can’t believe the media storm that has descended on him since rumors hatched that the legendary late Lubavitcher rebbe used to shop at the legendary, nameless shoe store Kievman manages in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood.
Today he stood at the entrance to the store, a sheepish smile across his face, and denied he was responsible for spreading the story that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson frequented the shop, which is closing after over 80 years.
Kievman, 65, is a former Israeli, and along with his wife has been running the shop for 23 years. He says its clientele represents the area in which it is situated.
“Our clients are Lubavitch Hasidim and black people,” he says.
The store’s address has also won it a certain reputation. It sits just across the street from 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad’s world headquarters, where the rebbe himself presided, from 1950 until his death in 1994.
Kievman and his wife recently decided to retire from the shoe business, and held a clearance sale for all the remaining items in the store.
At the peak of the sale, one of the Chabad Web sites published an announcement claiming that the rebbe himself was wont to shop at the store.
“The rebbe never came to my store, and whoever spread that rumor didn’t hear it from me,” Kievman says. “Only one who doesn’t understand the greatness and sanctity of the rebbe, and isn’t familiar with his modest, ascetic way of life would believe a story about him coming to buy himself shoes.”
The affair raised a firestorm in the neighborhood. Some, however, have to view it as reflective of the community’s abiding yearning for the late rebbe.
One stream of Chabad faithful views the rebbe as the Messiah himself, and continues to anticipate his imminent return.
“The month of Elul raises an air of longing for the presence of the rebbe, who at this time of year was at the peak of his spiritual activity,” said an elderly Hasid emerging from morning prayer at a neighborhood synagogue.
“What may have happened,” Kievman responds, “is that one of the rebbe’s secretaries visited the store and bought a pair of shoes intended for the rebbe.”
But even that version is not acceptable to Kievman. “The most comfortable shoe is an old shoe,” he says.
A Chabad representative who was close to the rebbe said today, “For 30 years, the rebbe wore old shoes with soles full of holes. Only at age 87, two years before he fell ill, was he bought new shoes.”
Meanwhile, sales at the shop have reached the heavens.
But Kievman says the rush has nothing to do with the rebbe, and everything to do with clearance prices.