In spite of their initial shock and unfavorable first impression, Sam and Fannie had discovered that the life in Canada wasn’t all that bad. During the course of the next three years, the family accomplished a lot. Sam was working as a butcher in a busy store, while Fannie had finished two years of college, obtained a Canadian diploma and landed a good job in a bank. Janna was attending a private Jewish school.
Sam was working long hours, even double shifts, in order to save some money and to allow Fannie to complete her education. After they celebrated their third anniversary in Canada, the family was ready for a big move: they had enough money for a down payment on their own home. Definitely not for a Forest Hill mansion, but they started to look at the semi-detached houses in their area.
Sam had been working so hard and concentrating on day-to-day tasks so much that he had not perceived that his beloved Fannie had become very unhappy. Fannie realized that in Canada, the occupation as a butcher was not the lucrative and prestigious career as it was back home. Butchers in Canada were living on a basic salary with no opportunity to make additional money on the side; the salary was very modest and there were only so many hours in a day that Sam could work. It meant that their own semi-detached house was not an upward stepping-stone, but at best a final destination… a Forest Hill residence, luxury resorts and nice cars were fantasies that seemed out of Fannie’s reach forever.
She thought of the initial non-verbal reaction of her co-workers when she’d told them that her husband was a butcher. How could such a beautiful, intelligent woman be stuck with a butcher? their askance looks were conveying.
And that’s how Fannie felt: stuck.
One evening, Sam’s colleague, Igor, came for a visit with his wife, Olga.
Igor had an intriguing business proposition. “Sam, there’s a kosher meat store for sale. It’s a thirty-year-old business with a well-established clientele. The owner wants to retire. It’s located in the midst of the Jewish area and there’s no other kosher store in the neighborhood. This store is a virtual license to print money. Let’s buy it fifty-fifty!”
Sam wasn’t as enthused as his friend, to say the least. “Igor, that’s a horrible idea! What do we know about the business side of our trade? Our boss is not exactly forthcoming about business matters. More importantly, what do we know about the rules of kosher butchering? We’re not religious people at all; we don’t keep kosher at home. Olga isn’t even a Jew. Let’s just forget about it.”
But Fannie was already envisioning herself informing friends and co-workers, “My husband is a businessman… we own our own store.”
And of course, the thought of having a proverbial license to print money was very appealing!
“Sam, Igor is right. You’ll learn. And besides, Olga won’t be running the store – you and Igor would be doing that.”
For the first time in their eight years of marriage, Sam dared to contradict Fannie. But that night he was asked to sleep on the couch and in the morning Fannie was crying. Sam just couldn’t bear to see his Queen Fannie so unhappy and so he reluctantly agreed.
Fannie went with the men to inspect the store and to participate in negotiating the purchase. She insisted that Igor and Sam should be permitted to work in the store on a part-time basis for a month so they could become familiar with its operation and the clientele before the closing date, and also that the owner remain with them for at least a couple of weeks after the closing date. “It’ll give you plenty of time to learn the business and all the rules,” she said to Sam.
“You’ll have to receive permission to run the business from the Jewish Congress. And you have to hire a mashgiach to supervise. The mashgiach that was associated with my store for many years is ready to retire now too. But don’t worry, the Congress will find a replacement for you,” the owner explained to Igor and Sam.
The friends weren’t too sure what the capacity of a mashgiach was, but Igor responded bravely, “Well, we’ll do whatever we have to do,” and the deal was struck.
The Congress requested the wives to attend a meeting together with their husbands. The Rabbis wanted to be certain that the store was going to be run by devoted religious people and in strict accordance with all the laws of kashrut. For the next month, the two couples were busily studying. The men studied together with the old butcher while the ladies studied Jewish reference texts at home.
Finally, the appointed day for the meeting with the Rabbis arrived. Fannie prepared quite meticulously for this meeting. She put on a long skirt and a long-sleeved, conservatively-styled blouse; she applied very little make-up and wore no jewelry other than her wedding ring.
But when Igor and Olga arrived at Fannie and Sam’s apartment in advance of the meeting, Fannie took one look at Olga and was stunned beyond words, while Sam burst into a gale of laughter for a few moments until he regained his composure. Olga was a stout, well-endowed, blue-eyed blonde. She had always considered that her best physical attribute was her ample breasts, and she liked to wear several heavy gold chains around her neck and low-cut dresses which together accentuated her eye-catching figure.
But on the day of the appointed meeting with the Rabbis, she had really outdone herself! She was wearing her customary multiple, heavy gold chains on her neck, the longest of which held a large, golden cross which hung directly centered over her blatantly exposed cleavage.
“Are you sure that it’s wise to be dressed like that today?” Sam asked hesitantly, as if searching for the right words after regaining his composure.
“I’m a Christian woman and I’m proud of it. I have no intention to hide that fact!” Olga retorted assertively. Igor glared at his wife with a look full of despair and utter trepidation. As far as he knew, Olga had never been on the inside of a church and had not even expressed the desire to visit one, never mind attend a service. Why today, of all days, did Olga decide to remember the religion of her ancestors? It was quite beyond Igor’s understanding.
“Olga,” Fannie intervened with a stern voice, “do you want this business or not? Nobody is against your religion but you simply cannot go to the meeting with the Jewish Congress dressed like that.”
Fannie retrieved a large scarf and draped it about Olga’s neck in such a fashion that it discretely covered the gold chain-lengths, the Christian cross and the low-cut ‘V’ of Olga’s dress.
The ensuing meeting went surprisingly well. The only hitch arose when the rookie businessmen were advised of the prescribed salary of a supervising mashgiach. Olga let out an involuntary gasp that might have materialized into an objection, but Fannie discreetly stepped firmly on her foot. Olga understood that she had no choice but to keep her objection to herself.
“Here’s your new mashgiach,” the lead spokesman of the Congress announced and the gathering was introduced to a young man. “His responsibility is to supervise and to make certain that all the butchering is performed within the prescribed laws of kashrut. The store has two different keys. You have one and the mashgiach has the other. You cannot be in the store at any time when the mashgiach is not present. You’ll open the door with your keys together, and close the store in the same manner.”
After the meeting adjourned, Olga remained visibly upset and muttered, “This extra salary will eat up most of our profits.”
Sam was ready to immediately give up on the whole venture, but Fannie and Igor remained optimistic. “Look at the current owner and look at his house. There’s obviously plenty of money to be made in this business.”