By Shira Hanau
When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that he would end the state’s 9-month-old mask mandate, the proprietors of Kosher Palate in Dallas decided they would adhere to his rules.
Customers would no longer be required to wear masks to shop, they wrote in a Facebook post March 4, two days after Abbott’s announcement. Staff members, however, would continue to wear masks while working.
Three days later, the proprietors revised their rules.
“Due to the constructive feedback we have received, Kosher Palate has decided to maintain the current policies of mask wearing through the Passover holiday,” the store wrote in a Facebook post Sunday.
The episode makes clear the high stakes of the latest phase of the coronavirus pandemic, as individuals and businesses return to their pre-pandemic behaviors, whether by dint of vaccinations, fatigue after a year of lockdowns or, as is the case in Texas, executive fiat. In the absence of state regulations, people like the owners of Kosher Palate are left to set their own policies — and in a place like Dallas, where political views span the full spectrum and masks have become a particularly partisan issue, all decisions have detractors.
“There’s three sides to the story,” Miriam Goldfeder, who co-owns the store with her husband, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We’re trying to be sensitive to the people who are ready to tear off their masks, at the same time try to be sensitive to the people who want to keep their masks on forever, and then there’s people in the middle who are not quite sure where they’re holding yet.”
For Kosher Palate, the Passover holiday starting this month added an unusual wrinkle to the mask decision: It’s the busiest time of year for the store, when many people who are not regular patrons might come to shop for special ingredients.
At the beginning of the pandemic, virtually all Dallas synagogues closed their doors. But as time went on, most Orthodox synagogues began holding services with safety precautions in place, as has been the case across the country. Few if any non-Orthodox synagogues in the city have resumed holding regular in-person activities.
During the leadup to Passover, Jews of all denominations make their way to Kosher Palate. Rabbi Ari Sunshine of Congregation Shearith Israel, a Conservative synagogue, was concerned about the many members of the community who would not feel comfortable shopping in the store for Passover if masks were not required.
“The folks who were concerned about health might not shop there during their busiest time of the year,” he said. “I thought it would actually put their business at risk.”
“When you have a good relationship, you pick up the phone and talk about it,” Sunshine said.
By the time he called, the rabbi said, the Goldfeders had already heard from enough people that they were ready to roll back the decision and require masks. Members of the community had been reaching out to the store through Facebook comments, messages and phone calls as soon as the decision to stop requiring masks was announced.