Brooklyn Street Fair Oversight Coincides with Erev Rosh Hashanah

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An unusual religious controversy has surfaced in Brooklyn ahead of Rosh Hashanah.

Jewish families shopping for holiday provisions near Atlantic Avenue on Sunday will have to contend with Brooklyn’s largest annual street fair.

The Atlantic Antic Festival is scheduled for the day of September 29th, which coincides with the first night of Rosh Hashanah. Though the festival does not occur at the same time as the holiday, which begins at sundown, the overlap during the day poses a problem because of road closures and increased foot traffic, making it difficult for families to run their last-minute errands before the two-day holiday begins.

Peter Shelsky, who is Jewish, noticed the scheduling conflict when he was taking orders at his Court Street deli, Shelsky’s of Brooklyn, last Wednesday. A regular customer remarked that the 45th annual Atlantic Antic festival would be on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Shelsky brought the issue to the attention of Brooklyn residents when he posted about the conflict in a Facebook group for Park Slope parents. He created a Change.org petition to change the date of Atlantic Antic.

Shelsky’s Facebook post drew dozens of comments, and raised questions of discrimination and general negligence. He and others in the thread likened the conflict to scheduling Atlantic Antic for the afternoon of Christmas Eve. “This wouldn’t have happened if this was some other group,” Shelsky says. “It wouldn’t have been the oversight that it was.”

Shelsky clarifies that he does not consider this an issue of anti-Semitism, rather a logistical mistake. He notes that, in general, people in this neighborhood are “pretty sensitive” and “very progressive”.

“I think it was a very innocent mistake,” he says. However, he adds, “it was discriminatory, whether it was intended or not.”

The Board of Directors of the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation (AALDC) released a statement on Twitter, apologizing for the inconvenience. “We thought that we would have enough time to open the streets for those observing locally to freely travel to services, and/or to visit friends and family,” the statement reads. “What we did not take into account are the significant food sales that will be occurring during that Sunday.”

Atlantic Antic will stretch ten blocks on Atlantic Avenue from Hicks Street near the Brooklyn Bridge Park at Pier 6 all the way to 5th Avenue and Barclays Center. Tammy Ben-Eliezer-Baxter, the director of AALDC, says they expect about 400 vendors and hundreds of thousands of visitors throughout the day. At any one given hour, she says, they can expect around 40,000 visitors.

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Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable, just a block away from Shelsky’s, has also been affected by the huge crowds and road closures during Atlantic Antic in the past. “Business does slow down a little bit, like for basic fruits and vegetables, just cause people can’t get to the store — there’s no parking,” says Kieran Varas, who works at Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable. “We just sell a lot of beverages that weekend.”

The AALDC is not able to change the date due to permit restrictions, but after receiving phone calls from concerned residents, they did make concessions for local businesses and customers by allowing cars to cross Atlantic Avenue on Court Street until 11 am that day, and adding ten parking spaces for customers that need to make last-minute purchases.

“I certainly do appreciate the concessions they tried to make, but none of that makes up for the fact that this is a big issue for the businesses in the neighborhood,” says Shelsky. Mr. Varas disagrees: “It’s [a] good advertisement for the neighborhood.”

Despite the challenges, Mr. Shelsky will be making the most of the day. His shop will be open from 8am to 5pm on Sunday. “But come 5pm I’m gonna be sitting down having dinner with my family,” he says.

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