By Judie Jacobson
WEST HARTFORD – In 1988, Rivka Dvorin bought a hole-in-the-wall shop wedged tightly between two other shops on South Whitney St. in Hartford.
Her first order of business: Change the shop’s name from The Israel Gift Shop to The Judaica Store. Her second order of business: transform it into a mainstay of Jewish life in the greater Hartford area and beyond. A place where lovers of all things Jewish could find any and all of the articles indispensable to a Jewish home.
Seven years later, Dvorin moved the shop to Bishop’s Corner in West Hartford, relocating to a space three times the size of the old one, with better access to parking and a more central customer base.
“I came to the heart of the Jewish community, rather than being out there,” Dvorin told the Ledger in 2013, on the occasion of The Judaica Store’s 25th anniversary. “People had moved out of there already, so I moved it to be with the community.”
Now, 31 years after The Judaica Store first opened its doors, and 24 years after it decamped to Bishop’s Corner, Dvorin is retiring. And, after valiant attempts to sell the store proved fruitless, she has made the painful decision to shut the shop’s door for good.
“It’s sad, I’m not going to say it’s not, but it’s bittersweet,” Dvorin recently told We-Ha.com, explaining that her recent move from West Hartford to Avon, as well as her desire to spend more time with the man she plans to marry this summer, helped to influence her decision.
Dvorin, 68, grew up in Israel but has been a part of Hartford’s Jewish community for 46 years. Before buying the store, she taught Hebrew for a decade and a half at local synagogues and day schools.
“My father all the time was encouraging me, ‘You’re a business woman, what are you doing being a teacher?’” she told the Ledger in 2013 . “I was very happy being a teacher… but it was the right time, the right place. Everything fell into place the right way.”
The Judaica Store, with its trove of symbolism, allowed Dvorin to continue teaching, and she never passed up an opportunity to educate her self-selected – and usually well-past-school-age – pupils.
“Sometimes people come in and they start questioning,” she said. “And I feel like I’m a teacher again. I love it. I teach them whatever they want to learn about Judaism. I still have that teacher in me.”
Marla Cohen is Dvorin’s sidekick in education. A native of the Hartford area, Cohen, 67, has worked at The Judaica Store for about 25 years. A self-described “bookaholic,” Cohen has overseen the store’s extensive inventory of books – everything from children’s books to kosher cookbooks to religious texts – but she also co-manages the entire shop.
Dvorin has referred to Cohen as her “right hand.” Together, the two women helped The Judaica Store thrive. Cohen boasts that people travel from all across Connecticut to shop there.
Although she is closing up shop, Dvorin has a right to celebrate The Judaica Store’s long-time success: The store has endured for a quarter-century, through all kinds of demographic evolution and economic peaks and valleys. Thriving for 31 years was no easy feat.
“It gives me a sense of accomplishment,” she told the Ledger. “I truly, truly love my store. I love the customers. I enjoy them, and when I open the doors and people are coming in, I feel like friends are coming in to visit me.”
The Judaica Store will close at the end of May. Until then, the store will feature discounts ranging from 20-25 percent off to 50 percent off, which will be adjusted as the sale progresses.
CAP: Rivka Dvorin