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Excerpts from "The A-1 Skullcap Company


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Excerpts from "The A-1 Skullcap Company"
By David Druce

Irving Kovner was truly the king of kippot, the sultan of skullcaps, the yeoman of yarmulkot and the benefactor of beanies. As the fading sign in front of his factory boasted, his business, the 'A-1 Skull Cap Company,' possessed or produced the largest stock of skullcaps in North America, if not the Western Hemisphere. Fashions, rituals, religions and cultures jostled for attention in the brick walls of his factory shadowed by the Brooklyn Bridge. Records showed that Irv could have given a free kippah to every Jewish male in the United States, if he had the inclination to such philanthropy. But the A-1 Skullcap Company was a business, not a charity, and was powered by a crack squad of El Salvadorian tailors, who could stitch, sew the logos of any professional sports team, or any personalized gear. All Juan or Carlos needed was twenty-four hours and a picture, and they could replicate any image in painstaking detail. As for those who wanted their caps without design, Irv had leather kippot in every color and size. He had knit srugot, hearty and rich in color as an Israeli salad bar, kippot from Buchara, Yemen, Uganda, in faux fur, and camouflage. For the amateur, he palmed off unwieldy felt ones that accumulated lint and could not fit on the head at any angle, and for the pampered elementary school students dressed by their mothers, he had a set to match any of their outfits...

Irv took a breath, and fiddled with his baseball hat. The Yankees were two games away from clinching the pennant, and he hated when potential costumers would ask him which kippah he recommend as the best one, then asking which one he wore. Outside, a fire hydrant had been smashed in, so that the local children could cool off from the August heat. Kovner thought about visiting synagogue this week. While all of his business methods may not have been in the spirit of the Shulchan Aruch, it can't be denied that he was a good marketer, waiting until after services to hand out candy. "Tell me, what would make a good kippah?" he said, and the children answered, "The Army! Hot Dogs! Sponge Bob!" Irv genially gave each child a fruit chew, and the children soon ran away. If only there had been a fad for 'thinking caps,' Irv mused. If New Yorkers were willing to buy burnt knishes sold by Pakistanis, why wouldn't they buy kippot as souvenirs? Jews are smart, right? He mused, and people also wear crosses for decoration, he thought. At least a kippah can keep you warm.

If there had been a kosher deli in San Salvador, Irv would have moved there long ago. There people would thank him for a job, instead of trying to con him out of his property, or dropping by for their protection money. Once that unpleasant necessity consisted of a donation to the local synagogue in memory of a gangster's mother, or a wad of twenties given to Officer McNamara at Christmas time. Today, the Triads and Russians had little use for, and no sensitivity for religious goods. They didn't even pretend to win his confidence, instead sending glowering henchmen to collect their due. As property values began to rise again, real estate agents dropped by with ideas of turning the factory into a Gothic nightclub or studio apartments. A realtor, who had suggesting turning the building into a kosher-style deli called 'Sammy Skullcaps,' was laughed out of the building. Once, his friends had laughed at him when he chose to work in the family business, rather than becoming a furrier like his brother. But who had the last laugh as kippot could be seen on Wall Street, the Little League World Series, on TV? Who would have guessed that instead of accepting a mink as an heirloom, little granddaughter Aviva would have said 'fur is murder,' and spurned the family collection?

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