A hateful image excavated from the annals of an unfortunate history has found its way on a package of sunflower seeds, of all places.
And the ‘seeds of hate’ were being sold right here in Brooklyn.
On Nov. 21, attorney Jeffrey Meyers got the shock of his shopping life after an otherwise uneventful trip to Net Cost Market, an import food shop located near the Department of Motor Vehicles on West 8th Street.
With a purchase of over $50, the store often gives away a free item. When Meyers returned home, he took a close look at the freebie, which while inside the shop, he assumed was simply an innocuous bag of sunflower seeds.
The package appears to be from another age.
It depicts a bearded, hunched over man with a skullcap, hands clasped, beady eyes, and an oversized nose–the classic, hateful stereotype of a Jew.
Cyrillic letters on one side of the caricature, reminiscent of Shylock from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” reads “Shalom, from Israel,” while the other side uses a slang phrase roughly translated to mean, “spit them out everywhere.”
Meyers, who is Jewish and whose father fought in World War II, was flabbergasted.
“My blood was boiling,” the lawyer recalled.
“The fact that this could happen in America is shocking–but if this could happen in Brooklyn, what is the rest of the world like?” he wondered.
He said the image on the sack of seeds is “99 percent similar to a propaganda image in Nazi Germany.”
Meyers said he contacted Borough Park Assemblymember Dov Hikind, hoping to somehow rid the stores of this brand of seeds.
“It hearkens to the stuff put out by Goebbels,” said Hikind, referring to Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda.
The Borough Park lawmaker said it was “beyond comprehension” how the packaging could have gone unnoticed.
Contacted by this newspaper, Edward Shnayder, whose father Sam started the business ten years ago, said he knew nothing of the seeds or the image on their packaging.
“I’m a Jew myself,” Shnayder said. “This is the first time I’m hearing of it,” he said last Wednesday.
“Eighty five percent of my customers are Jews,” he continued.
Shnayder, 36, said he is familiar with the sharp sting of anti-Semitism.
His grandparents fled the Nazi war machine in Eastern Europe during World War II, winding up in the southern portion of Russia. Shnayder, born in Uzbekistan, ultimate fled that country, also for “religious reasons.”
Shortly after called by this paper, he vowed to remove the seeds from all the stores.
“If it’s so offensive, we will remove them,” he said.
The seeds are produced in the former Soviet Union by a company called Kremlin Kitchen.
Net Cost Market has four locations in Brooklyn, one on Staten Island, and one in Philadelphia. The company promotes itself as the Costco of the ethnic Eastern European market, offering a wide range of imported delicacies.
To have four different stores in Brooklyn selling this…” Hikind said. “Are they sick? Are they out of their freaking minds? Are they blind? How insensitive can you be?” he asked.
Initially, Hikind, along with City Comptroller William Thompson planned a press conference in front of Net Cost Food’s Sheepshead Bay Road location.
The event was scuttled when Shnayder agreed to remove the seeds, according to information relayed to Hikind’s office by Assemblymember Steve Cymbrowitz.
Cymbrowitz said he knows Shnayder to be “a good guy who works hard to make a living.” Cymbrowitz said Shnayder told him that he only heard about the seeds after the conversation with this newspaper.
Cymbrowitz, who is also Jewish, said Shnayder told him he has thousands of products in his stores, and can’t keep track of all of them. “He asked me, ‘Do you find it offensive?’” Cymbrowitz said. “I said, ‘yes.’”
“He said, ‘Then I am taking it off the shelf,’” Cymbrowitz recalled.
He noted that neither Hikind, nor anyone from Hikind’s office, called Shnayder or Net Cost to request the seeds be removed from the store.
“I think that before you protest, more should have put into it. They simply should have made a phone call and told the owner that they find it offensive.”
Hikind said that while he is pleased the seeds were removed from store shelves, he remains angry.
“How could this have happened in Brooklyn?” he wondered.
Meanwhile, Meyers said he was grateful to Hikind for taking swift action. “You want to stop something like this on the grassroots level,” the lawyer said.
Meyers said he hopes his involvement teaches his son, 11-year-old Thomas, that action is better than inaction, “that you can’t live your life based on fear.”
“I did what any Jewish American would do,” he stated.