by Daniella AdlerIssue of July 16, 2010/ 5 Av 5770The high cost of fish, a staple item during the Nine Days, when meat is customarily not eaten, could be enough to shut down a kosher soup kitchen on a tight budget. But the Masbia network - restaurants where the house always picks up the tab - is open for business thanks to a large donation by the Dagim Fish Company.
Dagim's Samuel Stefansky donated 2,500 portions, a $9,000 value, to the struggling soup kitchen, allowing it to continue operating, and continuing a tradition he began three years ago.
Masbia's founder and director, Alexander Rapaport, said the increased cost of serving fish instead of meat could have forced the soup kitchen to close until after Tisha B'Av. Potentially, the hundreds of people who depend on Masbia five days a week would have been left without food.
Three years ago, when Rapaport began planning to open a kosher soup kitchen, he contacted Stefansky for support. "You got me in a good mood today. I'll do it," Stefansky replied.
A few hours later Stefansky suffered a heart attack. Before losing consciousness he told his brothers, who work with him at Dagim, about the donation, and "told them to get the fish." They fulfilled the pledge, Rapaport said.
Masbia has quadrupled in size since then and Stefansky donates each year. This year, with three new locations and an increase from 150 to 500 meals per day, Dagim's gift for the Nine Days is even larger. It includes side dishes like knishes and fish sticks for children.
Masbia survives day to day and most of its support comes from private donations. To gather support, they send letters, write press releases, and, as Rapaport said, "people come and help us." But Stefansky, Rapaport said, stood apart, for he "really made a donation with a whole heart."