Helen Chernikoff at The Jewish Week has tracked down a truly inspiring story in the Jewish food world. She writes about Ernie Fleischman, who at 93 is believed to be the oldest working kosher butcher in New York.
Fleischman was born in Germany in 1919 or 1920. He planned on becoming an engineer–but the Nazis closed the schools to Jews in the 1930’s.
Fleischman was sent by his family to New York in 1937 to seek more opportunities; he would eventually lose everyone who stayed behind in the Holocaust.
Alone in New York, Fleischman persevered during the Depression by becoming a butcher. For decades, he thrived on the waves of Jewish immigrants and huge, observant communities in Manhattan and the Bronx.
“At that time when I went into the business, there were thousands of butcher shops here in the city,” Fleischman told the JW. “Butcher shops and kosher delis used to be on almost every block.”
At the time, Manhattan’s Meatpacking District was actually aptly named (now it is home to lofts and clubs). But today, most meat, even kosher meat, is slaughtered in the Midwest and shipped in.
Fleischman married a fellow German Jewish refuge in 1948. The article says they settled in “the now-famous community of German Holocaust survivors in Washington Heights.” This probably refers to Hudson Heights, a section of the West 180s that had so many German refugees in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, that it was known as “Frankfurt-on-Hudson.”
The article notes the couple has three children, 17 grandchildren, and 50 great-grandchildren.
Fleischman had his own shops for almost four decades. But demographic changes and gentrification forced him out in 2000. He called kosher butcher shop Fisher Brothers & Leslie on the Upper West Side, and they hired him part-time.
The head of the store says even though Fleischman has “slowed down just a bit,” he’s the “go-to guy” when something is needed “done just right.”