Military food rations generally don’t include kugel and matza balls, but when a group of uniformed U.S. Army and Israeli soldiers came in for an early dinner last week at Gottlieb’s Restaurant in Williamsburg (Satmar-owned for three generations) that’s exactly what they got. Gottlieb’s is a neighborhood fixture, known for their heimishe cuisine and popular for Shabbos take-out. Celebrities and politicians have come by over the years, as well as police commissioners, local law enforcement and even former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who enjoyed cholent and knishes with her Secret Service detail.
Restaurant proprietor Menachem Gottleib, a Satmar Hasid, explained, “They came in and sat down to eat like any other customers. They ate goulash and grilled chicken. Good old heimishe stuff.” But the restaurant and street outside were teeming with Orthodox Jews who were fascinated and proud. “People went up to shake their hands. Someone offered to bring them a bottle of wine. Everyone was taking pictures with them and sending out their photos.”
But that didn’t demonstrate the level of respect and gratitude that was being felt by people in the neighborhood. “A chasidishe guy from Boro Park came in and came over to the waiter and took out his credit card and paid that table’s bill. When it was time for the soldiers to ask for the check, the waiter came over to them and told them it was already taken care of by a generous customer.” The soldiers protested that it wasn’t necessary, that they wanted to pay, but it was already done. “They took out the amount of money that the bill would have cost, about $50 or $60, and divided it between the different pushkas on the counter for local tzedakas.”