The Night The Observer Almost Blew Up the Co-op

With world leaders taking sides in the debate over a boycott of Israeli products at the Park Slope Food Co-op,

Is that a bomb-sniffing dog? (wonderyyort/Flickr)

With world leaders taking sides in the debate over a boycott of Israeli products at the Park Slope Food Co-op, what do the members, those who are not leading the fight, think? Outside 782 Union  Street on Monday night, the signature green-and-red neon sign buzzing overhead, The Observer encountered the kind of zealous ambivalence and shoulder-shrugging apathy so often associated with Brownstone Brooklyn.

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“Why are they boycotting Israel? What about China? It’s stupid,” said Andrew Sepulveda. “You know, we’ve got these water bottles that say ‘Designed in America,’ but they’re made in China. And sometimes you open them up and there are little notes inside and it says, ‘Help me. They’ve got a gun to my head.’ What are we doing about that?”

Mr. Sepulveda, scraggly curls down to his chin, seemed to be joking, but the sentiment is real. He cares deeply about the co-op. Only moments before, while The Observer was on the phone with a pro-boycott organizer, Mr. Sepulveda had spirited our briefcase from under a bench where we had tucked it away, the better to do our reporting, and took it inside. He feared it was a bomb.

When Mr. Sepulveda brought it back outside, to the anxious arms of its rightful owner, he explained the situation, still slightly exasperated, then ventured back into the florescent-lit entryway. He could be heard declaring, “Don’t worry. False alarm. It was just some asshole.”

The Observer was surprised to hear that bomb threats are a legitimate problem on this busy brownstone stretch across from the Tea Lounge and Brooklyn Industries. “Oh yeah, all the time,” Mr. Sepulveda said. “A lot of people hate this place.”

Seated on the bench outside, which serves as a way station for walkers, those co-op members who return carts from members’ homes, as well as a hangout for wayward members, Mr. Sepulveda began explaining to Geoff Hockert, who was seated next to him, that the threat had only grown since the co-op had boycotted Israeli products. Overhearing this, The Observer interjected: No such boycott had taken place—yet. That is when Mr. Sepulveda told The Observer about the water bottles.

“And it’s not like I care about Israel,” he continued. “I’m not Jewish. I’m circumcised and I’m Catholic, but that’s it. Israel has a lot of problems, but so does China, so does America, so does a lot of the world. I don’t see why we’re singling out Israel.”

Mr. Hacket was also up on his Noam Chomsky, it appeared. “Europeans have been raping and pillaging forever, and it’s a big part of the history of this country,” he chimed in, rectangular glasses glinting from beneath a beige baseball cap. “Just look at what we did to the Native Americans. And to pick on Israel? It’s anti-Semitic.”

Mr. Sepulveda pointed out that the co-op carried Palestinian pickles, which had caused no problems. “Really, both sides are to blame,” Mr. Hacket said. Mr. Sepulveda agreed: “I’m sympathetic.  Look, let’s find companies that are socially responsible. Let’s publicize that and let people decided for themselves.

The Night The Observer Almost Blew Up the Co-op