Cedarhurst, NY – After being expelled from a Brooklyn yeshiva when he was 14, Jonathan Greenstein attended public school, where the days ran shorter so the so-called “problem child” picked up a job at an antique store that kick started his passion for collecting Judaica (Jewish religious artifacts).
“Old ladies would bring in their antiques to the store and while the owner wasn’t Jewish, he knew they shouldn’t be melted down,” said Greenstein, now a Cedarhurst resident. “That was 28 years ago and while I’m not really a collector anymore, I still have all the stuff I collected as a kid.”
Greenstein opened a Judaica auction house in Cedarhurst, J. Greenstein & Co., in August and said the biggest challenge is weeding through the fakes and forgeries. He explained that his 28 years of experience handling Judaica helps him distinguish the genuine from the imitation and that in order to tell if a piece is real you need to pay attention to the aging of the silver, the inscriptions, general style, quality of silver and the company the piece came from.
Cedarhurst was chosen as the location for Greenstein’s auction house because he has lived in the Five Towns for the past 15 years and wanted to open a store dedicated to Judaica.
“There’s no place like it in America where you can but antique menorahs and candlesticks,” Greenstein said about his auction house. “I wanted to share my love and passion for Judaica with others and Cedarhurst is the appropriate neighborhood to do that in.”
Abe Kugielsky, who serves as the director of J. Greenstein & Co., said he got involved in Judaica through his father who was a Judaica dealer for 35 years. “Jon knew my father and when he decided to open his own store, I asked if he needed help,” Kugielsky said. “I found the history and art behind Judaica so interesting and working with Jon is great because he’s honest, straight like an arrow and the right person to work in this line with.”
J. Greenstein & Co. has a large presence on the Internet and Greenstein said their clientele is very diverse and that there are currently 800 people on their mailing list. Kugielsky said he is in charge of following up with the clients both through telephone and email, uploading pictures of new pieces the auction house receives on the company’s website, www.jgreenstein.com, and dealing with the various Judaica dealers.
“I’m quite busy,” Kugielsky said. “We have a very widespread clientele all over the world.”
Greenstein said the top item he recently sold was a Silver Ner Tamid (eternal lamp) to Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Mass. “The token item provides such continuity from generation to generation and we have actively been searching for something like this for three years,” said Harriet Warshaw, the immediate past president of the temple. “It is a perfect representation to add within the new contemporary temple we have built to link our history in Europe.”
Despite the fact that Greenstein was self-taught, he said if anyone is interested in Judaica they should start with important, resell able, authentic pieces and find a mentor. “Unfortunately 75 percent of Judaica pieces are fake,” he said. “So unless you know what you’re doing, you’ll get screwed.”