Lifelong friends Guenoun-Tangir and Karina Saias- Chocron work together to make the Community Closet a reality that helps those in need.
By Jen Karetnick
The early September advent of a New Jersey school year, coupled with the holidays, meant both pleasant and uncomfortable tasks were at hand for my sister and me. It was the time for new clothes, but to make room for them, every August we had to go through our closets to get rid of items that no longer fit. That meant, before the pleasure of shopping in cool department stores for the trends of the upcoming season, we had to spend hours in our bedroom—where air conditioning, like separate bedrooms, was pure fantasy—and pull on and off corduroy pants, woolen sweaters and the occasional winter coat. At the end of a very sweaty session, we always had a large pile of clothing (minus the unfashionable, sisterly hand-me-downs that I was forced to keep), for the Nearly New, the Jewish-run secondhand shop where my grandmother, Mindell, donated our gently used threads as well as her free time.
These lessons of thrift, tzedakah and sisterhood are taught to Jewish girls all over the world. But Dana Tangir and Karina Chocron, founders of the year-old Community Closet, a.k.a. The Closet, a used clothing boutique next door to Skylake Synagogue, seemed to have learned that lesson better than others. Friends “since the crib,” the women agree, the two were born one day apart and grew up together. Both of their families emigrated from Tangiers, Morocco, to Caracas, Venezuela. After coincidentally marrying men from the same town (their husbands are also Morrocan- Venezuelans), they both wound up in Miami in 2004—Tangir from Connecticut and Chocron from Caracas. It seemed destined that the two lifelong friends—more like sisters, indeed, who benefitted from their own good fortune and serendipity—would go into the business of charitable works.
As it turns out, however, The Closet was born from tragedy. A fire engulfed the house of Rabbi and Hindy Rosenberg, who have eight children. The congregation members took up a collection for the family, and were so generous that there were plenty of good-quality clothes left over. “She thought that this good community would be willing to help others, not just her,” Tangir says. “Not just the known families, like the rabbi’s family, but the unknown.” Rosenberg was correct. Not only did Tangir and Chocron immediately spearhead the project, finding space in a decrepit house next door to the temple that had previously been occupied by a young rabbi, but they even corralled 45 volunteers. Among them, they note, Davideen Werren and Agi Sapir rose to the occasion. Sapir was especially instrumental, Chocron says. “She had retail experience, and she brought a carpenter. The house was in terrible shape. She knew what it needed.”
Those needs included a new floor, a small dressing room and long display racks for the clothing. Today, what used to be a bedroom houses the collection of children’s goods—everything from play clothes to suits—and the former kitchen is an intake area, where volunteers, who work two-hour shifts on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays (The Closet is also open by appointment), sort through bagfuls of donations. “We won’t take anything that is dirty, stained or ripped,” Tangir says. “We want to maintain high quality. We are very picky.”
Selective they are, but expensive, hardly. Items range on sale from $1-5. Word of The Closet, which doesn’t look like a retail location from its humble, house-like exterior, has quickly spread among the Jewish community. “We just had a rabbi from New York visit. He was looking for wedding clothes,” Chocron explains. While The Closet does carry nice dresses and menswear—the days before the Jewish Holidays are the ladies’ busiest time, when mothers are trying to outfit their families for shul—the site doesn’t have room for wedding gowns and the like, nor does it intake shoes and accessories. There simply isn’t the space for everything, but because a large majority of their clientele is Orthodox, so they do have a fairly complete section of maternity clothes, and long skirts are especially good sellers.
That said, the women will occasionally make an exception if an item is unusual; for instance, someone once donated dozens of new kids’ shoes, which sold immediately. And they’re certainly not above shopping there themselves. When an antique phone dropped into their hands, all the volunteers wanted it, Chocron says. It was Tangir who took it home. That’s just one of the perks of working at The Closet. The others— the satisfaction of tzedakah and the benefits of sisterhood—also come along with every two-hour shift, and unlike my home in New Jersey, The Closet has air-conditioning.