By Eytan Kobre
It’s a bright and breezy Friday morning in May, and at 9:30, the Sasregen shul at Avenue M and 24th Street isn’t even close to emptying out. As yet another minyan gets underway, the Sasregener Rebbe, Rav Rubin, is putting away his tallis and tefillin at the front of the shul. And in the back, at his post, is Reb Yehoshua Danese, who in less than a year’s time has made Shalom Bayis Flowers a Flatbush byword – and, he’s hoping, a buy word, too.
The Unwitting Florist
Reb Yehoshua Danese was a successful kiruv rebbi for 11 years and has also written several books, including the most popular one of Rav Avigdor Miller’s books, called Path of Life. “It consists of his Shabbos drashos, which I would memorize and transcribe after Shabbos,” he explains. He also wrote a kids’ book called Yoni Ploni Never Talks to Strangers, about how kids can stay safe.
But after years of teaching, the school effectively went out of business, and he struggled with unemployment for a very long time. “Then one day,” he recounts, “a very concerned Jew called me up and gave me the strangest instructions: I bought you 25 bouquets of roses; go out and sell them.”
The proposal wasn’t quite a bed of roses. “I must say,” he admits, “I was not pleased with him at the time, but what could I do? I had to do something to support my family.” And that’s how Reb Yehoshua’s flower business got its rocky start.
Right Place, Right Motive
Ever creative, Reb Yehoshua realized that he could fuse the two top motives for buying flowers – kavod Shabbos and enhancing shalom bayis – by offering ready bouquets to men on their way out of Shacharis on Friday mornings.
The location he chose is Flatbush’s Sasregener beis medrash, a very busy hub of Torah and tefillah. The brand became “Shalom Bayis Flowers.” The salesman retained his rebbi uniform. And the rest is history. “The Sasregener Rebbe and his balabatim are very supportive,” Reb Yehoshua says gratefully. “His rebbetzin is a very good customer.”
About 1,000 people move through the shul every day. From those original 25 bouquets, Reb Yehoshua is now selling 150. After he finishes, he makes about 50 home deliveries.
“We’ve got lots of great varieties”-he gestures enthusiastically at the tall plastic containers-“peonies, ginger from Africa, Sweet Williams. Our highest-end flowers are the cymbidium orchids, but they last for a month. One guy told me, ‘You’re a kollel guy who doesn’t understand business. I’m not buying today because the flowers I bought last time are still in perfect shape. If you want to make money, you’ve got to sell flowers that die within four days!'”
With time, he’s branched out to other locations and time slots as well. “Mordechai Ben David gives a shiur to balabatim in the area on Thursday nights,” he explains. “I go after the shiur and he and the men buy flowers from me.”
Flower selling seems a world away from chinuch. Was it a painful adjustment for Reb Yehoshua? “At least now I get paid on time,” comes the quick rejoinder. Then the smile fades. “Seriously, sometimes, especially back when I started, I felt embarrassed and sometimes even humiliated, especially when seeing people who knew me as a rebbi. These days I spend hours learning the business, understanding flowers. It’s a different life. When my old talmidim buy from me, it’s particularly difficult. But I squelch these feelings and just persevere, since I have to make a living.”
For the Secretary
How do potential customers respond to his branding of ordinary blooms as “Shalom Bayis Flowers”?
“They love it,” Reb Yehoshua attests. “They think it’s funny.”
Of course, it took a while for the moniker to sink in. “When I first came to the shul and announced that these are Shalom Bayis flowers, some of the men were embarrassed to buy them,” he remembers. “They didn’t want the other men to think they had shalom bayis problems, so they’d make sure to announce, as they bought the bouquet, ‘This is not for my wife, it’s for my secretary!'”
Even on this Friday morning, some men make public announcements as they make their purchases: “I don’t have any shalom bayis problems, I just like these flowers.”
Then there are those men who don’t buy flowers, for a variety of reasons. “One man told me that he’d like to buy the flowers, but was afraid that they might cause shalom bayis problems,” Reb Yehoshua recounts, smiling. Why? “If I buy them,” he said, “then I’ll have shalom bayis problems – my wife will think I’m getting her flowers because I have a guilty conscience over something I did wrong.”
There are simpler reasons to walk out flowerless. “Unfortunately, there’s always some guy who says he doesn’t want to spoil his wife,” Reb Yehoshua relates.
There was also the man who explained his refusal to buy flowers as concern for his wife’s health: “I’ve never bought flowers before. If I come home lugging a bunch of flowers, my wife will go into shock. I’ll have to take her to the emergency room!”
Of course, there are the steady customers who appreciate the selection and convenience – and don’t mind the possibility of the flowers actually delivering on their segulah. One fellow stops by on his way out and scoops up a bouquet. “I’m not spending Shabbos at home,” he tells us, “but because you say there’s a guarantee, I’m going to buy some anyway.”
And then there’s the guy who quips to the unwitting florist, “I don’t know if these flowers will enhance my shalom bayis, but if I buy them, it will certainly help your shalom bayis!”
He accepts the banter with a smile, but Reb Yehoshua sticks to his claim that his flowers hold a segulah. “In Parshas Vayeitzei, Reuven brought flowers for his mother Leah, which she gave to her sister Rachel. Those flower became a conduit for shalom bayis between Leah and Yaakov. And from that union came Yissachar, which is the shevet of talmidei chachamim, so flowers are a segulah for sons who are talmidei chachamim.”
Does the segulah grow more potent with the price of the flowers? “It’s middah k’neged middah!” Reb Yehoshua laughs. “But you have to calculate it according to my profit margin, not the list price,” he deadpans.
Getting the Hint
In any business, customer feedback is vital. In this enterprise, where the shul-cum-market is dominated by males, and the clients with the real say are females busy at home, feedback is filtered through Reb Yehoshua’s wife. “Most of the wives, of course, love the flowers,” he reports. “But there are women who tell my wife that they actually don’t really love flowers; what they love is when their husbands come home on busy Friday mornings with a tangible sign of their affection.
“Once a woman asked me for a card she could put on her husband’s dashboard in his car, explaining that he’d see the card, get the hint, and buy her some flowers. But apparently he didn’t understand the unspoken message of the business card, so I decided to phone him and suggest that his wife might enjoy some flowers.
“The next time I met her, she told me, ‘You see, men don’t need much. You just put a card on their dashboard. They’ll see that it says Shalom Bayis and sure enough, they’ll buy the flowers…'”
It Really Works
How can Reb Yehoshua promise that his flowers will serve as a segulah? He matches the question with a query from a customer. “One man said to me, ‘If I don’t get shalom bayis, can I bring back the flowers? Or better yet, can I bring back my wife?'”
But then he pauses, contemplates the scene before us – colorful blooms and ardent customers with the promise of Shabbos in the air – and says, “I can promise it because they are a segulah. My repeat customers tell me, ‘You know, it really works.’
“I also offer a guarantee – shalom bayis, or your money back. So far no one has asked for a refund.”
Republished from Mishpacha Magazine.