S.F. kosher butcher fights for life after injuries in robbery

The family of a San Francisco kosher butcher critically injured in a December robbery is hoping a $20,000 reward will flush out the assailants.

Mikhail Treistman, the 68-year-old proprietor of Tel Aviv Meat Market on Irving Street and a Holocaust survivor, was in a coma from Dec. 3 to 27 after sustaining head injuries while apparently surprising a gang of thieves who stole about $1,000 from his store.

Doctors “are not giving us any hope of any kind; they are not telling us that it’s a brain [injury], and they really don’t know at this stage if he will recover or not,” said Treistman’s daughter, Caroline Katz.

After awakening from his coma, Treistman has gripped the hands of his family members and nodded gently to answer questions. He has not yet spoken.

“He is so warm, so giving. He even fed the homeless, just because they were hungry. He helped out the whole Jewish Russian community. Everyone knows him. We always told him, ‘Dad, maybe it is time to retire.’ Always he said, ‘I opened up this business coming to America. [I will retire] when they carry me out.'”

Inspector John Peterson of the San Francisco Police Department described the robbers as five Latinos, three women and two men. All three of the women are very short; two are between 20 and 25 years old, the other is between 30 and 40. The men are of average build; one is between 20 and 25 years old, the other is 30 to 40.

The team is suspected of robbing the Tel Aviv market and a pair of San Francisco liquor stores between Dec. 3 and 6 using the same complex, interwoven scheme.

First, one of the team buys something inexpensive with a large bill, getting a glimpse of where the large bills are stashed behind the counter. Then a second member makes a purchase but leaves insufficient funds on the counter and exits the store. When the counterman chases after him or her, a third team member snatches the large bills from the behind the counter.

Peterson described the team as “professional.”

“They have a plan. Each person knows what part of the plan they’re supposed to do,” he said.

“One video we have, they appear to be motioning each other. Certain people are motioning to the other ones, and if you keep watching it, you can watch how it takes place.”

Treistman’s son, Sam, did chase one of the thieves, as they anticipated, but they hadn’t planned on the elder Treistman, known to his friends as “Misha,” remaining in the store. Katz said this was the first time the store was robbed of something more than food or liquor during daylight hours.

Police believe Mikhail Treistman fell and hit his head while chasing the thief during the morning robbery. But, later in the day, an unidentified woman stopped in the store and told Sam Treistman she saw the robber striking his father. Police have not been able to track her down.

Following the robbery, Treistman, who was bruised and bleeding from his head and knees, refused an ambulance. Katz, however, talked him into letting her drive him to Kaiser hospital.

Katz said her father was — uncharacteristically — complaining about pain in his head. Two different doctors examined him at Kaiser, and he was discharged.

He was home by 2 p.m., but he fell into a coma shortly over an hour later. A blood vessel in his head had been ruptured, creating increasing pressure, according to Katz, accounting for her father’s complaints of a terrible headache.

While the Russian-born Mikhail Treistman’s father and older brother died in the Holocaust, he survived a concentration camp — Katz is unsure which one — at a very young age. His sister and mother also survived, and, at age 5, he became the man of the house. His grandfather was an Orthodox rabbi and kosher butcher, from whom Treistman learned the trade. When his grandfather died, Treistman quit school in fourth grade to work full time.

In 1976, Treistman, his wife, Ida, and his three children left the Soviet Union in hopes of immigrating to Israel. But a last-minute telegram informed them that Ida’s sister was dying of cancer in San Francisco. The family was given permission to immigrate to the United States to care for her, and Treistman has been working in local kosher butcher shops ever since.

Anyone with information pertaining to the robbery is urged to call (415) 553-1201 during working hours or (415) 553-1071 after hours.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.