Afikomen book buyer set to take over 17-year-old store

Afikomen, the popular local Judaica store in Berkeley, is being sold, but outgoing owner Jerry Derblich believes the store will continue on in much the same way it has since its opening in 1991.

“The store is doing great, but we [Derblich and wife Alexis] decided we wanted to do something different, explore and travel,” said Derblich of plans to take a yearlong sabbatical.

The Derblichs didn’t want to close the store, though, so they advertised with a business broker and wound up selling to their book buyer, Rabbi Chaim Mahgel-Friedman, who had expressed interest in acquiring the store during a business meeting with the Derblichs almost a year ago.

Mahgel-Friedman is a Los Angeles native, and although he grew up Reform, he now refers to himself as “Renewodox.” He left U.C. Santa Cruz to study in a yeshiva and was ordained as a rabbi in Israel. He has also studied and practiced traditional Chinese medicine, lived in Australia and is married with two children here and three older kids in Australia. While working for Afikomen part time for the past two and a half years, he also taught Jewish text and practices to adults.

Mahgel-Friedman says that Afikomen has earned a reputation as a vital hub of not only the East Bay Jewish community, but also the greater Bay Area and out of state, as well. He plans to further that vitality in several ways.

“There’s a vision to upgrade the interior layout of the store, to enhance its presence as a venue for events and gatherings such as music, author signings and workshops,” he said.

Mahgel-Friedman said he also plans to continue networking with local Jewish organizations, upgrade Afikomen’s online presence with an e-store and create a kid-friendly space at the store to enable parents to shop more freely. Mahgel-Friedman is also on the steering committee of Buy Local Berkeley, a campaign to get people to shift 10 percent of their purchases to locally owned businesses.

“We’re fortunate that a lot of our customers want to support a Jewish business” as opposed to buying Judaica at online outlets such as Amazon, Derblich said.

Because Afikomen sells kosher wines, Derblich had to put up a sign earlier this month announcing the sale due to regulations by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Derblich said this has created a situation in which many people have been inquiring about the sale, giving him the opportunity to discuss it with Afikomen customers.

He added that leaving the store would be difficult because of the relationship he and his wife have built with their customers. “That’s the one sad thing — there’s a lot of people we might not see again,” he said.

Derblich said the sale sign went up on May 4 and must be up for 30 days before ownership of Afikomen can be transferred, so Mahgel-Friedman is expected to take over sometime this summer.