July 25, 2024
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A Stamford Bakery Creates the ‘Tova Special’ In Memory of a Special Customer

When the Feldstein family got up from shiva earlier this month, one of the first places they walked to was Beldotti Bakery, a favorite source of kosher treats in the Stamford Jewish community. The Feldsteins weren’t there for the usual purpose—a box of cookies, a loaf of bread—but had come to thank the owners for an act of kindness honoring their daughter’s memory.

Tova Feldstein, z”l, died suddenly on January 31, six months shy of her 36th birthday. The second child born to Sharon and Michael Feldstein, she was known by family, friends and colleagues as someone who lived up to her name (doubly good—Tova Gittel) and embodied the Talmudic adage, “Gam zu l’tovah,” inscribed on a favorite piece of jewelry her older brother had bought for her in Israel. She used her time to spread goodness, posting upbeat messages and photos on social media, pushing past a congenital health challenge to graduate high school and earn an associate’s degree in early childhood education.

Nearly every morning, Tova would stop in at the bakery on her way to the Stamford JCC, where she had worked for 17 years at the JumpStart early-intervention program for young children with disabilities. She would order her usual: an iced coffee and a doughnut—usually glazed, sometimes a Boston cream.

“Tova was our first or second customer of the day,” Tina Beldotti recalled. “She had a big smile; she was so sweet. Working in customer service, it’s really nice to start our day with such positive energy. We were always so thankful when she came in.”

When Tova died, her childhood friend shared the sad news with the Beldottis. “We were shocked; we had just seen Tova the day before, when she came in with her niece and nephew, and we were devastated when we heard,” Tina said. “I wanted to do something for her.”

During the week of the Feldsteins’ shiva, Beldotti customers could pick up a Tova Special—Tova’s favorite morning combo of coffee and doughnut—for a reduced price.

Tina ’s mom, Lisa, was there when the Tova Special debuted. “The first guy who came in paid $50 for the next few customers,” she recalled. “He told us that he had grown up knowing Tova and happened to be visiting family in the area. After that, it snowballed: A lot of people paid it forward, buying one Tova Special for themselves and one for the next person in line.”

Word of the Tova Special reached the Feldstein family. “When Tova’s mom and brother came in after the shiva, we were in tears and so thankful that they thought of us,” Tina said. It helped to give closure, a warm feeling. They thanked us and they mentioned the JumpStart program. That escalated the Tova Special. After we calculate how many we sold, we will donate half the amount to JumpStart.”

Beldotti Bakery has been in business since 1990, supervised by the Vaad HaKashrus of Fairfield County. “We aren’t Jewish—we’re a very Italian family—so to be part of a Jewish community is amazing; we love having everybody come through our door every day,” Tina said. “We owe that attitude to my grandmother, who taught us that to be kind to everyone you know is the most important thing. People here treat us with kindness as well.”

The Tova Special is the Beldottis’ first-ever tribute to a favorite customer, Lisa Beldotti said. The bakery donates proceeds from the sale of pink cupcakes every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to the Hope in Motion Walk supporting Stamford Health’s Carl & Dorothy Bennett Cancer Center. They donate desserts to the grieving families of friends who have died, and coffee to mourners in the community who visit the bakery.

“As an Italian woman, I know that food is the way to make everybody happy and heal burdens,” Tina said. “Offering good food was our way to remember Tova.”

The kindness that resulted from the Tova Special—customers paying it forward, an imminent donation to the JCC—is a result of what Tova brought to her life. “It happened because of her, not because of us,” Lisa said. “That is Tova’s legacy.”

By Cynthia Mindell

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