NY Times Reports On “The Evolving Challenge of Keeping Kosher”

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kosher-kidJan Ellen Spiegel reports in The New York Times:

Rena Gold raced into Westville Kosher Market here and headed straight for the cold case just beyond the front door. Then she all but shrieked.

“I don’t believe this,” she said. “I can’t believe it. No kugel.”

In fact there was kugel, a classic Jewish casserole of innumerable variations – hidden, but there – and she eventually found it and took a couple of trays. For Ms. Gold, who keeps kosher, the incident was emblematic of what people in Connecticut often face in finding kosher food.

“You can get some things at the grocery stores,” she said. “But the quality prepared food, only here.”

Over the years, kosher food has become at once more and less available in Connecticut. Packaged items are easier than ever to find in mainstream grocery and discount stores, many of which also have kosher bakeries. Meats and prepared foods are tougher, with consumers relying on a dwindling number of markets like Westville. Restaurants are tougher still, with only a few around the state.

For Yuval and Rachel Hamenachem, who opened Westville in 1985, the key to survival has been finding a niche beyond classics like chopped liver and gefilte fish and a clientele beyond observant Jews. They found both by selling kosher meats and homemade Middle Eastern dishes of their native Israel, like falafel, hummus and Mr. Hamenachem’s signature eggplant salad.

“There are some people, they’re not Jewish at all, they come in here because they like the food,” said Mr. Hamenachem, who tries to stock Israeli imports and other hard-to-find items to avoid direct competition with grocery stores.

Still, a location near a downtown supermarket rather than in a strip mall off the Merritt Parkway might be helpful.

“It’s inconvenient to come here,” said Ms. Hamenachem, who bakes most of Westville’s desserts and whose chocolate and apple cakes and babka have a die-hard following. “One of my good customers says, ‘If you move next to Stop & Shop, we’ll shop at your store more.’ ”

Contrary to some people’s belief, kosher does not mean blessed by a rabbi; it is food that complies with intricate dietary rules laid out in the Torah. The main tenets prohibit the consumption of pork and shellfish, dictate animal slaughter techniques and forbid meat and dairy to be prepared or eaten together. Stores and restaurants must have separate facilities for dairy and meat preparation and some also have a third area for a category called parve, a neutral group of foods including vegetables, fruit and fish; they must be monitored by someone known as a mashgiach. Passover has a special set of kosher rules that include no leavening or flour and require complete kitchen cleansing for an establishment’s food to be certified “kosher for Passover.”

Westville, which has Orthodox certification, has kitchen facilities for meat and parve, but not dairy. Baked goods are made with oils, tahini and applesauce instead of butter, and that has helped the market attract the lactose-intolerant. Other kosher establishments also report many regulars who are not Jewish, including vegetarians and Muslims in search of halal meat, which has requirements similar to kosher.

The Crown Supermarket in West Hartford, much larger than Westville, is certified kosher under Conservative Jewish supervision and has been in business for 70 years. It was sold last year by the last of its three founding families to Mark Bokoff, who said his customers were very loyal to the Crown for a variety of reasons, from keeping kosher to keeping tradition.

“For many,” he said, “it’s about getting stuffed cabbage and chicken soup like their bubbie made.”

The Crown now delivers groceries to Norwich and New London, and on any given day, customers from Connecticut and Massachusetts can be found stocking up on kosher meat; prepared deli foods; and bakery items that are dairy or parve.

“This is the only place besides Boston and New York,” Bonnye Pillar said of the market in West Hartford. Ms. Pillar, who keeps kosher, lives 30 miles away in Somers, but visits the Crown regularly for poultry and meat as well as the Waldbaum’s across the street, which has a kosher bakery and Orthodox certification and is the only chain grocery store in the state with a kosher deli and butcher shop.

Catering by Shuman, a kosher caterer in Avon, provides many of the deli items at Waldbaum’s. Another kosher caterer, Yosi Kosher Catering in Windsor, provides kosher Middle Eastern wraps and salads to some Whole Foods stores.

Managers of several kosher markets said they believed they benefited from a perception that kosher food is safer and more healthful. But there is no data showing either, said Joe Regenstein, a professor of food science who runs the Kosher and Halal Food Initiative at Cornell University. “Any food that meets a set of laws is kosher,” he said. “We have plenty of kosher junk food. We certainly have fatty meats.”

But, he said, kosher businesses need to be more organized and ready for inspection at any time, which could ultimately mean safer food.

Despite the perceived and real benefits of eating kosher, finding a kosher restaurant in Connecticut remains an exercise in creativity and generally involves a lot of driving. In Stamford, Yehuda Jeiger is in his fourth year delivering kosher takeout food from restaurants in New Jersey to families in his area.

In Waterbury, Waterbury Pizza House opened in June. Klein’s Kosher, owned by Meir Zvi Klein for two years, is a meat restaurant that recently added sushi. Both have the advantage of a local Orthodox religious community associated with Yeshiva Ateres Shmuel.

“If the yeshiva were to disappear tomorrow, so would I,” Mr. Klein said.

New Haven remains a kosher bright spot, even though in recent years its kosher bakery and Chinese restaurant closed. Aside from Westville, there’s the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. The center provides three kosher meals a day, mainly for students who keep kosher, but is open to the public.

“I think we have always attracted some families here who are looking for an option to take kids out for dinner,” said Rabbi Lina Zerbarini, director of operations. “I see families when we have burger night on Thursdays.”

Edge of the Woods, a three-decade old vegetarian market, switched its deli and bakery to kosher nearly 20 years ago at the urging of a local rabbi. Claire’s Corner Copia, a popular vegetarian restaurant for 35 years, became kosher about 15 years ago, also at the urging of the rabbi. Claire Criscuolo, the owner, said it was a difficult and slow transition to find foods that were kosher, organic and met her quality standards. She had to drive to Hartford for organic kosher corn chips and still has not found suitable mozzarella and ricotta cheeses.

“Kosher is not like someone who’s a bit fussy picking onions off their salad,” she said. “For me, was it a smart business move? Probably not. I can’t have some of the beautiful things I want. But it was the right thing.”

{NY Times/Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. “they must be monitored by someone known as a mashgiach”

    No where in halacha does it state this.
    Secondly this whole mashgiach business became and is exactly that-A business!

    Kosher prices are out of control and there is plenty of unhealthy “kosher items”.

    The bigeest misconception out in the world is people who associate kosher with being healthier.

    Ask doctors who deal with children and cancer in our communities and they will all tell you that the stats are at an alarming rate.

    Nobody can pin point or prove why but I am sure the way we eat and the foods we eat have are a sure reason why so many of us get very sick with all different kinds of problems and diseases.

    I am not a health nut but i would urge all of us to stop with smoking, drinking alcholci bevergaes, sodas, and drink more water and follow the Ramabam guarantee of staying healthy if you follow his rules.

  2. Dear editor – why would you not censor a comment like #1? it serves absolutely no purpose being broadcast for the world other than showing someones pure ignorance. I have posted thoughtful comments in the past, yet they were not posted. What are your standards, if any at all?

  3. There is nothing to be emabarrassed about not knowing if Connecicut is a state. There are many who do not know, especially in the circles where secular education is minimized. Or people who do not live on the East Coast and are very young.
    I was under the impression that Shanghai is in Japan somehow.

  4. Did anyone else notice that # first spelled “iz” then “is”. At least some smirked, while others felt good coming up with criticisms, whilst making a fool out of themselves.

    #2, you are incorrect about diseases. Do you have data to back up your rant?

  5. out of towners(ppl who don’t live on the east coast) know the names of states better than any in towner! ask any out of towner above 7th grade and s/he can tell you that connecticut is a state and ask someone a little older than 7th grade and they’ll be able to tell you that Shanghai is in China!!!!!!!! so to all you ignorant/uneducated, ppl maybe you just shouldn’t post comments especially if they are so dumb!

  6. Did anyone else notice that the clever truthful one left out the # of the post he/she was quoting. I think you are the only fool here truth be told. The point that was being made was that stupidity should be censored out.


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