Michigan Prisoners’ Attorney Objects to Conservative Kosher Certification Agency

DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Attorney Daniel Manville says an Orthodox agency must provide kosher certification to prison kitchens.

A Conservative rabbi cannot certify Michigan prisoners’ meals as kosher, according to an attorney representing incarcerated Jews who sued the state corrections department.

Two weeks after observant Jewish prisoners in Michigan won the right to eat meat and dairy kosher meals in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan, the plaintiff’s counsel, Daniel Manville, claims the Michigan Department of Corrections is violating the terms of the settlement by contracting with a Conservative-run kosher-certification agency instead of an Orthodox one.

As part of the settlement, MDOC either had to provide prisoners with pre-packaged and wrapped meat or dairy kosher meals or have their kitchens certified as kosher. MDOC decided to certify its kitchens.

“To plaintiffs’ dismay, the defendant has obtained illegitimate kosher certification of its prison kitchens by a Conservative rabbi,” Manville wrote Feb. 25 in a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. Kosher Michigan, which won the MDOC contract, is owned and operated by local Conservative Rabbi Jason Miller.

Prior to the settlement, MDOC provided its kosher-observant prisoners with vegan meals, as well as the option to purchase prepackaged kosher meat and dairy products in the commissaries.

According to Chris Gautz, spokesman for MDOC, the settlement agreement that requires prisoners to be provided with kosher meals does not cover meat and dairy kosher meals. “That issue was litigated by the parties separately,” he said, adding that MDOC offered to arrange loans for prisoners who could not afford to purchase the kosher meals through the commissaries.

“Plaintiffs claimed that making them buy the meat and dairy at the commissary created a substantial burden on their ability to exercise their religion,” Gautz said. “After a trial, the court sided with plaintiffs. MDOC plans to appeal this decision.”

MDOC and Kosher Michigan

According to Gautz, Miller has certified four of MDOC’s kitchens as kosher and notice was given to plaintiffs’ counsel as required. The Michigan Attorney General’s office had learned about Kosher Michigan during the legal proceedings and passed it along as an option for MDOC to contract with.

“After receiving notice, plaintiffs have an opportunity to inspect the kitchens with their own expert. Instead of coming out to inspect the kitchens, plaintiffs’ counsel filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement,” Gautz said.

But Manville argued in the motion that kosher certification from a Conservative rabbi does not comply with the settlement agreement because the plaintiffs are Orthodox Jews.

Manville is asking the court to issue an order that “certification from a Conservative rabbi will not accommodate plaintiffs’ sincere, Orthodox Jewish beliefs and continues to impose a substantial burden on their beliefs.”

Manville argues that the plaintiffs’ Orthodox beliefs rely exclusively on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and require a qualified mashgiach tmidi (continuous kosher supervisor) during kosher-sensitive production, rather than the Magen Tzedek protocols established by prominent leaders of Conservative Judaism. Kosher Michigan follows Magen Tzedek in its certification process, according to its website.

Miller objected to Manville’s argument.

“The claim that a non-Orthodox rabbi cannot establish a facility or product as certified kosher is completely unfounded in Jewish law and is used as an unfair business practice to maintain a monopoly in the kosher-certification industry by a handful of established kosher-certification agencies,” Miller told the JN. He declined further comment due to the pending litigation. (Miller is also a JN contributor.)

MDOC maintains it has held up its end of the settlement. “The word ‘Orthodox’ does not appear anywhere in the document and was not negotiated by the parties,” Gautz said.

But Manville said that when he received notice from MDOC that several of its facilities had been certified by Kosher Michigan, the plaintiffs’ expert, an Orthodox rabbi, said it would be futile to inspect a kitchen that had not been certified by an Orthodox rabbi.

What Comes Next?

MDOC has until March 5 to file its response to the motion. Plaintiffs then have five days to reply, after which a hearing will be scheduled, Manville said.

Manville wrote in the motion that he realizes on-site supervision would be a daunting (and expensive) task for Michigan’s prisons. But he believes the problem could easily be solved with pre-packaged kosher meals. He said he’s willing to provide MDOC with a list of potential Orthodox food providers.

“But if [MDOC] insists on certifying its kitchens, it must do so to Orthodox standards,” he wrote.

MDOC has until March 28 to appeal the court’s decision that Jewish prisoners should be provided meat and dairy kosher meals, Manville said.

Flavors of Diaspora – Interview: Rabbi Jason Miller, Kosher Michigan

Interview by Jonathan Katz, Flavors of the Diaspora Blog

Rabbi Jason Miller is the founder and director of Kosher Michigan, the world’s largest non-Orthodox kosher agency. He received his semichah (ordination) from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He and his colleagues supervise the kashrut of food, kitchen products, and ingredients that are produced not only in Michigan and elsewhere in the Midwest, but across North America and even now in India. A number of years ago, he authored a popular article about the Orthodox domination of the kosher system and the “keeping up with the [frum] Joneses” culture around kashrut that it encourages. “Ending Kosher Nostra” is one of the best Jewish food articles I have read, and I strongly urge you to read it.

One of Rabbi Miller’s former students, Dr. Samuel Zerin, put me in touch with Rabbi Miller when I was soliciting stories for my pieces on institutional cooking. Rabbi Miller was very gracious with his time and allowed me to interview him by phone one recent evening. The transcript of the interview, slightly redacted for readability, is here.

A note to readers: there is a lot more Hebrew and Yiddish in this than in past pieces. Though normally I translate words into English, I kept the words here in my notes to preserve the integrity of the interview. I have provided or linked to definitions for all terms.

Katz: Tell us a bit about your background, and how Kosher Michigan got started.

Miller: I was ordained as a Conservative rabbi in 2004 from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. While I was in rabbinical school, I served as a mashgiach in the cafeteria. In the course of rabbinical school, you have classes on hilchot kashrut [laws of keeping kosher], but you don’t learn how to be a mashgiach unless you’re a mashgiach in the cafeteria. At the time, Rabbi Joel Roth was in charge of the hashgacha [kosher certification], and he would lead seminars only for the mashgichim. So that’s where I learned to be a mashgiach.

In 2007, I was hired by one of the largest Jewish camps in the country, Tamarack Camps in Michigan. For many decades, it was under the [kosher] supervision of the Detroit Orthodox va’ad [rabbinical council], which was well known. Around that time, the camp made the decision to no longer be under the supervision of the va’ad, and that a Conservative rabbi would be hired year-round to be the mashgiach for the kitchen, which is the largest kosher kitchen in Michigan. So I was hired, and 50% of my job was to oversee the kitchen. I learned how to handle the hashgacha for a year-round institution – there are camps, events, and programs all year, not just during the summer.

This made news in Michigan, that the va’ad was out and a Conservative rabbi was in. For many people, it was the first time that they heard that a Conservative rabbi could be a mashgiach. The va’ad made a public statement that was in support of Tamarack’s decision, and that they felt I would uphold the standards of kashrut and support them. Besides, the va’ad did not want to continue sending Orthodox mashgichim to this liberal progressive camp.

Many local businesses read this news, and contacted me, saying “we are a bakery, or a bagel store, we want to be kosher, but we met with the va’ad and they said no, or it was too expensive. We read that you did this for Tamarack, can you do it for us?” Initially, I said no, because I didn’t want to get into supervision politics. But people in the community pressured me, because they felt it would be great for the community. So in Summer 2008, I agreed to give certification for a bagel store and a bakery. I kept the price low, and I did not want to do a shakedown. At the last minute, someone asked “what is your hechsher [kosher seal]?” So I got on the computer and made one with a K and an M. It felt too self-serving to make the M “Miller,” so I said it was “Michigan.” And that’s how Kosher Michigan was born.

Katz: Here in New York, the Orthodox va’adot [councils] are very particular about who they support regarding kashrut, and invariably it is other Orthodox rabbis. I find it really interesting, in a good way, that they support you.

Miller: Well the va’ad has not been 100% supportive, because in the past decade we’ve now become a major competitor. But at the time they were supportive because they didn’t want to deal with the camp. It was difficult to find Orthodox mashgichim to go to this progressive Jewish camp, with all this gender mixing, girls in swimwear at the beach – and Camp Tamarack is 45 minutes from Metro Detroit, which has the closest synagogues.

Katz: I have friends who grew up in Orthodox Jewish areas of Southfield, so I’m a bit familiar with gender politics.

Miller: Yes. It was not a comfortable situation for them. So they were not interested in doing more. I would say they knew that a Conservative rabbi would uphold the standards they were used to. That was the promise I made to them and the community, and one I still keep now.

Katz: But that’s still really interesting that it was possible. As you know, in New York, we have a lot of people who have a “frummer (more religious) than thou” attitude to kashrut, where certain hechsherim (kosher seals) are and are not okay, and Conservative kashrut is not “good enough.” I’m personally of the opinion that it’s nonsense – kosher is kosher, despite the politics.

Miller: My own attitude has been similar to yours. I tell people that “I sleep very well at night” when I consider my approach to kashrut. When someone is “frummer than thou,” so frum that they won’t buy a Kosher Michigan-certified bagel, how does it affect me? Why does that person feel the need to say that? The person is most likely not doing that to other rabbis, just as I wouldn’t go to the owners of an Italian restaurant and tell them that I don’t buy Italian food. My response is dignified and respectful: “Thanks for letting me know.”

This, I think, gets to the heart of kishke Judaism. [Emotional Judaism] Why do you have that neurosis that you have to let me know that? I have written about this [in Kosher Nostra]. The same person will go into a non-kosher pizza shop and get a cheese pizza baked in the same oven as the pepperoni pizza, which is a lot more problematic for kashrut. It makes no sense.

Katz: There’s a performance to it.

Miller: People feel the need to say “I need you to know how frum I am.” A funny story from Tamarack: this Reform Jewish woman came up to me and said: “so now you’re in charge. Well congrats, but you should know my daughter is ba’alat teshuva [roughly, “born-again” Orthodox] so she won’t eat at the camp. She’s really frum, and she will only eat glatt pizza.” I responded, “well the cheese on our pizza is smooth!” After all, glatt refers the smoothness of the lungs on a cow – and thus only to the category of red meat.

But I don’t think it’s about people being ignorant, it’s something deeper – a spiritual, psychological meshugaas [nuttiness] that some people have.

Katz: It reminds me of the histrionics you see with adaptations in the liturgy and the crowing about matbe’ah shel tefillah [integrity of the prayer]- for example, people who get upset about adding the imahot/Matriarchs in the Shemoneh Esrei.

Miller: It’s this idea that “if it’s not the Judaism of my grandfathers, it doesn’t feel authentic.”

In ten years, I’ve seen and learned a lot because of my certification agency. And something that I’ve learned to do is to brush off the verbal attacks. The question “can a Conservative rabbi give a hechsher” is on the face of it a silly question. There’s no such thing as a Conservative hechsher, or an Orthodox one. There’s a trustworthy one.

It’s interesting. If someone is giving the certification, well, who is this person? Are they valid? Can they be trusted? Ask yourself these questions, but don’t ask where they went to school! It makes no sense when it comes to ne’emanut [trustworthiness].

Katz: I want to switch gears here to talk about being a mashgiach – what does your typical day look like?

Miller: So the agency has grown to the point now where I’m not actually the main mashgiach anymore – I have hired staff certifying all over the country, paid mashgichim. On a typical day, I’ll stop into several places, and I’ll be on the phone with the mashgichim elsewhere who supervise for my agency. It’s gone from mashgiach to a business of mashgichim.

I also answer a lot of phone calls and emails from business owners who want to become kosher. Sometimes it’s a long-standing business, like a jelly manufacturer seeking to expand outside of Michigan, and the food consultant tells them that becoming kosher will help them market the product better. And then there are the food product startups – the little old lady in Northern Michigan who make fudge and sells it out of her home, and people at church tell her to make it kosher, and she contacts me. And I tell her to go to a production facility – there are wholesale companies, co-packers, doing private label and producing and selling this kind of thing, and the shared facilities are much easier to make kosher.

Katz: I work for a New York City government agency writing information on basic safety and licensing regulations. (This is the non-accessibility part of my job.) A lot of the businesses we work with are food producers, and we’re trying to push them to shared kitchens. It’s very hard to have a home kitchen to the standard New York State requires for food manufacturers. Is it a big thing in Michigan? And how does that affect being a mashgiach?

Miller: Yeah, that’s interesting. In Michigan, back in 2008-2009 when the economy was in really bad shape, Governor Jennifer Granholm made a strong effort to spur more business. She made it much easier for folks to produce food out of home kitchens, but a home kitchen is impossible for me to certify as kosher because then I would need access to their home. So I got them to go to shared kitchens and in relationships with co-packers. There are so many people here in Michigan though doing that sort of thing.

Katz: I imagine, given that you’re in Michigan, that there’s a lot of Michigan-specific things, like jam, candy, and fish.

Miller: Well in Michigan we have some specific challenges – grape jam has its issues, and strawberry jam of course brings up all sorts of questions with inspections. But we’re the cherry capital so a lot of our specific stuff is cherries. More of our business is outside of Michigan though! We have an office in Chicago and a partner in London doing certifications in India –

Katz: India? How did that happen?

Miller: So we spread to India over the past three years, with food manufacturers and lots of different products like spice. It’s not sexy but it’s necessary.

It’s interesting. When Kosher Michigan began, we started off very basic with an Indian vegetarian restaurant, a kosher caterer, bakeries, et cetera. Then as the agency grew, we started certifying other things: meat dinners at Michigan State University at the residence halls, paper mills, chemical producers, so we’ve been moving more and more into that less sexy part of kashrut. There’s a whole industry of kosher certification for chemicals, vitamins, wax paper, and parchment paper – India is part of that.

Katz: It’s more of an exploration of food systems.

Miller: It’s the nitty-gritty of kashrut! No one at JTS taught me that or how to certify, say, a tractor-trailer. When we talk about kelim [food vessels], we don’t usually think of a tractor-trailer, but rather pots, pans, and so on. But if the beans are being hauled in a tractor-trailer that hasn’t been washed, that had pork in it, then that affects it.

Katz: A different sort of kelim.

Miller: Yes. The first time I got a call from a guy who wanted to certify a truck, I thought it was a prank call. But then I got on my computer and did some research. I didn’t realize that washing out a big tanker, so on, turns out to be a big part of the kosher industry. Same with two paper mills in Port Huron, Michigan, when dealing with paper and paraffin wax. So as a rabbi, I’m now wearing protective goggles, earplugs, and a hairnet to check the kashrut of paper in industrial mills – I never thought rabbinical school would lead here.

Katz: this whole thing of food systems and industrial food is interesting to contrast with the standard conversation on ever-frummer kashrut – the strawberries, the lettuce, and so on.

Miller: Yes, it’s interesting. A comment I get often from people is that Conservative rabbis probably wouldn’t be punctilious enough to require lettuce to be washed three times. That’s their way of saying that they’re so frum they go to the extremes to ensure there’s no bugs in their lettuce. What they don’t consider is that no one wants to be eating little, disgusting bugs in their lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and so on. That’s not only not kosher, but it’s gross.

Many thanks to Rabbi Jason Miller for his generosity of time and story-telling. Tizku le-mitzvot!

Why is 41% of America’s Packaged Food Kosher

Less than 2% of the US population is Jewish. So why is 41% of the country’s packaged food kosher?

By Deena Shanker

Considering how few people keep kosher in the US—Jews make up less than 2% of the American population, and only a portion of them follow Jewish dietary laws—it’s fairly astounding that more than 40% of the country’s new packaged food and beverage products in 2014 are labeled as being kosher. That makes it the top label claim on food and beverages, according to market research firm Mintel, beating out the ever-present “gluten-free” label and even allergen claims.

“Kosher” food meets the broad range of requirements of Jewish dietary laws. The laws define, for example, which animals are and are not allowed to be eaten (cows and chickens are ok, pigs and shellfish are not), as well as how the animals are slaughtered, and how their meat is prepared; the laws also lay out which foods can and cannot be mixed (no meat with dairy, for example), and even, when it comes to wine, who is allowed to touch it.

To be certified as kosher, food companies must work with certification bodies like the Orthodox Union (“OU”), which says it certifies an estimated 65% to 71% of kosher foods, an endeavor that involves both paperwork, on-site supervision, and payment to the certifying bodies.

In 2009, market research firm Packaged Facts estimated the kosher industry to be worth as much as $17 billion. And the label’s relative popularity seems to be growing: While it was on only 27% of packaged foods in 2009, in 2014 it appeared on 41%. New business for OU certifications grows by about 10% each year, according to Phyllis Koegel, the group’s marketing director.

But if less than 2% of Americans are Jewish, and not all Jews even keep kosher (an estimated 80% to 85% don’t), then who is buying all of this kosher food?

“[T]here are other consumer groups that buy these foods,” Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel, tells Quartz.

Muslims are one such group, she says. While there are even fewer Muslims than Jews in the US, their numbers are growing. They now account for 0.9% of the US population, according to the Pew Research Center, up from 0.4% in 2007. Muslims have their own set of dietary laws, called halal. But “if they’re not able to find halal, they rely on kosher,” says Koegel.

However, there are differences between kosher and halal, and not everyone agrees with OU and Mintel’s assessment: “We have no statistics to indicate any appreciable number of Muslims seek kosher products,” says Roger Othman, CEO of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America.

Many consumers go for kosher foods for completely non-religious reasons. Some “gravitate toward kosher products for positive health or taste perceptions, or for vegetarian reasons,” says Topper. Others buy kosher to avoid certain allergens, like shellfish. But not all of these reasons are based on a correct understanding of what “kosher” actually means.

The word “kosher,” says Koegel, has connotations of healthfulness and cleanliness. But as she points out, plenty of kosher foods, like OU-certified candy, are decidedly unhealthy. As for cleanliness, she says, the OU does provide an extra set of eyes on a facility and wouldn’t certify a company that wasn’t meeting its standards. (But whether it upholds its own standards has been questioned.)

Some of the kosher market’s expansion has come from already popular, non-kosher foods making the switch, like when Oreos removed lard and got certified in the late 1990s. And now and then the kosher aisle will have a cross-over hit, like when Lil’ Kim rapped about Moscato wine in 2005, and Bartenura, a kosher wine company, became an unexpected favorite for hip-hop musicians and their fans.

Kosher Food at Henry Ford Hospital West Bloomfield, Michigan

Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield, Michigan Offers Kosher Meals

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:   Sally Ann Brown  (248) 325-3081

April 16, 2015

West Bloomfield – Visitors to Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital can now have a certified kosher meal in Henry’s, the hospital’s café.

The new Kosher Korner is partnering with Kravings, a premier kosher restaurant in Oak Park, in an effort to provide kosher food options for patients, guests and staff.

“At Kravings and Quality Kosher Catering we take great pride in providing quality glatt kosher food, primarily on the on the east side of Oakland County. Now, with the opening of our Kosher Korner at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, we’re excited to bring the same delicious meals to the west side,” says Daniel Kohn, owner of Kravings.

All food items are prepared fresh daily at Kravings and are under the certification of the Star-K certification agency, with Kosher Michigan serving as a consultant to the hospital.

Recent offerings in the Kosher Korner include sandwiches, salads, and sushi.

“We are pleased to be able to meet the dietary needs of the Jewish community,” says Chef Rob Hindley, director of Culinary Wellness at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. “This initiative is part of our community outreach efforts to provide delicious and healthy food to a variety of cultures.”

“Kosher Michigan partnered with Daniel Kohn of Kravings and Henry Ford West Bloomfield because it is part of our mission to bring more kosher food options to the community,” explains Rabbi Jason Miller, founder and director of Kosher Michigan certification agency. “Whether you’re a hospital patient, caregiver, visitor, physician, staff member, or just in the neighborhood and hungry for a delicious certified kosher meal, this is a win-win for our community.”

The food selection in the kosher menu also meet the dietary needs of individuals following the practice of halal.

Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital is located at 6777 W. Maple Road in West Bloomfield.

Kosher Michigan is a kosher certification agency in Metro Detroit, which seeks to increase the amount of affordable kosher options in North America. www.koshermichigan.com

Kosher Korner at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital
Kosher Korner at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital
Kosher Korner at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital

 

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Metro Detroit in a Kosher Restaurant Boom as Diners Seek Healthy Options (Detroit Free Press – August 11, 2014)

Keeping kosher in Metro Detroit
By Zlati Meyer, Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

The theme of 28-year-old Daniel Kohn’s newly opened Oak Park restaurant can be summed up with one menu item that blends contemporary Americana with Old World traditions — the brisket burger.

Kravings, the brainchild of the Ritz-Carlton alumnus and third-generation caterer, is certified kosher, but it focuses instead on its healthy, quality ingredients and dishes made from scratch. The menu is chock-full of items that would surprise his late grandmother, who founded Quality Kosher Catering in 1968, such as portobello mushrooms, “bacon” made from cow rather than pig and sushi that’s shtetl meets Shogun.

Metro Detroit is in the middle of a kosher boomlet. In addition to Kravings, a kosher steakhouse, Prime 10, opened about a block away and downtown Detroit saw the return of Chef Cari’s the Spot in the revolving lineup of pop-ups at Campus Martius this summer. Proprietor Cari Rosenbloom is planning a kosher vegetarian restaurant downtown by the end of the year.

“Kosher has so many strict rules that people know when they buy a product that it’ll be a good and safe product,” Kohn said, crediting the “evolution” of the community over the last two years for the increased interest in kosher food. “The community is so flooded with people, like myself, who come back from New York or someplace else. All these people are used to kosher dining options that are not selling old-school items, like chicken soup.”

The laws of kosher, based on the Hebrew Bible and further elucidated by the Talmud, are extensive; Jews, many of them Orthodox, adhere to these rules, such as not eating meat products and milk products together; shellfish and other fish without fins and scales; the meat of animals that don’t chew their cud and have split hooves, such as pigs and horses; bugs in produce, and eggs with blood spots in them. Meat and fowl must be slaughtered with a special ancient ritual.

Specially trained kosher experts, called mashgichim (mahsh-GEE-chim), supervise slaughterhouses, dairy farms, restaurants, industrial food companies, bakeries and other commercial and retail sites to make sure all processes and ingredients are OK. Certifying agencies are both national, like the Orthodox Union, which puts the OU on Coca-Cola, and local,like the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit.

“Many people consider kosher is cleaner and with an extra level of supervision. Things don’t get in,” said COR chairman Rabbi Doniel Neustadt.

Kosher is a $12.5-billion industry in the U.S., according to the most recent data by Mintel, a market research firm that tracks the field. The report says that the major reasons for purchasing kosher food is food quality (62%) or general healthfulness (51%). Thirty percent cited religious observance; 14% follow kosher rules; 10% follow some other religious rules with eating restrictions similar to kosher, and 6% follow halal rules. Others cited ethical reasons and allergies.

“It’s a segment of the food industry that continues to grow. It’s another niche part for the food industry that has cache, like organic, local,” said Sue Fishkoff, author of the book “Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority.” “The growth of the particular interest in kosher food, primarily kosher meats and poultry, came in the late 1960s, early 1970s with pesticide scares and food safety scares and Americans become more aware of the prevalence of food-borne (illnesses). The idea that another pair of eyes, religious eyes, is overseeing the manufacturing process makes them feel comfort and it’s only perception, but it’s a very strong one.”

Rabbi Jason Miller, who founded the certification agency Kosher Michigan in 2008, agreed that kosher makes good business sense.

“More people are taking on a kosher diet, both Jews and non-Jews and business owners have also found that kosher certifications have increased their sales,” he said.

Fishkoff credits the growing number of Jews embracing the kosher lifestyle after spending the first part of their lives developing sophisticated non-kosher palates for the boom, plus many of today’s kosher restaurateurs come from the wider culinary world, too.

Rosenbloom, who trained in New York City in what is today called the Natural Gourmet Institute, pointed to her abridged Campus Martius menu, including falafel, chicken shawarma and Belgian-style fries — and her mostly non-kosher-observant customers.

“Tabouleh, fresh, delicious, gluten-free salad. Who cares if it’s kosher or not? It’s absolutely delicious,” said the Ferndale resident. “People aren’t lined up because it’s under the supervision of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis of Greater Detroit. They’re lined up because it’s delicious.”

And in metro Detroit, which is home to a huge Muslim population, kosher can pinch-hit for halal, when the latter isn’t available, according to Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The tenets of halal, which means permissible in Arabic, outline what practicing Muslims may eat; for example, no pork, carnivorous animals, bugs or alcohol.

One downside to kosher restaurants is their prices are higher; all that extra supervision, be it at the eatery or farther up the line at the commercial plant that makes the ingredients, gets passed along. Neither Neustadt nor Miller would discuss their organizations’ fees.

But Fishkoff predicts the kosher trend will continue: “It’s going to increase for the foreseeable future. It will particularly increase as part of the local, organic, high-quality foodie movement not as the heimish Old World borsht restaurant.”

Contact Zlati Meyer: 313-223-4439 or zmeyer@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @ZlatiMeyer.

Kosher Restaurants in Metro Detroit Under Kosher Michigan (Conservative Rabbi Jason Miller)

  • Earthen Jar, Ann Arbor, www.earthenjar.com
  • Inn Season Café, Royal Oak, www.theinnseasoncafe.com
  • Liquid Lunch Café, Birmingham, www.bewelllifestylecenters.com/lifestyle-services/be-well-cafe
  • Try It Raw, Birmingham

Kosher Michigan also certifies:

 

Gefilte Fish Shortage Before Passover (Pesach) AP (April 14, 2014)

WHITEFISH SHORTAGE CAUSING PASSOVER MEAL PROBLEMS

BY JOHN FLESHER
ASSOCIATED PRESS

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A shortage of whitefish in the Great Lakes region resulting partly from the winter deep freeze is coming at an inconvenient time for Jewish families: the Passover holiday, when demand is high because it’s a key ingredient in a traditional recipe.

Markets in Chicago and Detroit were among those struggling to fill whitefish orders before the beginning of the eight-day celebration Monday evening, and a representative of a commercial fishing agency said the shortfall extended as far as New York.

“Everybody’s pulling their hair out,” said Kevin Dean, co-owner of Superior Fish Co., a wholesaler near Detroit whose latest shipment provided just 75 pounds of whitefish although he requested 500 pounds. “I’ve never seen it this bad this time of year.”

The dish that inspires such angst is gefilte fish, which somewhat resembles meat loaf or meatballs. Recipes handed down for generations vary but typically call for ground-up fish and other components such as onions, carrots, eggs and bread crumbs. Other fish such as cod, pike and trout are sometimes a part of the mix, but whitefish is especially popular.

“Just smelling that gefilte fish aroma tells my senses that it’s a Jewish holiday,” said Jason Miller, a rabbi and director of Kosher Michigan, a kosher food certification agency in West Bloomfield, Mich.

In the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill., Ira Kirsche of Hungarian Kosher Foods said his market ordinarily would get 200 to 300 pounds of whitefish daily this time of year but has had to settle for 10 to 20 pounds.

Justin Hiller’s family market in suburban Detroit eventually received the 4,000 pounds it needed to meet demand but it was a close call.

“There was a short period a couple of days before Passover where we had to create a waiting list,” he said.

Gefilte fish (“gefilte” is a Yiddish word for “stuffed”) originated in eastern Europe, where it was an inexpensive and tasty choice for Sabbath and holiday meals, Miller said. Because it could be prepared ahead of time, it provided a way to avoid violating the Jewish law against deboning fish on the Sabbath.

It’s also available frozen or in cans or jars. But for many, only homemade will do.

Elyse Fine of Rochester, N.Y., who travels to the Chicago area yearly to prepare Seder meals for extended family, said her family used jar varieties until about 10 years ago when her husband suggested she try producing it from scratch.

“Everybody loved it,” Fine said. “Now they don’t want me to go back to the jar stuff.”

She finally located some whitefish an hour’s drive away after coming up short at stores closer to home.

The whitefish shortfall is yet another ripple effect of the bitterly cold winter, which caused more than 90 percent of the Great Lakes surface area to freeze over. In some places, the ice cover was many feet thick, leaving commercial crews stuck in port.

“You have a lot of boats that can’t get out to fish, even now,” said Chuck Bronte, senior fishery biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Green Bay, Wis.

Native American crews in northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, as well as Lake Superior, were able to drop their nets through holes drilled in the ice, said Mark Ebener, fishery assessment biologist with the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority, which regulates tribal fishing in the area.

They had some success but the whitefish population has dropped in recent years, making the Passover shortage worse, he said.

The reason is unclear, although some scientists blame invasive mussels, which create food scarcity in aquatic food chains by gobbling vast amounts of plankton.

Follow John Flesher on Twitter at HTTP://TWITTER.COM/JOHNFLESHER .

Rabbi Jason Miller Meets Demand for Kosher Products (Oakland Press – December 1, 2013)

Rabbi meets demand for Kosher products

Rabbi Jason Miller of Kosher Michigan
Rabbi helps meet demand for Kosher products. Rabbi Jason Miller launched Kosher Michigan, (KM), to help bring Kosher products to market. Miller works with restaurants, bakeries and manufacturers.His is the first kosher certification agency owned by a non-Orthodox rabbi to have a booth and exhibit at Kosherfest.

He was an exhibitor at the 2013 trade show in Secaucus, NJ, Oct. 29-30.

Kosherfest marked its 25th anniversary as an annual meeting and trade show and product resource for the kosher trade industry: supermarket, restaurant and foodservice buyers.

According to Miller, founder and director of Kosher Michigan, “My certification agency has grown over the past five plus years and becoming a part of Kosherfest for the first time is a milestone for me.”

Menachem Lubinsky, co-producer and founder of Kosherfest said, “In the last 25 years we have seen the number of kosher-certified items grow from a few thousand to almost 200,000. Major food companies have changed their ingredients and equipment in order to get kosher certification, and consumers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, seek the kosher symbol on the food products they buy more than ever before.”

Attendees to Kosherfest represent a broad spectrum of the industry, from chain and independent restaurants, caterers and specialty markets, to grocery/supermarket, big box and club chains, independent retailers, manufacturing ingredient buyers, distributors and buying agents, among many other industry professionals. Kosher Michigan was a co-exhibitor with Excalibur Seasonings, a large spice company in Pekin, Illinois that has been certified by Kosher Michigan for the past few years.

“As a non-Orthodox rabbi it has certainly been an uphill battle to gain acceptance in the kosher certification industry,” Miller explains. “However, it has been a worthwhile endeavor for me. Today Kosher Michigan certifies over fifty businesses and that number is growing each month. KM has expanded outside of Michigan and the KM hechsher (kosher symbol) is found on products sold throughout the U.S. and Canada.”

Miller started Kosher Michigan in 2008 to promote the observance of the Jewish dietary laws. KM is endorsed by the International Rabbinical Assembly and under the rabbinic advisement of Rabbi Joel Roth, a world renowned kashrut expert.

People of all faiths are purchasing kosher food for health and safety reasons. Additionally, people are purchasing kosher food for lifestyle and dietary reasons such as vegan, vegetarian, and lactose-free. There are more than 400,000 kosher certified products in the United States.

FYI

Kosher Michigan, 5657 W. Maple Road, Suite B, West Bloomfield Township 248-535-7090, koshermichigan.com.

Thanksgivukkah: Light Menorah, Pass Turkey (Detroit News – November 27, 2013)

For Thursday: Light menorah, pass turkey

Mark Hicks | The Detroit News

This Thanksgiving marks a first at Margo Grossman’s home: Menorah candles will burn while latkes as well as blue-and-white Star of David-shaped sugar cookies accompany heaping portions of turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and other dishes.

Thursday is the national holiday honoring the Pilgrims’ harvest with help from the Wampanoag American Indians in the 1600s. It’s also the first full day of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates emancipation from religious persecution in the second century B.C.

For many Jews across Metro Detroit, the rare convergence is a chance to combine celebrations of each holiday — shared goods, family gatherings and more to show an appreciation for blessings — into a joyful period some have christened “Thanksgivukkah.”

“It’s a cool, once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Grossman, a transition consultant from Franklin. “I’m definitely welcoming it. Doing the holidays together is fun and different. … It’ll be interesting.”

By some calculations, this is the first time since 1888 Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah have fallen on the same day. And, according to a Chabad.org article, the two holidays would next coincide in 2070.

To traditionalists and grateful diners alike, the unusual occurrence this year — Hanukkah begins at sundown today — links national history with spiritual heritage.

“It really highlights the fact that the Jewish-American community is American,” said Rabbi Steven Rubenstein of Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield Township.

To some, the holidays share similarities.

Having fled Europe seeking economic viability and freedom to practice their religion, the pilgrims faced enormous challenges — including the threat of death from disease and starvation — adapting to a tough new terrain, said the Rev. John Staudenmaier, a history professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

“That’s the context that originally framed the Thanksgiving feast and it is deeply important for the people who ate that feast,” he said. “They knew they couldn’t have done it on their own. … Thanksgiving is a celebration of survival but also of bravery by people desperate for a fresh start.”

Hanukkah — also known as the “Festival of Lights” — marks the victory of the Maccabees and their allies over Syrian forces, allowing them to recapture the desecrated Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

It also recalls the belief that a single day’s supply of lamp oil miraculously lasted eight full days during the temple’s rededication.

While non-Jews have associated Hanukkah, which often has fallen in December, with Christmas, this year the proximity to Thanksgiving and the holidays’ related themes seem more sensible.

“Thanksgiving fits a lot better with Hanukkah,” said Debra Darvick, a Jewish author from Birmingham. “It resonates more.”

With the overlapping observances in mind, some are creatively mixing traditions.

Rabbi Jason Miller of Kosher Michigan, a certification agency, and Patrick Coleman, owner of the Southern Nosh restaurant in Southfield that serves kosher vegetarian items and soul food, created a sweet potato latke.

A traditional Hanukkah item, latkes typically are cooked with potatoes and oil. But the Southern Nosh version uses a sweet potato — a popular ingredient in African-American and soul food kitchens, Coleman said.

Since adding them to the menu this month, cooks have averaged about a dozen orders a day, he said.

“Folks are really enjoying them. They think they’re very tasty. … They’re literally going out of the restaurant like hotcakes — no pun intended.”

The day after lighting the first candle in their menorah for Hanukkah, Lisa Soble Siegmann of Bloomfield Hills and her family plan to visit a relative’s home in Ohio for turkey, latkes, cranberry sauce, challah stuffing, pecan and chocolate gelt pie; games with dreidels, the four-sided spinning tops; and songs extolling both holidays.

“It’s going to be a night of fun and family and being together,” she said.

For Leah Gawel’s family in Novi, the convergence is more of a curiosity.

After a feast complete with latkes Thursday, they will light the menorah and let their children open gifts. Holiday decorations — colored lights, a banner — adorn their home.

“It just makes it interesting, makes it a little fun,” Gawel said. “It will be something the kids will remember.”

Partly to accommodate those celebrating Thanksgiving, organizers of the third annual “Menorah in the D” plan to hold the public lighting of the 24-foot-tall steel/glass menorah and the related community party in Detroit’s Campus Martius next week, said Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov of the Shul-Chabad Lubavitch in West Bloomfield Township. The ceremony usually occurs earlier during Hanukkah.

Some of the coordinators also are expected to display a dreidel-shaped mobile and distribute tin menorahs along with chocolate coins during America’s Thanksgiving Parade on Thursday, said Ben Rosenzweig, a member of the Shul.

That underscores a central theme of Hanukkah that dovetails with Thanksgiving, he said. “The idea of Hanukkah is good defeating evil and the idea that everybody has the freedom of religion to practice what connects them spiritually.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2117

From The Detroit News: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20131127/METRO08/311270030#ixzz2mun1VBa1

Gluten Free Bar and Marshall Rader Honored with Startup Award (Michigan State University Extension – November 14, 2013)

Michigan State University and the Product Center give “Start-up to Watch” award to Marshall Rader

Michigan’s premier Specialty Food Show bestows award to The Gluten Free Bar.

Posted on November 14, 2013 by Paul James Werner, Michigan State University Extension

The Start-up To Watch Award was given to Marshall Rader during the Making it in Michigan Specialty Food Trade show on November 12, 2013, held at the Lansing Center in Downtown Lansing, Mich. An award ceremony was held during the lunch hour honoring the company for the successful introduction of gluten free protein bars. The company has distribution in 650 Midwest stores, and national presence with eight distributors. The company has experienced tremendous growth. The award ceremony inculded an introduction video and award presentation. The event was free to attend and was held at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing, Mich.

The Gluten Free Bar partner team includes Marshall Rader, President; Elliot Rader and Ben Wahl, Vice-Presidents; and Jeremy Sher, R&D Director. Partners operate with a clear division of duties from Michigan and Seattle, Wash. and manufacuture the product at their plant in Ada, Mich.

Their product line includes a protein bar in four flavors and protein bites in three flavors. All bars are certified gluten-free by GFCO, certified vegan by Vegan Action, certified kosher by Kosher Michigan, and GMO free. In late 2013, The GFB will introduce soy-free bars, further enhancing their appeal in the gluten-free and allergen-friendly marketplace. Their motto, “believe in a better bar” reflects their commitment to meeting the needs of millions of gluten-intolerant individuals with a tasty, nutritious and convenient product.

The company was launched in 2010 and today is sold in over 650 stores in the Midwest and in national distribution through eight distributors. Internet sales constitute 10 percent of total sales. They are experiencing a 300 percent compounded annual growth rate. The business employs 11 workers, up from 3 at launch. In addition to producing their own product line, they operate a separate private label and co-packing business.

The company’s web site is professionally developed and maintained. It includes extensive information about the products, reviews, store locations, a blog and online ordering. They utilize search engine optimization, ad words and are pro-active with bloggers.

The Gluten Free Bar executives operate with clear vision and measurable goals. They recently conducted a strategic planning process and business plan update as part of their initative to accommodate general growth and expansion. The company is a contributor to the local food bank and the company supports the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness.

The Gluten Free Bar and the officers of the company received one of four separate awards. All of the award winners were recognized as part of the Making it in Michigan, the only premier specialty food trade show in Michigan. The trade show is a compilation of a marketplace for producers to sell their products to grocery buyers, an educational component that delivers classes from marketing to regulation and a formal conference and expert speakers. This year’s keynote speaker was Tim McIntyre from Domino’s Pizza. The event was hosted by Michigan State University and the MSU Product Center, partner ofMichigan State University Extension and MSU AgBioResearch.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Thanksgivukkah: Rare Convergence of Two Holidays (Detroit Free Press – November 10, 2013)

Sweet Potato Latke for Thanksgivukkah

Sweet Potato Latke for Thanksgivukkah

 

By Susan Selasky
Detroit Free Press Staff Writer

This year, Paula Lynn is putting her traditional Hanukkah vacation on hold.

Instead of going away, the West Bloomfield mother of two will celebrate the Jewish holiday at home — on Thanksgiving.

Like many American Jewish people, Lynn, 42, is looking forward to Nov. 28, when the two holidays coincide like this for the first time since 1888.

“Not only are my kids excited to be here during Hanukkah, but also because they are having latkes on Thanksgiving,” she says.

On Lynn’s Thanksgiving table, the traditional turkey and sweet potato casserole will share space with latkes, brisket and dreidel-shaped cookies.

Blending the holiday celebrations is “definitely an opportunity for more fun for all,” says Lynn, whose home is decorated with brown for Thanksgiving and blue for Hanukkah.

Rabbi Jason Miller of Farmington Hills, who is a part-time rabbi at Congregation B’nai Israel in Sylvania, Ohio, and director of Kosher Michigan, says the holidays are a good fit with each other.

“You have the word ‘thanks’ and ‘giving’ and Hanukkah has become a holiday in which we give gifts,” says Miller, 37, who has a 9-year-old and 7-year-old twins.

This year, he says, he’ll “underscore the importance of what we have and reinforce to my kids that it’s more important to give than to get.”

“Another positive to this is removing the pairing of Hanukkah with Christmas, a holiday Jews don’t celebrate,” says Miller. “It makes the connection with Thanksgiving, a holiday they do celebrate.”

And, then, there is the convenience for those who must travel for both holidays.

“It’s always a fun thing to have everyone together,” says Rabbi Aaron Bergman of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, “but this is a 2-for-1 holiday.”

But not everyone plans to blend their holiday celebrations.

Sonny Cohn of Farmington Hills says her family will celebrate Thanksgiving at her daughter’s house on Thursday and Hanukkah at her house the following Saturday. The grandmother of 10 is just thrilled because she’ll get to celebrate Hanukkah with her son, Randy, and his family from Illinois, who come each year for Thanksgiving.

“It will be the first time we are all celebrating Hanukkah together,” says Cohn, 67. “We always exchange gifts, but this will be the first time we will exchange gifts in person.

“It’s another memory,” she says. “This is another time everyone will remember spending together — that’s what so special about it.”

Norma Dorman’s holiday table at her West Bloomfield home will be adorned with decorations her children have made for both holidays over the years.

“I’ve saved their stuff all these years as my mom did with me,” says Dorman, 51, who has four children ages 21, 19 and 16-year-old twins. “They are things we really love, and treasure them because they are old. ”

Her table will be adorned with handmade dreidels and menorahs as well as turkeys made with construction paper. Although the names on those projects aren’t legible, Dorman says, “we know who did them.”

“It’s those things that bring such conversation to the table,” says Dorman. “I literally have every menorah they’ve made.”

Having the family together for both holidays is a plus, she says.

“Depending on when Hanukkah falls, it’s difficult to get everyone together sometimes.”

And, coincidentally, the Dorman family tradition of deep-frying the Thanksgiving turkey also fits well with Hanukkah’s use of oil, which represents the oil left for the Jerusalem temple’s eternal light that was presumed to be enough for one day but instead lasted for eight.

That makes this year’s turkey fry all the more special, Dorman says.

Bergman says he thinks most Jewish people are “very entertained” about Hanukkah’s timing this year.

“It’s a nice convergence of Judaism and America, and both things are really important to us.”

Sweet Potato Latkes

Serves: 4 / Preparation time: 15 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and shredded
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup vegetable oil for frying

Place sweet potatoes in a colander. Place a cheesecloth over the potatoes, and squeeze the potatoes to release as much liquid as possible. Let the potatoes sit to release more liquid, then squeeze again.

In a large bowl, combine sweet potatoes, eggs, brown sugar, flour, cloves and cinnamon; mix well.

In a large, heavy nonstick skillet, heat the oil.

Form mixture into pancake-size cakes, and fry in hot oil. Flip cakes after 2 to 3 minutes (when bottom is browned) and brown other side. Drain on paper towels, and serve piping hot.

From Southern Nosh Vegetarian Soul, Southfield. Nutrition information not available.

Contact Susan Selasky: 313-222-6432 or sselasky@freepress.com.