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Former Boxing Champion Yuri Foreman Gives Kosher Certification to Donut Store

Posted on: December 9th, 2021 by Kosher Michigan

Fom the JTA

Yuri Foreman’s professional peak as a boxer arguably came 11 years ago, when he faced off against Miguel Cotto in a marquee boxing match at Yankee Stadium.

The match, dubbed the “Stadium Slugfest,” was a super welterweight title fight that had been promoted on huge posters at subway stops around the city. Foreman was a world champion who had won his belt the year prior. Cotto was one of the best boxers in the world, and won the fight by technical knockout in the ninth round.

For most boxers, it would have been a tough break. Luckily, Foreman had a backup plan: He was also studying to be an Orthodox rabbi. He was ordained in 2014 but kept training, fighting and teaching self-defense classes. Now, a decade later, he’s putting his ordination to use — with a twist.

Like many rabbis, he’s using his expertise to provide kosher certification to eateries. Unlike most rabbis, however, he’s only going to certify vegan restaurants.

Oh, and he’s also mounting a boxing comeback at age 41.

Yuri Foreman Kosher Certification

 

“People know quite a bit of the ‘sweet science,’ which is boxing because we’ve been punching each other for thousands of years,” Foreman told the New York Jewish Week when asked why he started a vegan kosher agency. “We know way more about the sweet science than the science of food…. It’s horrific, what people do to themselves. Even though we say Jewish law says ‘don’t harm animals,’ we’re harming ourselves every single day.”

Foreman’s journey to veganism was gradual — but now he’s a true believer. He likened it to his experience of becoming Orthodox after growing up in a secular family that immigrated from the Soviet Union. One transformation flowed from the other: learning to keep kosher, he said, taught him to be more selective in what he ate. That led first to vegetarianism and then veganism.

His conversion to veganism was due at least in part to the influence of his wife, Shoshana Foreman, a physician’s assistant who became vegan well over a decade ago while working at a health food store. Her secret, she said, is to ask someone what their favorite childhood dish is, and then make a vegan version of it. For Yuri, whom she married in 2018, she made vegan pelmeni, Russian meat dumplings.

In May of this year, the Foremans established VBR Kosher — which stands for “Vegan Boxing Rabbi” — as a limited liability corporation. Since then, the couple has certified one establishment: Dun-Well Doughnuts in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. The small shop now bears a certificate in the window with Foreman’s signature, certifying that Dun-Well’s offerings are “strictly vegan, kosher and pareve.” Foreman hung the sign after checking the shop’s kitchen at the end of November, ensuring that all of the ingredients — hence all of the food being sold — met the standards of Jewish dietary law.

This week, Foreman helped Dun-Well co-founder Daniel Dunbar hang mezuzahs on its doorposts.

Around noon on a mild fall day, Foreman and Dunbar affixed the small case bearing a scroll to the doorpost of the red-brick building and recited the appropriate blessing word by word. It now hangs somewhat above a bumper sticker reading “LOSERS WEAR FUR TRIM.”

“I like making a product that’s accessible to everybody,” said Dunbar, who is of Jewish descent and identifies as secular. “We get asked a lot, ‘Are any of your donuts vegan?’ and when we tell them they’re all vegan, they’re very excited. Now I get to do that with people that are seeking kosher options and it’s really nice to be able to say, ‘Yes, you can have anything in this shop.’”

Dun-Well may be the first vegan establishment certified kosher by the Foremans, but they hope it won’t be their last. After all, vegan dining is on the rise in New York City; according to Eater, a string of restaurateurs are opting to go vegetarian or vegan both to save money and shrink their carbon footprint.

The couple hopes to supplement the kosher certification with online content — videos, posts, a podcast — about keeping kosher and being vegan.

“Our goal is to put this content out there for people to see, and to teach by example,” Shoshana Foreman said.

Being vegan is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not popular among the couple’s Jewish friends in their Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights. Shoshana Foreman said friends were adjusting to their diet, though from time to time they need to decline invitations to meals on Shabbat.

“The short answer is, we stopped being invited,” Foreman joked.

At VBR Kosher, the Foremans are working with Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, an Orthodox rabbi who works at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBTQ synagogue in Manhattan. Moskowitz has decades of experience in kosher supervision and provided certification to Dun-Well several years ago before the certificate lapsed.

Because Dun-Well’s products contain no meat or dairy, kosher supervision is easier there than at many restaurants. But there are still things to look out for, like whether the food colorings and other ingredients are certified kosher. Dunbar said he had to switch out his soy milk to maintain the certification.

Moskowitz and the Foremans understand that some observant Jews may not recognize or trust their independent authority, as opposed to the imprimatur of a large and well-known kosher certifier like the Orthodox Union. But they’re confident that it will make a difference to some people.

“For people who feel that they know the people here involved and they trust them, then each person should do things that make them feel comfortable,” said Moskowitz. “I don’t feel kosher supervision is there to be persuasive. It’s meant to be transparent and educational and give people the opportunity to make informed decisions.”

Avrom Pollak, president of Star-K, a large kosher agency based in Baltimore, said that because the kosher certification can be so complex, a lot of kosher eaters may be hesitant to trust a new certification.

“A lot of the kosher consumers are very discerning,” he said. “They want to know who stands behind that certification and they want to know if a problem does arise, are they going to deal with it in an honest and forthright manner?”

For now, Foreman considers VBR Kosher something of a passion project and isn’t charging for the service. In any case, it’s not his main gig. These days, he wakes up at 5 o’clock every morning to run eight miles or lifts weights. He trains at a boxing gym in Sunset Park. He said he wants to get back in the ring because he feels good and doesn’t want to regret passing up an opportunity. And at a time when antisemitism is rising in New York, he added, he wants to show that Jews can be tough.

“I don’t want to be years ahead [and] be disappointed that I stopped doing this because a lot of people told me I’m old,” he said. “And partially, being a Jew, we need an image of Jews being descendants of freaking warriors, kings, priests. But we are definitely not a weak people.”

Foreman’s dual career does present a bit of a contradiction. How does he reconcile the violence of boxing with the rabbinic teachings that drew him to a peaceable vegan diet?

Shoshana Foreman  — who is also her husband’s boxing manager — pointed out that, in boxing, both fighters have consented to the potential bloodshed, which isn’t the case with animals at a slaughterhouse.

Plus, Foreman said that he’s an old hand at separating his work in the ring from his life outside of it. “I’m wearing two personalities,” he said. “In boxing, I have to be a different person. I cannot be a husband in the ring, right? Or a father in the ring. Otherwise, I’m gonna get beat up completely. So I have to be that person who is about to punch someone in the face.”

Jewish Prisoners Win Right to Kosher Meals in Michigan

Posted on: February 1st, 2020 by Kosher Michigan

Kosher Meals in Michigan Prisons

From the Detroit Jewish News

A proposed settlement reached Oct. 12 grants Michigan’s Jewish prisoners the ability to have Kosher meals.
Jewish inmates in Michigan prisons will start receiving kosher meals under a proposed settlement reached Oct. 12 in a class-action lawsuit handled by the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University, led by Professor Daniel Manville. “We got the entry for preliminary approval and the notices will begin going up in the 16 Michigan prisons that house Jewish inmates,” Manville said.

Manville, an ex-offender who spent four years in prison in the 1970s, is an advocate for prisoners’ rights who likes to take on cases “that make an impact,” he says. He’s been working on this case since 2013.

Kosher Food in Michigan Prisons

“It stemmed from a lawsuit by Muslim prisoners who wanted a halal diet,” he explains. “The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) agreed to provide those prisoners with a vegan diet to settle the claim. They then extended that vegan diet to Jewish prisoners who wanted kosher meals — kind of a one-size-fits-all religious meal solution.”

Former prisoner Michael Arnold filed suit after that decision because, he said, a vegan diet lacks kosher meat and dairy and, most importantly, doesn’t adhere to kosher principles of preparation, such as proscriptions against contamination with non-kosher utensils and prep areas. Arnold, who told the Detroit Free Press, “The policy of enforced vegetarianism was targeted” at Jewish prisoners, was dropped from the suit when he was released from prison.

Arnold’s original lawsuit eventually became “Gerald Ackerman and Mark Shaykin v. Heidi Washington,” the suit that was just settled, which resolves prisoners’ claims to kosher meals.

Currently, inmates have the option of purchasing kosher meals and products at the prison commissary twice a month, but, Manville says, the cost is prohibitive for most inmates. “Each meal costs around $5-$6, which is hard to afford when you’re earning $30 a month in your prison job and need to buy shampoo and other incidentals.”

Under the proposed settlement, which is subject to a fairness hearing Dec. 11 in front of U.S. District Judge Linda Parker in Detroit, Jewish inmates who keep kosher will be entitled to meals prepared in a certified kosher kitchen within the facility or certified kosher meals from a third-party vendor. Facilities that produce kosher meals onsite must submit to inspections to maintain kosher certification.

MDOC has cited the cost of creating kosher kitchens at $100,000 for each of the 16 facilities holding Jewish prisoners, or $1.6 million. “Which seems a little high,” Manville said.

According to MDOC, there are about 600 Jewish prisoners in Michigan’s 33,000 prison population. Of those 600, Manville said, between 85 and 193 are approved for kosher meals. “The discrepancy in the numbers likely stems from the 2013 settlement that forced those requesting kosher meals to eat the vegan meals,” Manville said. “Many Jewish prisoners dropped their requests for kosher and opted for the general menu.”

Prisoners not already approved for kosher meals can become eligible for kosher meals by living kosher for 60 days, which means that prisoners must use only the religious diet line for meals and may not “purchase, receive, possess or consume” any non-kosher item from the commissary, visitors or another prisoner. If at any time they are found to have consumed something non-kosher they have to restart the 60-day process.

“That provision was added to the settlement to ensure Michigan didn’t have 32,000 prisoners decide they were Jewish once they read the notice,” Manville said.

The settlement does not resolve plaintiffs’ meat and dairy consumption claims, Manville adds. The issue of whether Jewish prisoners will receive kosher meat and dairy meals 56 days a year (each Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shavuot) is still in dispute and was just litigated early this month, “although all parties have agreed to at least one cheesecake per year,” Manville said. “We expect a ruling on that early next year.”

Manville said MDOC has claimed in court that it is reluctant to provide meat and dairy meals to kosher-observant prisoners 56 times a year because of the cost, which, according to Manville, would add $10,000-$20,000 per year in expenses for MDOC.

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

Posted on: December 1st, 2013 by Kosher Michigan

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.

 

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KM KOSHER CERTIFICATION AGENCY

5657 W. Maple Road
Suite B
West Bloomfield, MI 48322

Phone: 248.535.7090

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Closed Saturday and Sunday

 
 

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