JCC seeks new kosher supervision after break with Rabbinical Council

JCC seeks new kosher supervision after break with Rabbinical Council

The café at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly is seeking new kashrut supervision, after the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County withdrew its supervision last week.

At issue: The way the café fired its mashgiach, or kosher supervisor.

According to a statement issued by the RCBC, “the Café at the Kaplen JCC fired its mashgiach for apparently legitimate cause but without any prior notification to the RCBC of a situation that had been developing over time. This represents a violation of the signed contract between the RCBC and the Café at the Kaplen JCC. The Café was then left without any supervision at the time and sought to hire a mashgiach that wasn’t approved by the RCBC. The RCBC was compelled to remove its supervision due to the absence of a mutually acceptable mashgiach.”

“It was a personnel matter,” said Dorit Reiner, who owns and runs the café. “It has nothing to do with kashrut laws or food safety or anything. All the food that’s being served now complies with all the standards of kashrut we’ve had in the past. Nothing changed as far as we are concerned.”

The RCBC, however, disputes that characterization of its disagreement with the café, insisting that that the withdrawal of supervision, though not prompted by the finding of any non-kosher food in the café, was not “unrelated to food service” or merely a personnel matter.

“The RCBC could no longer effectively supervise the Kashrut of the food preparation taking place in the Café,” said the statement, issued by Rabbi Chaim Poupko, president of the council and associate rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood. The council is an organization of the county’s Orthodox pulpit rabbis.

Meanwhile, according to the JCC, an independent, experienced mashgiach is in place. At the café, which employs six people, the mashgiach is a full-time position.

“The JCC has been and continues to be committed to providing a kosher restaurant, where those who are observant feel comfortable to eat. As its mission states, the JCC looks to serve as a vibrant home for the Jewish people and welcomes all with a vision to be the center point for Jewish life in our community,” the JCC said in a statement last week.

Rabbi Akiva Block, an RCBC member, defended the organization’s decision last week in a letter to his congregation, Kehilat Kesher / Community Synagogue of Tenafly and Englewood.

“Please rest assured that decisions like this, particularly regarding communal institutions like the JCC, are not taken lightly,” he wrote. “The RCBC, which consists of over 30 orthodox rabbis from all across Bergen County and for whom I am privileged to serve as an officer, seeks to service our community in the greatest and most efficient manner possible while maintaining the strict kashrut supervision and standards our community deserves and has come to expect.”

According to the RCBC statement, “The Kaplen JCC is an important communal institution and the RCBC has put forth great effort over the years to maintain our relationship with the Kaplen JCC and its Café while maintaining the standard of kashrut on which we and our community pride ourselves. We hope to continue working with the Kaplen JCC to find a solution to this issue.”

Jordan Shenker, the JCC’s chief executive officer, said that while he would like to restore ties with the RCBC, “they have not given me any indication they have any interest in doing so at this time.”

He said that “based on the feedback in the community, going forward the JCC is going to take a much more active and assertive role in managing the relationship between the café and the kosher authorizing institution.”

Mr. Shenker said he has been in touch “with several possible alternative hashgacha providers” and is confident that one will be in place not long after Passover; the café is scheduled to be closed for the holiday anyway. Meanwhile, the café plans to bring in and resell packaged kosher foods, so no one at the JCC will have to go snackless.

“I want whoever I bring in to have community acceptance,” Mr. Shenker said. “A standard they’ll find not only halachicly acceptable, but also communally comfortable.”

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