Wayne Y changes course, says yes to kashrut

Wayne Y changes course, says yes to kashrut

In a dramatic turnaround, the leadership of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne announced this week that its Tel Aviv Café would once again be kosher.

In an e-mail to community leaders on Wednesday, Y executive director Steve Allen announced his decision to overturn his predecessor’s final act of making the café “kosher-style.” Former executive director Larry Traster had implemented the decision as a cost-saving measure in August, although it did not take effect until September when Allen took over. The café will become kosher again as of Nov. 19.

Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, a columnist for The Jewish Standard, wrote about the decision early last month, which led to a Standard article exploring the reasoning behind the Y’s choice and the national trend for Ys and JCCs to maintain kashrut. According to a 2002 survey by the JCC Association’s Florence G. Heller Center, 83 percent of JCCs are kosher.

SuBonnie Kochman, president of the Wayne YM-YWHA, told the Standard last month that Traster had looked at several options to cut costs and the board had supported his final decision. Reached on Wednesday, Kochman had no comment about the reversal and said Allen had explained the new policy in his e-mail.

According to the e-mail, Allen changed the policy after several conversations with the café’s owner. Allen continued that he made the decision “mostly for Muttie (Vaknin, the café’s owner), who had asked me to reconsider the policy for business reasons.”

This position seemingly is a reversal of Allen’s position last month, when he maintained that the expanded kosher-style menu had positively affected business. All food coming into the café was kosher, Allen said last month, but the menu had expanded to include both meat and dairy options. In his e-mail this week, Allen wrote that the menu would expand once the café goes kosher again.

When reached on Wednesday, Tel Aviv Café’s owner deferred all comments to Allen.

Engelmayer called the reversal “a wise decision.” Although he said he understands the difficulties the Y faces and why its leadership felt certain changes had to be made, he said that as a Jewish organization the Y has a responsibility to the Jewish community.

“As long as it maintains itself as a Jewish institution open to the entire community and, in fact, as a recipient of communal funds, the decision to maintain communal standards is a good one and I congratulate them for it,” he said.

The Y has not always been kosher, however. When it first opened in 1976 it had no kosher certification. It was only six years ago, thanks partly to the efforts of Rabbi Randall Mark of Wayne’s Cong. Shomrei Torah, that the Y implemented kosher certification. When it announced its decision late in the summer to once again go kosher-style, Mark prepared for another fight, which, he said, never came.

“I welcome the change,” he said. “I responded to the e-mail from Steve saying ‘Yasher koach on this decision.’ I for one will be supportive of the endeavor and will promote it within the community.”

But, Mark noted, the decision was made internally. Although he had conferred with other area rabbis, they had not yet taken any action to convince the Y to go kosher again.

Rabbi Michel Gurkov, of the Chabad Center of Passaic County, had acted as Tel Aviv Café’s mashgiach until he received notice in August. When he heard of the decision’s reversal, he said the Y “made a very positive correct choice.”

Reached on Wednesday afternoon Gurkov had not heard about the Y’s decision until he received a call late in the day from Tel Aviv Café’s owner, asking the rabbi to once again be the restaurant’s mashgiach.

“I don’t see why not,” Gurkov told the Standard, noting that the kitchen would have to be rekashered.

Calls and e-mail to Allen were not returned by press time. In his community e-mail, though, Allen wrote that he hoped “the Jewish population in general who seemed passionate on this issue, will embrace this change and frequent our café, and encourage their constituents to do so as well.”

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