NEW HAVEN — While kosher consumers are enjoying a slice of pizza, a few Oreos or some kosher wine from Australia, “mashgichim” (kosher supervisors) around the globe are checking, blow-torching, and “toveling” (koshering utensils) in the mikvah.

In China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam, the Star K certifies products in more than 200 factories. In Northern California, Rabbi Ben-TzionWelton wakes up at 5:30am, and then runs around inspecting vegetables at a salad packaging plant in Monterey County, checking a Kirspy Kreme donut outlet, a kosher restaurant, and some 50 kosher-certified food processing plants.

And in New Haven, Rabbi Jay Lapidus starts off the morning unlocking the doors of the Westville Kosher Market.

Rabbi Lapidus explains that Westville Kosher is the only free-standingglatt kosher butcher in Connecticut, is under the kosher supervision of two cooperating agencies-the Vaad Hakashrus for Connecticut, and the Connecticut K (under the leadership of Rabbi Jesse Fink). The “teudah,” or certification of kashrut certification, is usually posted in the window of kosher restaurants and stores.

As a “mashgiach temidi” (on premises at all times), Lapidus has many different responsibilities. He must unlock the meat cooler and main freezer first thing in the morning, and he must lock it at the end of the day. In this way, kosher consumers are assured that no non-kosher meat enters the store.

Lapidus checks shipments to make sure that only kosher-certifiedproducts are entering the market. And he inspects vegetables for the possible presence of bugs. While all fruit and vegetables are considered pareve (suitable to eat with either meat or dairy), the presence of bugs would render them unkosher. Lapidus uses a modified bug-checkingprotocol devised by the Star-K kosher supervising agency.

Lapidus, who notes that most mashgichim “do other work in the store, including serving customers, computer labeling of products, and general inventory control,” is very familiar with the daily operations of the market. He observes, “The higher the quality of the produce, the less chance one has of finding bugs.” He cites cabbage as an example where higher quality means fewer bugs.

Lapidus, who appears to have a good working relationship with owners, employees and customers of the Westville Market, notes that it is not always easy to enter and have the immediate trust of an establishment.

“My job as mashgiach is to teach,” reports Lapidus. “When I make rounds, I’m not looking for a ‘Gotcha!’-but I am looking for potential problems-andto provide beady eyes and ears of the observant community.” For example, if Lapidus notes that the red or green coloring (denoting a utensil being fleishig or pareve) is wearing off, he must bring it to the attention of workers who will reapply the correct color.

In the walk-in refrigerator, Lapidus shows a box of chickens, in the original cardboard container, with four separate hashgachas (kosher certifications). Lapidus explains that he is a “mashgiach temidi,” a full-time, on premises mashgiach, as opposed to a “nichnas v’yotzeh,” the Hebrew word for “enters and leaves,” the term used to a describe a mashgiach at an establishment who does spot checks.

While Lapidus is the mashgiach temidi at the Westville Market, he explains that other mashgichim serve other functions in other settings. For example, some supervise catering establishments, where they actually kasher the kitchen and see that only kosher products enter the building.

Rabbi Jesse Fink of the Connecticut K elaborates: “Some mashgichim have to kasher equipment at the plant. In some plants, like those producing cakes or chips, they may do different runs on the lines-the mashgiach must make sure it is koshered in between. Some oversee the koshering of trucks–if a truck, like a tanker truck, is carrying a liquid like hot oil, he must oversee the truck and hoses undergoing a ‘kosher wash’ with water above 180 degrees Fahrenheit. And mashgichim working with caterers over Shabbat have to make sure no fires are lit, no food is cooked, no equipment is moved, and that no outside food is brought in.”

Mashgichim around the world supervise production of wine, aluminum foil, spices, cleaning products and numerous other kosher-certified items.

Kosher consumers around the world have come to rely on mashgichim and hashgacha (kosher supervision) agencies, the unsung heroes of the kosher food industry, to assure that packaged goods, restaurants and markets are kosher. Kosher is big business.

According to Menachem Lubinsky, editor of “Kosher Today” and owner of Lubicon Marketing and Consulting, there are 10.5 million kosher consumers in the United States, 10,650 companies in the United States whose products are under kosher supervision, and 98,000 kosher certified products. Not to mention bakeries, restaurants and kosher markets in many cities and towns throughout the country. And it is the “mashgiach” who has the important job of “watching over” factories, caterers, restaurants, butchers and kosher stores to make sure “everything is kosher.”

According to Lubinsky of Lubicon, “The dollar value of the kosher market is $10.5 billion.”

Read more

WEST HAVEN — Congregation Sinai, located in West Haven since 1929, recently sold their 78-year-old building in West Haven, and started construction of their new Milford synagogue space, located on the second floor of an existing commercial building at 55 Old Gate Lane.

Rabbi Dana Bogatz, who grew up in Meriden, and has been serving as rabbi of the Conservative (though not affiliated with United Synagogue) Congregation Sinai for three and a half years, has been proud of her congregations process in making decisions about their future.

Bogatz observes, Our congregation is aging, our building is aging, and West Haven is not a place where young families are moving to. The congregation wrestled with what to do. Im terribly impressed by the fact that the primarily elderly congregation believes it can and should continue to exist-and that changes needed to be made.

The Congregation Sinai building, at 426 Washington Avenue in West Haven, was sold to a church in November 2006. The church allows the synagogue to use two rooms until their proposed mid-June 2007 move to Milford.

Bogatz is confident about the future.

When I came here four years ago, there was not one child in synagogue, there was no Hebrew school, and there hadnt been a bar or bat mitzvah in eight years. Now, we have a Hebrew school and we have at least one bar or bat mitzvah scheduled every year for the next seven or eight years. That means there is a future-the congregation will continue! There are 100 individuals who are members of the congregation.

Bogatz, who recently purchased a house in Milford, notes, Milford is the first town in New Haven County outside of Fairfield County, the town offers the best of old New England and contemporary culture, and Milford has a Jewish population of young, educated families.

Congregation co-president (and incoming president), Becky Goodman-Olshansky, celebrated her bat mitzvah at Congregation Sinai in West Haven, was married there, and has been a life-long member.

Goodman-Olshansky, herself a Milford resident, feels that Milford is a vibrant, up and coming community and she loves the fact that downtown Milford has never been built up and remains quaint. Goodman-Olshanskyobserves that there are a number of young and unaffiliated Jews in the Milford area.

Daniel Krevolin, the other co-president, notes that a number of young families have already expressed interest in the Hebrew school. At a future date, the synagogue will likely become Congregation Sinai of West Haven and Milford, adds Krevolin.

While pleased with the move, Krevolin acknowledges, The thing that really hurts is that we will not have this beautiful sanctuary any more. Visitors have always been impressed with the beautiful, plain and simple sanctuary. But it was larger than we needed. Krevolin notes that the sanctuary had been totally refurbished following an arson fire on May 5, 1989.

Congregation Sinai will be the only year-round synagogue in Milford.

Says Bogatz, While Milford offers the seasonal (Orthodox) Woodmont Synagogue, there has been no year-round synagogue in Milford since the last one closed in 1981.

The board is sensitive to the needs of their elderly congregations who live mainly in West Haven and in the Towers in downtown New Haven. Members often pitch in to assist in transporting fellow congregants to the West Haven building, and will likely do the same after the move to Milford.

The new building is in a very good location-right off the highway, reports Krevolin. We wanted to be near New Haven Avenue so members could come from West Haven without having to go on the highway.

Read more

NEW HAVEN — When Professor Doron Ben-Atar was growing up in Israel, his mother, Roma Nutkiewicz Ben-Atar, seldom spoke of her Holocaust experiences.

When she did start speaking – “some time after the Six-Day War,” reports Professor Ben-Atar — her incredible story filled an entire book, “What Time and Sadness Spared: Mother and Son Confront the Holocaust” (University of Virginia Press, 2006). Now, Professor Ben-Atar has written “Behave Yourself Quietly,” a play based on a moving story from her experience at Auschwitz, which will be performed at the Little Theater in New Haven on April 28 and 29.

The play is sponsored by the Department of Jewish Education, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, The Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, and Fordham University.

Proceeds from the two performances will provide scholarship money to support The March of the Living, which sends high school students from around the world to Poland and Israel. Bi-annually, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven sponsors between 30-50 teens to experience the March of the Living.

Ben-Atar learned of the experience that inspired his play when his mother went to Auschwitz again as part of the March of the Living.

On the trip, his mother began speaking of her experiences in various ghettos and camps from age 12 until her liberation. At Auschwitz, she began telling the group about her imprisonment there, at age 16, six decades earlier. As they walked past the bunk where she slept as an inmate, she paused at the latrine and told the group, “This was like our coffee shop…where we could laugh and gossip.”

Prof. Ben-Atar, chair of the history department at Fordham University, member of Fordham’s Middle East Studies and Women’s Studies programs, had never heard that story before, but it made an impression.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about her comment about the latrine-that there was this autonomous place in Auschwitz, where people laughed, gossiped, and bickered,” he said. “I thought about it, wrote, left it, and came back to it – I couldn’t let go of the comment.”

The latrine remark led to Ben-Atar’s play, just over an hour in length, which depicts the lives of three women in Auschwitz in July, 1944. The play takes place against the backdrop of the most dramatic escape in the history of the concentration camp. The three female inmates are startled by the news and react in different ways. The play begins in the women’s latrine and moves through other intimate spaces of existence in Auschwitz.

Director Jane Tamarkin has been working with Ben-Atar on the project from the moment he asked her to read the first draft of the play.

“There was great stuff in it, because he is a historian and a writer,” observes Tamarkin. “It was provocative, and filled with facts, but, as a director, I think about how it can be played. A story can be a great read but not playable.” Ben-Atar accepted some suggestions from Tamarkin and re-worked the script. Tamarkin, who has acted off-Broadway and at the Long Wharf Theater and has taught acting classes and directed productions at the Hopkins School in New Haven for 13 years, then invited several friends from her female choir to read the play aloud. When Ben-Atar decided he was ready to see it on the stage, he invited Tamarkin to be the director. “This was a very exciting process,” reports Tamarkin. “This was not like directing ‘Death of a Salesman’ or ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ — this was brand new. We have been working on rewriting the script and the order of the lines until very recently.”

Tamarkin and her actors and actresses received an unexpected gift one month before the show’s opening. “Doron’s mother was in the States for Passover, and she came to a rehearsal and sat and talked with us for 45 minutes,” Tamarkin said.

Ms. Ben-Atar’s incredible memory for detail helped the actors truly envision the scene from 60 years ago. “There is a scene where clothes are being sorted,” notes Tamarkin. “She walked us through the way it was done. She remembered the exact height of the tables, and the certain way the clothes were folded. It was very moving.”

At the end of the preview, Ms. Ben-Atar, who reports reading the re-written script in one sitting, told the cast that she loved the play, and that it “really moved” and had “a lot of action.”

“My mother is an impressive person,” Prof. Ben-Atar said. “She is brilliant, really an intellectual. And she doesn’t give you standard cliches.”

“Behave Yourself Quietly” will be performed April 28 at 8:30pm and April 29 at 2pm at the Little Theater, 1 Lincoln Street in New Haven. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (203) 387-2424, ext. 310. Proceeds will provide scholarship money to support The March of the Living.

Donations to the March of the Living may be made directly by sending a check made out to “March of the Living,” c/o Ruth Gross, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. 360 Amity Road, Woodbridge, CT 06525.

Read more

NEW HAVEN — Dr. Andres Martin, associate professor of child psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine and medical director of the Children’s Psychiatric Inpatient Service at Yale-New Haven Hospital, credits his mentor, the late Dr. Donald Cohen, with his own decision to become a child psychiatrist.

Now Dr. Martin — along with his colleague, Dr. Robert A. King – have edited “Life is With Others: Selected Writings on Child Psychiatry” by Donald J. Cohen. The book is a sampling of important papers by Cohen, a pioneer in the fields of child psychiatry, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome.

Dr. Martin grew up in Mexico City in a Conservative Jewish family. He completed his medical training in Mexico City, a year of training in internal medicine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami and then a general psychiatry residency at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston.

Dr. Martin is an associate professor of child psychiatry and psychiatry at Yale, associate training director of the child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship program, and the director of medical studies for the Yale Child Study Center

He lives in the Westville section of New Haven with his wife, Rebecca, and their four young children. He recently spoke to the Ledger about his mentor, Dr. Cohen, and the field of child psychiatry.

Q: You and your colleague Robert A. King have edited a book on Dr. Donald Cohen’s selected writings. Who was Donald Cohen and what were some of his contributions to the field of child psychiatry?

A: Donald was the late director of the Yale Child Study Center. He was a larger than life figure in child psychiatry – not only in New Haven, but around the world. He was one of the towering figures in child psychiatry in the 20th century, and he sadly died at the relatively young age of 61. Robert King and I have been trying to capture Donald’s essence through some of his writings, and to make his teachings and approach known to a new generation of clinicians and scholars.

Donald was a peerless mentor. He had a strong commitment to Israel and was very comfortable with his Jewish self: Judaism marinated all of his life. He dealt with patients in the best Maimonidean tradition of caring deeply for their lives. Like the Rambam, he too was a globe-trotter, equally at ease with princes and paupers, and someone who approached the written text in a profound and loving way – be they holy or technical writings. Donald’s memory lives on, and he remains my main source of inspiration as a physician, an educator, and a father.

Q: Why did you decide to become a child psychiatrist?

A: Actually, I never planned to become a child psychiatrist. I planned to return to Mexico and open a private psychiatry practice serving everyone. I wanted to be well-rounded, so I participated in child psychiatry rotations. During my residency, I met Dr. Donald Cohen and that was the clincher. Now, 95 percent of the patients I see are children.

Q: In what ways is or should the Jewish community be involved in mental health issues?

A: Attention to mental health is as old as we are — Jacob and Sigmund Freud as dream interpreters provide readily recognizable signposts to this passion of ours. At some level, it makes perfect sense for the Jewish community to be very active in mental health initiatives in general, and in those focused on children in particular — We are the People of the Book and have historically been educators. While current psychiatric treatment sometimes involves medication and psychotherapy, the bulk of interventions for such conditions as autism are largely school-based. The school becomes the source of the treatment. While part of the role of psychiatry is to deal with issues of genes, brain imaging and traditional medical approaches, the role of the child psychiatrist and other mental health professionals has a lot to do with education and prevention as well, as exemplified by our routine involvement with parents, with families and communities, or by dealing with neglect, abuse and trauma.

Q: What are some of the “hot” issues and developments in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry?

A: As your readers know from a recent cover story in the Jewish Ledger, autism and Asperger’s are “hot” topics. Juvenile bipolar disorder and suicide are also important issues. There are a large number of children given the diagnosis of juvenile bipolar disorder these days, and all of them no doubt often have serious impairments. One issue we are studying is how to differentiate cases of “true” bipolar disorder (with very specific illness course, genetic loading, brain anatomy, or treatment response profiles), from other forms of serious psychopathology that may represent very different conditions (and entail, for example, a different prognosis or treatment approach).

There has been a lot of attention recently to the safety and risks of antidepressants and questions of whether these medications could contribute to increased suicidality in children. While data show that they may increase suicidal thoughts ever so slightly, the more important public health concern is the effects of having depression go untreated. Untreated depression is a deadly disorder, with significantly associated mortality across the world – especially among young people in their prime (suicide is one of three leading causes of mortality for individuals in their 20’s and 30’s). And so, our primary focus should be on the risks of having depression go undiagnosed, untreated, or insufficiently treated.

Q: You have followed in your mentor, Donald Cohen’s footsteps through your interest and involvement in Israel. Tell us about the field of child psychiatry in Israel.

A: Israel is a country with a very strong group of child psychiatrists and, for a country its size, one that produces a disproportionate amount of research in all areas. Some in Israel are focusing on very narrow fields of psychiatric research (i.e. in an attempt to find certain genes), others are developing interventions, while yet others are taking innovative policy and large-scale public health interventions. In the case of autism and mental retardation, Israel has more of a “cradle to grave” approach than we do: individuals get better coordinated care throughout their lives (including, for example, expensive school placements, adequate living and social support services, etc.

Q: You have been serving as a consultant to Camp Ramah in New England and have been in contact with colleagues serving in this role in other camps. What issues are consultants seeing these days in our overnight campers?

A: We tend to think of the child psychiatrist seeing patients in hospital or office settings. But children tend to spend much larger chunks of time in settings such as school, home and areas that we don’t usually think about-like camp. Camp is a more naturalistic, non-artificial setting for seeing kids, where kids can be themselves-away from their primary caregivers and families. Kids are also testing out their peers, dealing with being away from families, etc. This is growth-promoting, but it can come with speed bumps. Parents may find it reassuring to know that people are watching out for the mental health of their children – just as they know their physical health is being attended to. In a few cases, we do see children at camp with frank psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. However, most of the times, such campers are able to receive the necessary help to make for a successful camp experience.

Read more