Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

The kosher world continues to grow and diversify

If your bubbe had been one of the 6,000 members of the kosher food industry to attend the recent Kosherfest trade show in Secaucus, New Jersey, she would have barely recognized a single product on display at the nearly 400 booths. Even staples such as gefilte fish and matza have been updated. Gefilte fish long ago moved from jars to loaves (including tricolor plain, salmon and dill). And Passover matzot are now available with pictures and logos, courtesy of 2017 New Product Award-Winner Matzohgram Printed Matzos.
Two long days of walking the eight long, crowded aisles of the Meadowlands Exposition Center provided a unique window into “kosher in action”: new products in search of distributors; store owners inquiring about case prices; kosher certifying agencies, ranging from Sydney to London, explaining the certification process (the OU even has literature available in Chinese!); caterers and restaurant owners looking for that one new item to add to their menus this year.

And there was the massive sampling. Perhaps the toughest decision for attendees was whether to keep to dairy or meat products on a given day, so as to avoid violating the kosher prohibition of mixing milk and meat.

Exciting kosher products on display included Jack’s Gourmet turkey bacon, GranolaChik granola, Mikee Indian and Korean Sauces and Marinades, FreshBox Farms hydroponically grown leafy greens, Westminster Bakers Co.

crackers (oyster crackers, Sriracha seasoned crackers, and more), La Pastilya Home Style Appetizers (parve Moroccan cigars, kubbeh, empanadas, and more), Asian Star surimi fish (for imitation scallops, shrimp, lobster and crab), Angelic Bakehouse bread crisps (7-grain with sea salt, for example), and Ron Hot Sauces for the Brave – best washed down with Pernstejn Beer from the Czech Republic, or some of the 22 wines from Kosher Winery Argentina.

Visitors are always pleased when booths give out tote bags for carrying giveaways such as pens, pads and packages of Sunrise Popcorn (seven flavors), Jelly Belly jelly beans (blue-and-white, Happy Hanukka packaging), Launch Energy bars, Setton Farms Pistachio Chewy Bites (pistachios and blueberry infused cranberries with coconut) and Hayes Datiles (Medjool dates from Mexico).

Trends at Kosherfest 2017, organized by Lubicom Marketing Consulting since 1987, included an increase in organic, gluten-free and vegan products, a rise in convenience packaging and “on-the-go” products, and countries showing products from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, France, India, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, Peru, Russia, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom.

Kosher goes data-driven Kosher is big business, and it is no longer driven by guesswork. Kosherfest kicks off each year with a breakfast and “state of the industry” address by Menachem Lubinsky, president & CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting.

“We used to guess who we were targeting – more or less. Now, in the new, digital age, we can find our customers!” he said. Companies are spending more to properly market their products.

Lubinsky went on to explain that kosher is a $12.5 billion industry with nearly 250,000 kosher products in the US.

“Almost all products that can be kosher are now kosher – the US is virtually a kosher country,” he said. Kosher products are now available in stores such as Costco, Target, Walmart and 7-Eleven. “It is not a favor to local rabbis to offer kosher products – kosher products sell!” “If you are an ingredient country in Thailand or anywhere, you are effectively ‘locked out’ if you are not kosher,” reports Lubinsky, who notes that 99 countries now produce kosher-certified products.

Yarden Horwitz, a trendspotting lead for Google, was a new addition this year, invited to deliver a keynote address titled “Using online food trend to develop and market winning products.” Horwitz suggested ways the kosher food industry can use data to better understand their customers and to market and sell products accordingly.

“We are sitting on a gold mine of data about what consumers are searching for, in over a billion searches a year,” she said.
Horwitz identified three main times of the year when consumers search for kosher products, and she pinpointed where they are searching from: April (pre-Passover), searching mainly from New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC; July and August, searching for kosher hot dogs (Nevada is the top search location); and November (Thanksgiving in the US), searching in large numbers from Florida. “We are always looking at risers [water is a riser, she noted] and decliners [e.g., juice], we are asking what is going to be the next Greek yogurt [French yogurt is showing promise], and we follow trends during the week [people tend to be focused more on healthy eating during weekdays and are more indulgent on weekends],” she said.

Israel at Kosherfest While long known for its agricultural exports, and more recently for wines, Israel exhibited a diverse range of products at Kosherfest. Lubinsky stressed Israel’s role as a leader in the worldwide kosher food industry.

“Israel is developing cutting-edge technologies and using new, innovative tools. For example, low sugar and low fat. Just eight or nine years ago, $150 million in kosher products was exported from Israel. Now, it is $246m.,” he said.

There are more than 1,700 plants in Israel that produce food, employing 64,000 workers. The five largest food companies are Osem, Strauss, Unilever, Tnuva and the Central Beverage Company. The export of wine and beverages to the US in 2016 was $32m., a 7% increase over 2015.

Benjamin Bauer, an importer of fine kosher wines, proudly showed wines from Hevron Heights Winery, including a $200 bottle of Ezekiel wine.

“People are looking to support Israel. They will take an Israeli wine over a French wine. And wines from Hebron were especially popular [a few weeks ago], when we read about it in the weekly Torah portion,” he said, pointing to a bottle of Makhpelah wine.

Debbie Smith, associate director of sales and marketing for Marzipan Bakeries, gave out samples of hot marzipan, well known in Jerusalem for 40 years, and available in the US for the past two years.

“So many people love marzipan so much!” she said.
Yonatan Gershon and daughter Keren, owners of Neptune Foods of Beersheba, displayed a wide range of sauces and spreads, including pesto za’atar, sweet harissa and sweet pepper spread. Yonatan’s father was a spice importer from India. He developed blends, and the company now produces sauces, spreads and rice mixes.

“We believe Israeli companies can succeed in America – if we have good items at a good price. The US is the best market for Israeli products, and we are not only selling to the Israeli and Jewish market.”

Mahdi Aralan of Almahdi Sweets came to Kosherfest from Nazareth. He has had a store in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market for two-and-a-half years. He proudly shows off beautiful, carefully packaged gift boxes of baklava.

“Our baklava has 7-12% less sugar than most other baklavas, and we make 100 pieces per kilo,” he said.

Others reportedly make 50 per kilo.

El Nakhleh Coffee of Shfaram proudly displayed ground roasted coffee, with and without cardamom, in capsules for use in Nespresso machines.

Toot Food Industries is a Migdal Ha’emek-based company with a strong social justice connection. The maker of hazelnut date snacks, chocolate-covered almonds and pecans, truffles and marshmallows was in danger of closing and laying off 60 Arab and Jewish workers. American businessman and real estate investor Jonathon Weiner and his wife, Ayelet, bought the factory, hired manager Moti Goldstein and invested in new machinery. They are developing healthier products, for the local market and for export.

Weiner would like to see more Israelis proudly buying made-in-Israel products over often cheaper products made in China and elsewhere.

Shelly’s Natural Best, a three-year-old Israeli company, sells two different products – tiger nut butters, and freeze-dried sprouted legumes (lentils, mung beans, chickpeas). The company aims to “define new standards of quality, taste, aroma and nutritional value for the health-food industry.”

Other Israeli companies at Kosherfest included Al Arz Tahini, Dough’s, Tenta Topgum Sweets, Maadaney Yehiam, Jerusalem Winery, Mahroum Sweets, Matzot Aviv, Bare Juices, Pri-Chen, and J&G Pecans. Bare was one of the winners of the New Product Competition.

The Israeli companies at Kosherfest all expressed appreciation to Carol Nave, manager of food and beverages in the Consumer Goods Division of the Israel Export Institute/Israel Economic Mission, for helping them get to this important show.

“We come to Kosherfest each year,” said Nave. “We have all the latest food trends to offer – gluten-free, sugar-free, lactose-free, lean label.

“The kosher market is our natural market,” she continued. “We are also trying to penetrate the general market.”

The range of quality Israeli products at Kosherfest indicated she and her Israeli companies may be on the road to continued success.

A kosher export with an import twist If Barry Brucker has his way, he will import Aviv matzot and send them back to Israel – once he and his Matzohgram Printed Matzo company are done printing Stars of David, Seder plates and “Happy Passover” greetings on them.
Brucker wanted to do something nice for his synagogue Seder a few years ago. “We had printing equipment, since we are a printing company.”
People were so excited when they saw the matzot with pictures and writing. “People came out with napkins wrapping the matza to take home so it wouldn’t break!” he said.

He test-marketed the matza in Los Angeles delis, and it sold out in four days. “Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, had it on his table, and it was a hit. I have gotten similarly nice comments from other rabbis!” Brucker now hopes to introduce his matzot to the Israeli market.

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Original Article Published at The Jerusalem Post

With the location of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it is only natural that there are also many Jewish stories at the tournament.

The final Grand Slam of 2016 is filled with all kinds of big and small stories – from Serena Williams’s quest for her 23rd title, and Djokovic’s for his 13th, to John Isner’s long, heartfelt embrace of 18-year-old Frances Tiafoe following their tough five setter on opening day. A personal favorite moment was watching Gael Monfils chase down a lob – and crashing into and breaking the on court scoreboard on court 17.

With the location of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it is only natural that there are also many Jewish stories at the tournament, from players to food to minyan requests.

Israeli Players

Admittedly, there were not many Israelis in the main draw of the US Open singles tournament. One to be exact. And No. 80 in the world, Dudi Sela lost a tough five setter in the first round. But Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub battled hard through the qualifiers, each winning first-round matches.

Sela, who doesn’t play doubles very often, won a doubles tournament earlier this year and is entered in the doubles draw with Frenchman Stephane Robert. And, as expected, beloved Yoni Erlich is playing doubles – this time teaming up with Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico. Yshai Oliel, a top Israeli junior, will enter the qualifying tournament as he battles for a spot in the main draw of the junior event.

Jewish Players

We have come to expect a large number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners, far out of proportion to our numbers. But what about in the tennis world? There are a surprising number of Jewish players in the draw.

Many – like Americans Noah Rubin and Jamie Loeb (who happened to be mixed doubles partners) and Diego Schwartzman – are vocally proud of their Judaism. A few days ago, Rubin tweeted, “Later in the week, a spectacle will take place as the fighting Maccabees @jloeb308 and I play mixed double @usopen.

Who’s ready?” Schwartzman lost his first round match to fellow countryman and Rio Olympics sensation, Juan Martin del Potro.

There have been unconfirmed reports that a number of other players have Jewish roots, including Camila Giorgi, Elina Svitolina and Timea Bacsinszky. Even it has been reported on several occasions that Rafael Nadal of Mallorca descends from Conversos.

Israeli Matches

A US Open match featuring an Israeli player can best be described as an El Al flight-like experience.

People wander, talk loud, socialize, look for friend, make connections and use Protexia (connections).

During the Sela first-round match, I learned that the woman next to me was a party planner in the US and Israel. And by the start of the second set, I knew which Jewish day school her kids attend.

Half the fans seemed to sport credentials indicating they are a “player guest” of one of the Israeli players.

And people felt comfortable shouting unsolicited advice to Sela, referred to as “Dudi, Melech Yisrael!” (Dudi, King of Israel!).

When my seatmate spotted a man covered with an Israeli flag, she commented that her flag had been confiscated last year. And she asked the guard, “if the player was from Italy, would you have taken his flag?!” There is a wonderful sense of camaraderie and I suspect pro-Israel fans outnumbered pro-Uruguay fans (for player Pablo Cuevas) 10-to-1!

Kosher – and Kosher Style, Too

What is any sporting event without food – and without extraordinarily long lines? New York Brat Factory (certified Glatt Kosher) serves up wraps (tuna, turkey and chicken Caesar) as well as two types of Italian sausages with peppers and onions, overstuffed pastrami sandwiches, knishes, hot pretzels and of course, hot dogs (and pastrami dogs). The stand is closed on Shabbat, and the lines can be long.

This year, SoomSoom, a kosher store in various parts of New York City, has a kosher style booth at the US Open. The booth, outside of Court 17 (and next to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream) serves up humus, falafel and more. The sign notes “Kosher Style” and workers explain that some food comes from their kosher stores and others are made on site, and that the stand is open on Shabbat.

Ballboys With Yarmulkes

At least one ballboy was spotted on the grandstand court of an important first-round match wearing a yarmulkes.

And the mother of an Orthodox Jewish day school student reports that her son, also a ballboy at the tournament, wears the Polo Ralph Lauren-issued hat to cover his head.

Minyan Requests and More

Friends, colleagues and others who know I am covering the tournament turned to me on Twitter and Facebook and more with their Jewish questions. “What are the chances of “chapping” (catching) a minyan at the US Open; I am a mourner and need one?” I directed him to the Sela match and the kosher food line.

VERY likely!

The New Retractable Dome

Spoiler alert, this is not really a Jewish story at the US Open, but long days and nights at Arthur Ashe Stadium, under the bright sun and inevitable rain, got me thinking – if the US Open can find a way to keep players in action and fans dry during the rain, why can’t our rabbis help us find a way to better enjoy the often rainy Sukkot holiday.

In much of the US, cold, rainy weather often makes for a somewhat unpleasant sukkot. Get to work, rabbis – and speak with the brains behind the amazing retractable dome.

And while you are at it, see if you can find Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur cantors with voices as great as the ones we heard on opening night at the US Open – Phil Collins and Leslie Odom of Hamilton fame.

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As the Ledger went to press, the U.S. Open tennis tournament was in full swing at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.  This year’s Open, which kicked off on August 25 and comes to a close on Sept. 8, features a number of Jewish players from around the world – as well as kosher food and a few “frum” (Orthodox) ball boys and girls.

According to kippah-wearing ball boys Eric Wietschner and Moshe Brum, “There are approximately 10 frum ball boys. The U.S. Open is very accommodating, both in terms of scheduling and about wearing kippot on the job.”  Which left one fan, Jeremy Posner of Manhattan, to playfully wonder, “Why aren’t they issued Ralph Lauren kippot?” The Ralph Lauren Polo logo is prominently displayed on shirts and shoes of all ball boys and girls.

This year’s singles and doubles men’s draw featured 18-year-old Noah Rubin of Merrick, Long Island in N.Y.  Rubin won the Wimbledon juniors tournament in July. He received a wild card to play in the U.S. Open main draw after winning the Boys Junior National Tennis Championship in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Despite losing his singles match to 66th ranked Frederico Delbonis of Argentina (6-4, 6-3, 6-0), and his doubles match, with partner Stephan Kozlov, to Jared Donaldson and Michael Russell (6-2, 6-7, 6-4), the good-natured Rubin remained proud and confident. In a post-match press conference, Rubin said, “I learned that I can definitely compete with these guys at the best level. I’m just getting used to the atmosphere, getting used to being out there with the top players in the world.”

Rubin, who attended religious school and celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Merrick Jewish Center, collected tennis rackets to donate to the Israel Tennis Center for his “mitzvah project.” “I want people to know I’m Jewish and I like to represent the Jewish people,” he told the Ledger. Though he has not yet been to Israel, “I will be going!” he says, noting that his sister, Jessie, who served as vice president of Hillel and captain of the tennis team during her student years at Binghamton University, has been to Israel twice – once on a Birthright trip, and once on a JNF service trip. Though he’s missed the first week of classes, Rubin will now head for Winston-Salem, N.C. to begin his freshman year at Wake Forest University.

Four days before the start of play, Rubin had the opportunity to go head to head with the world’s number one player, Novak Djokovic, at an exhibition match benefitting New York’s John McEnroe Tennis Academy, where Rubin previously trained. Likewise, Diego Schwartzman, 22, a Jewish tennis player from Buenos Aires, Argentina, ranked #79 in the world, faced Djokovic in the first round of the Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium. While Djokovic beat Schwartzman 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, he hugged the Argentinian following the match and offered him both a compliment and some advice. “Diego is a talented player; very quick on the court. He has to work on his serve a little bit more,” he said. “I just wish him all the best for the future, you know, to keep on working. He’s talented. He has good potential to be a higher-ranked player.”

For Canadian Sharon Fichman, 23, ranked #112 for singles and #76 for doubles, the road to the U.S. Open was a tough one. After injuring both her ankle and knee in the months leading up to the tournament, she recently underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear. Still, she managed to play both singles and doubles matches – losing both in the first round. “I will get there.  It will just take time, effort and patience,” she said.

Israel’s Dudi Sela chats with fans after winning his first round match.

Israelis in the main draw for singles include Dudi Sela, Shahar Peer and Julia Glushko. In Sela’s first round match, the 83rd-ranked player battled back to defeat Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq. After losing the first set in 17 minutes, Sela came back to win 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. He lost in the second round against seventh seed Grigor Dmitrov of Bulgaria, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Sela now turns his attention to the Davis Cup World Group play-offs against Argentina, to take place Sept. 12-14 in Sunrise, Fla. Israel’s Davis Cup team consists of Sela, Amir Weintraub, Andy Ram, Jonathan Erlich and alternates Tal Goldengoren and Bar Botzer. The match was scheduled to be hosted by Israel, but was moved to Florida given the recent situation in Israel.

Shahar Peer, ranked #155, defeated Amanda Konta in the first round, 6-2, 6-3, but lost in the second round to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, #121, 6-7 6-3, 6-2. Julia Glushko, ranked #101, lost her first round match to American Madison Brengle, 6-3, 6-2.

Sportswriter Sandra Harwitt, who has covered more than 70 Grand Slam tennis tournaments for such publications as, Tennis Magazine and The New York Times, was on hand to sign copies of her new book, The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Time. Harwitt notes the presence of other Jewish players in this year’s U.S. Open, including American Scott Lipsky and Camila Giorgi of Italy.

Among those included in Harwitt’s book – and a spectator at this year’s Open – is British Jewish tennis star Angela Buxton, now 80. In 1956, Buxton reached the Wimbledon singles finals, and won the French Open and Wimbledon doubles championships, teaming up with Althea Gibson, who was the first African American to cross the color line of international tennis. The remarkable story of their partnership is recounted in the recent movie, Althea and Angela: A Perfect Match, and the book, The Match: Althea Gibson & Angela Buxton: How Two Outsiders – One Black, the Other Jewish – Forged a Friendship and Made Sports History.

Finally, tennis fans in search of a kosher hotdog, sausage, knish, pretzel, deli sandwich and the like need search no further than the Open’s Kosher Grill, located near court 17 and open for lunch and dinner every day but Friday night and Saturday.


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Several weeks ago, Hartford Courant commentator Colin McEnroe summed up the imminent demise of West Hartford’s Crown Supermarket in a brief Courant blog post entitled, “Nooooooo.” “The Crown is not just food. It’s culture,” he observed.

Of course, much to the community’s relief, the closing has been aborted by a group of local Jewish investors who have purchased the store. Nonetheless, the near announcement of the closing of Crown is serving as a reminder and wakeup call to Connecticut’s Jewish communities about the precarious nature of kosher establishments, not only in West Hartford but throughout the state.

In New Haven and in other parts of Southern Connecticut, Rabbi Fred Hyman, spiritual leader of the Westville Synagogue in New Haven and president of the Vaad HaKashrus* of Fairfield County, has been working tirelessly to promote kashrut and to help create a community kosher standard. “When I joined the Vaad HaKashrus in 2010, I tried to get an area heksher (kosher certification) to achieve community standards — each place under the Vaad would follow similar standards. It would bring kashrus under one roof,” says Hyman.

In many ways, Hyman’s efforts have paid off. One major achievement was working with Abel Caterers to come under the supervision of the Vaad HaKashrus. “After lots of discussion and work, we reached an understanding – that was a big achievement!” says Hyman, who also worked closely with members of the Chabad Lubavitch community to achieve his goal. “Six months ago, [Chabad] accepted Abel for fleishig (meat) catering, as well — that was an amazing thing. In one and a half years, Abel moved to be able to serve the entire community — from Reform to Lubavitch. I had always wanted to reach this goal!”

In addition to his Abel Catering ‘coup,’ in a recent letter to Westville Synagogue members, the rabbi shared other Southern Connecticut kashrut updates. Many of the changes, he noted, were in direct response to requests and concerns voiced by community members. The changes Hyman noted include:

Claire’s Cornercopia in New Haven, a vegetarian restaurant, is now certified by the Vaad, who will support Rabbi David Avigdor in his continued role of providing onsite supervision.

The restaurant formerly known as KOSH in Stamford has reopened under the name 613. The Vaad has partnered with the OU to give it a national hashgacha.

Navaratna, an Indian kosher restaurant in Stamford, has been under renovation since the beginning of the year and plans to reopen within the next couple of weeks.

Edge of the Woods Natural Market is taking over the Cafe at the JCC and will be under the Vaad’s supervision. The Vaad is also working with the company to provide pas yisrael products for the broader community.

In his letter, the rabbi urged the community to support the area’s kosher establishments. “I have worked extremely hard to maintain and develop kosher food in our area and the businesses require your support to survive,” he noted.

Sydney A. Perry, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, lauded Hyman for his efforts on behalf of the community. “Rabbi Hyman works two full time jobs as well as serving as the chair of the New Haven Board of Rabbis,” she pointed out. “He still finds time and commitment to ensure that the Jewish community of Greater New Haven has the best opportunities for kosher food in the entire State of Connecticut. We are fortunate that we have his leadership in kosher supervision as in all things.”

Perry, whose office shares space with the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven, added, “We are so excited to have Edge of the Woods coming to the JCC. They have a great reputation for smoothies, baked goods, and a wonderful assortment of salads and warm dishes. Healthy and delicious is just the combination we look for to the many people who will enjoy the food and companionship in the redesigned eating area.”

But will the valiant efforts by Rabbi Hyman and others and the supportive words of Perry be enough to save such New Haven kosher establishments like the Westville Kosher Market?

Rachel and Yuval Hamenachem, owners of Westville Kosher Market

Rachel Hamenachem and her husband Yuval opened Westville Kosher Market in 1985. For nearly 30 years, she says, the market has offered “everything ‘soup to nuts’ – groceries, catering, bris and kiddush food; we have a restaurant; we have a vegetarian section; we can do vegan and gluten free, we gear for allergies, we use no MSG, no margarine in our kitchen, we support farmers around us…”

Yet, despite offering “everything kosher” under one roof, Hamenachem observes that many customers “only come before Rosh Hashanah and Passover,” and many will only buy certain items (deli, for example) at the kosher market, while buying such items as chickens or meats at less expensive supermarkets or chain stores. Hamenachem strikes a cautionary note: “If you want to have it, you need to support it,” she says. “This is my mantra. You need to support the places in your town!”

Perry agrees. “The near closure of Crown Supermarket is an object lesson for New Haven. If we do not buy kosher meat at our local market, and import everything from New

York and Monsey, we too will lose not just our kosher bakery [referring to the closure of the Westville Kosher Bakery in 2006] but also our kosher butcher.”

*A vaad hakashrut is a rabbinical council that oversees the community’s supervision.


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