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.

Read more

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.


Read more

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.


Read more

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

The annual Kosherfest trade show in New Jersey earlier this month offered a dizzying display of the newest innovations with a stamp of approval

Adam Mintz is the rabbi of the Modern Orthodox Congregation Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and has served as a professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought at various universities. Now Mintz has a new venture. His name and picture appear on the blue bags of Rabbi Mints Classic Kosher Mints. Mintz, along with his wife, Sharon, and a number of friends, dressed in royal blue The Chosen Mint T-shirts, gave out samples of their new product to attendees at Kosherfest 2011 at the Meadowlands Expo Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, earlier this month.

For the past 23 years, owners of food companies, distributors, importers, food processing and equipment companies, chefs, caterers, restaurant owners, kosher certifying agencies, cookbook writers and more have been gathering together for the two-day Kosherfest, the largest trade show featuring kosher food, drinks, wine, food service products and Judaica from around the world. Presentations such as a keynote addresses on “The Kosher Food Industry in 2012 On a Superhighway to New Vistas, an educational session on Mainstreaming Kosher: Taking Ethnic/Specialty Foods to the Masses and Growing Beyond Your Specialty Niche, a panel with chefs and authors entitled Kosher 2012: the New Demands of an Ever-changing Kosher Palate and the fourth Annual Kosherfest Culinary Competition rounded out this year packed Kosherfest schedule.

The attendees, from as far away as Israel, the Philippines and Australia, all know that kosher is big business. According to Lubicon Marketing Consultants, there are an estimated 12,250,000 kosher consumers in the US, and they are part of a $12.5 billion market. While only 1.3 million people in the US identify themselves as Jewish year-round kosher consumers, there are many more people who regularly buy kosher products. More than 3.5 million Muslims and members of other religious groups buy kosher; many vegetarians and people searching for non-dairy products also purchase kosher foods. There are currently 135,000 kosher certified products 3,000 of them became certified in 2010 alone. And 10,650 companies and plants in the country produce kosher food products.

And many of these companies, large and small, old and new, had booths lining the aisles of Kosherfest. New companies like Viktoria’s Gourmet Foods (serving Viki’s Granola), Gelato Shoppe Petrini (more than a dozen flavors of dairy and parve gelato) and Moses Vodka from Finland eagerly handed out samples to visitors.

Such established companies as Streit’s, Manischewitz and Gold’s were also on hand often with larger booths demonstrating how they continue to grow and evolve with the times. Streit’s has been making matza since 1925, when Aron Streit and one of his sons opened up a bakery on Rivington Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Now they have expanded to manufacture such kosher-for-Passover products as chocolate chip cookie mix, sour gummy bears and five versions of Matzel Toff, a toffee chocolate matza treat.

SIMILARLY, Manischewitz continues to innovate and diversify. Alain Bankier, co-president and CEO of the Manischewitz Company, who along with his entire staff was dressed in dark purple Manischewitz button-down shirts, was eager to show visitors the more than 40 new products introduced this year.

Manischewitz traces its beginnings to 1888 when Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz opened a small matza bakery in Cincinnati, Ohio. Now, reported Bankier, We strive to be a 52-weeks-a-year company. Manischewitz new products and packaging from organic matzot to gluten-free noodles span such categories as Mediterranean food, comfort food and health and wellness food. And soon, kosher consumers in the New York City area will be able to purchase warm kosher egg rolls, blintzes and knishes from Manischewitz vending machines.

Marc Gold, standing at the Gold’s Horseradish booth, shared the story of how his grandparents, Hyman and Tillie Gold, started making horseradish out of their apartment at 824 Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn in 1932. My grandmother ground it and my grandfather spooned it into the same basic bottles we use now. He put it on pushcarts but he wouldn’t sell it to people on the streets. He would sell two or three bottles at a time to stores.

Since the market for borscht (beet soup) and schav (sorrel soup) isn’t what it was in the 1930s, the company now manufacturers such modern products as mustard, duck sauce, salsa and wasabi.

A walk down the aisles of Kosherfest revealed an explosion of products geared toward vegetarians, gluten-free needs and the otherwise health-conscious. According to Menachem Lubinsky, founder and co-producer of Kosherfest, Natural, healthy and gluten-free products continue to grow among new kosher product categories, as an estimated 18 million people in the US are sensitive to gluten.

Examples of products available to this demographic include Mon Cuisine Vegetarian Entrees (for example, vegan Hawaiian nuggets with pineapples and sauce or vegetarian Salisbury steak in brown sauce), Sage V Foods IQF Rice (in individually quick-frozen packets) and various meat-free, vegetable protein entrees from Wholesome Cuisine (such as Zesty Cacciatore, and Polynesian Vege Steak Tidbits).

Consumers allergic to dairy or suffering from lactose intolerance will be pleased to see the new line of products from Tofutti, a company started in 1970 when Brooklyn restaurant owner David Mintz discovered tofu as a dairy substitute. The Tofutti Company made an appearance at Kosher-fest as well, demonstrating a new line of desserts, including Tofutti Cuties and Tofutti Dessert Bars as well as parve Pan Crust Pizza, Better Than Cream Cheese and Better Than Ricotta Cheese.

Elokim Herbs demonstrated its healthy alternatives to modern medicine. The Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation of Sugar Land, Texas, taught about kosher vitamins, herbs and minerals. And Cathy Richards, founder of The Simply Bar, explained that she started her company when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and needed to find a snack that would fill her up but not upset her stomach. Her bars, in seven flavors, are high-protein, low-fat, low-cal, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan and kosher.

A RECORD number of countries displayed their goods at Kosherfest 2011

Masada Kosher Foods showed off its line of kosher Australian lamb. Tsuno Foods & Rice Co. of Wakayama, Japan, displayed its line of kosher rice oil. Sesameco Sesame Seeds Processing of Quebec demonstrated how tehina is made from sesame seeds. And the Tesalia Springs Company from Pichinichia, Ecuador, gave out samples of natural mineral water and vitamin water to thirsty show-goers.

Other countries in attendance included Israel, Argentina, the Philippines, Finland, Canada, England, Australia, France, Scotland, Brazil, Ecuador, Japan, and the former Soviet Union.

Some countries even received awards for their new products. An Argentinean company, Marumatok SA, won the award for best new wine, beer or spirit (Fincas Marumatok Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec). The impressive delegation from Israel featured large companies like Osem as well as smaller companies like Of To Hod Lavan (deli meats), Kvutzat Yavne (pickles) and Dorot (fresh-frozen herbs). Israel Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was on hand for Kosherfest opening ceremony and ribbon cutting and to check out the many products on display at Kosherfest 2011.

Israeli companies received several new product awards including best new frozen entre (Taamati meat-flavor meatless bourekas); best new jam or preserve (Tishbi passionfruit and strawberry champagne preserves); best new dips, spreads, salsas (Sabra guacamole); best new savory and salty snack food (Bamba halva); and best new savory condiment, spice, sauce, oil, vinegar dressing or marinade (Dorot Foods fresh-frozen pesto cubes).

Even novelty items were on display. Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, the only Scottish-born rabbi living in Scotland, has started a company, The Chabad rabbi, based in Glasgow, sells Official Jewish tartan kilts to be worn at bar mitzvahs and weddings, simchas or social gatherings as well as woolen prayer shawls and matching yarmulkes. Another company, The Kosher Cook, introduced (and received a best new product award for) the Royal Challah Silicone Bakeware Pan.

Culinary Depot claims, Nobody has designed and supplied more kosher kitchens than us and was on hand to show off kitchen equipment and supplies. Another booth promoted 30 Minute Seder the Haggada that blends brevity with tradition. Costa Rica Kosher Adventures lured passersby to consider a kosher tour of Costa Rica, the Canadian Rockies or South Africa over Passover. And Sisu Home Entertainment invited guests to “join lovable, furry Grover and celebrity host Anneliese van der Pol as they travel to Israel in a 12-part DVD series co-produced by Sesame Workshop.

At the conclusion of the Kosherfest, thousands of attendees returned home, each with new ideas and with samples of many new, delicious products. Food left over from the show was donated to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

Read more