Kosher Hardball In Five Towns


An owner of a major kosher supermarket in the Five Towns says he has been given an ultimatum by the organization that provides him with kosher supervision: either sell his business by Feb. 1 or it will withdraw its kosher supervisors.

Mark Bollander, a partner of Gourmet Glatt Kosher Meat Market in Cedarhurst, told The Jewish Week that the threat was made by the Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns and Rockaway, which has virtually dominated supervision of kosher establishments in the Five Towns for about 30 years.

"The Vaad told me that you have to get out of Dodge by Feb. 1 or we are pulling your supervision," he said. "This was not over any kashrut issues, it is strictly a matter of personality."

Bollander declined to discuss the matter further and Rabbi Yosef Eisen, the Vaad Hakashrus administrator, declined comment.

"The Vaad has no comment at his time," said a man who answered the phone at the Vaad office.

Bollander made the disclosure after members of the community said that at least one local rabbi told his congregants not to patronize Gourmet Glatt, which recently expanded its store at 137 Spruce St.

"We have heard" of those statements, said Alexander Novak, Gourmet Glatt’s lawyer. "This is somebody [Gourmet Glatt] who has been here 25 years and is trying to be a model in the kosher industry, and it is disturbing and hurtful."

Several area rabbis were contacted for this article and all declined comment. Virtually every rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in the area is a member of the Vaad.

"I don’t want to comment on it," said Rabbi David Weinberger, spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Lawrence. "All the rabbis will have one statement" in the next few days.

An Orthodox resident of the Five Towns who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the ultimatum is not widely known in the community but that those who learned of it were "shocked" that the Vaad would act to "put [Gourmet Glatt] out of business."

"It is taking away their ability to make a living over something that has nothing to do with kashrut," he said. "Even if they wanted to open another business elsewhere they would not be deemed to be worthy of another Vaad giving them [supervision]. Clearly this is not a question of kashrut because if it was, why would they wait until Feb. 1? Unless their reasoning was extremely sound, this is not the way to go. Their job is to watch out for kashrut" and nothing more.

In the last week, Bollander said he has hired Rabbi Yehuda Kravitz, who previously supervised all of the meat companies under OU certification, to provide additional kosher certification of his store. He said his action had nothing to do with the Vaad’s threat, but rather was aimed at "increasing our level of kashrut."

Novak said Gourmet Glatt was striving "to do whatever they can to make sure they have the highest kosher standards, and they hope what they are doing will just enhance their kosher standards. … They have a rabbi who is an expert in meat … and one for the deliveries. You would think it was like a yeshiva with so many rabbis there. But you know, getting good mashgichim [kosher supervisors] is not simple."

Rabbi Kravitz declined to discuss Bollander’s dealings with the Vaad, but said simply: "The whole store is now under my certification as well as the Vaad’s. There are many establishments and companies that have dual certification. … It is a common practice. It seems not to be a problem anywhere. I supervise one other place that has a local heksher [certification] as well. It is in Brooklyn, and the other certifier was very happy I came in. There was no problem."

But The Jewish Star, a weekly that covers the Five Towns, quoted Rabbi Eisen last week as saying that Gourmet Glatt brought in Rabbi Kravitz without consulting with the Vaad or receiving its approval. He was quoted as calling the decision "irresponsible and reckless" and said the ability of the Vaad to be "able to continue to certify the kashrut at Gourmet Glatt" had been jeopardized.