The Met Council has long been known for providing kosher food to dozens of food banks across New York City.
Now the Jewish nonprofit agency is focusing on a new constituency: Muslim New Yorkers in need of food assistance that meets halal requirements.
Many of the requirements of halal food are similar to the rules of kosher food. Like religious Jews, religious Muslims do not eat pork nor do they eat foods made with derivatives like gelatin or enzymes that come from a non-halal animal.
And during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month which began last month and during which religious Muslims fast during the day and break their fast over a celebratory meal at night, the issue of food insecurity can be more intensely felt.
“We have a lot of expertise around complicated foods in terms of kosher and dietary restrictions,” said David Greenfield, chief executive officer of the Met Council. “We realized the need was tremendous so we started reaching out to halal food pantries and providing them with food as needed.”
This week, the Met Council has distributed 1,550 boxes of halal food at New York City mosques. On Friday, the organization worked with Daneek Miller, the city councilman representing the 27th city council district in Queens and the only Muslim elected official on the city council, to distribute 300 boxes of halal food for Ramadan at Masjid Al-Rahman in Queens.
“There are literally families who don’t have food for iftar,” Miller said, referring to the celebratory break fast meal eaten at the end of each day during the month of Ramadan. “So food insecurity is very real and it requires all hands on deck.”
The boxes include an assortment of kosher and halal foods, including fruits, vegetables, and canned and dried goods. The boxes also include dates, an item that would typically be too expensive to include in a food pantry distribution but was added because of the religious and cultural significance of dates during Ramadan.
Miller pointed to past collaborations between Muslim and Jewish New Yorkers to ensure Muslim children in New York City schools can eat halal meals and observe Muslim holidays.
“We’ve had those types of partnerships but the world does not know,” Miller said.
“People spend so much time focused on what separates us in New York City,” Greenfield said. “I think this is what makes New York so fabulous.”