July 23, 2024
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RCBC Withdraws Supervision of the Cafe at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades

Tenafly—The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC) has withdrawn its supervision of the cafe at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades after the owner terminated the mashgiach without notifying them, which is a violation of their contract. In a letter to members, the JCC acknowledged that the cafe is currently not under rabbinic supervision but stated that it was “actively seeking to identify a long-term partnership with a kosher certifying organization.”

Jordan Shenker, CEO of the JCC, wrote that they have “asked the owner-operator of the cafe to increase the variety of pre-packaged kosher-labeled products for sale to accommodate as many members as possible.” The letter stated that the issue was unrelated to food service, and that there has been “no change to the food offered or ingredients used in the cafe.”

Rabbi Chaim Poupko, Associate Rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood and President of the RCBC, gave The Jewish Link this statement to provide some background on the decision:

“Kashrut supervision can only be effective if there is healthy cooperation and communication between those running a food establishment and the supervising agency and its representatives. On April 4th, the Cafe at the Kaplen JCC fired its mashgiach for apparently legitimate cause but without any prior notification to the RCBC of a situation that had been developing over time. This represents a violation of the signed contract between the RCBC and the Cafe at the Kaplen JCC. The Cafe was then left without any supervision at the time and sought to hire a mashgiach that wasn’t approved by the RCBC. The RCBC was compelled to remove its supervision due to the absence of a mutually acceptable mashgiach.

“Contrary to several announcements and statements made by the Kaplen JCC, this wasn’t merely a ‘personnel issue’ nor was this ‘unrelated to food service.’ The RCBC could no longer effectively supervise the kashrut of the food preparation taking place in the Cafe.

“The Kaplen JCC is an important communal institution and the RCBC has put forth great effort over the years to maintain our relationship with the Kaplen JCC and its Cafe while maintaining the standard of kashrut on which we and our community pride ourselves. We hope to continue working with the Kaplen JCC to find a solution to this issue.”

In a follow-up discussion, Rabbi Poupko emphasized that retaining a mashgiach is critical to proper kosher supervision of a restaurant. “A mashgiach maintains accountability. When workers feel they are accountable to someone for kashrus, they are more likely to adhere to kashrus standards. The mashgiach performs the functions that are integral to maintaining halachic standards: He lights the fire, takes challah, checks for bugs, checks that every product brought in has proper hashgacha, checks bills of lading for correct product delivery and watches to make sure nothing is brought into the kitchen that shouldn’t be there, just to name a few.”

RCBC contracts stipulate that they be notified before a mashgiach is terminated. “It takes a few weeks to find a mashgiach; the JCC cafe fired their mashgiach without telling us. So our name was on the certificate but the mashgiach wasn’t there,” Rabbi Poupko said. “To fire the mashgiach is a violation of our contract which also spells out specifically that the mashgiach must be approved. The JCC wanted to hire someone we could not approve for this position. The JCC says this was just a personnel issue. But that’s how hashgacha works—with personnel.” Rabbi Poupko reiterated that the JCC is an important institution to the Jewish community and he is hopeful proper kosher supervision will return in the near future.

Nadav Raviv, the former mashgiach at the JCC cafe, characterized his departure as the result of a personal issue between himself and owner Dorit Reiner. He said they had an argument, and after that, she told him to leave and said she was not interested in having the RCBC supervise the cafe. She then took the certificate off the wall. He assured The Jewish Link that he never saw any non-kosher ingredients brought in while he was on the premises. When The Jewish Link tried to reach Reiner at the JCC, representatives said she was out of town and available only by email. At press time, she had not responded to messages.

Mr. Shenker told The Jewish Link that the owner/operator of the independent cafe is the person who makes decisions, and unfortunately, the JCC administration was in the middle, without recourse to act. However, he stated that the JCC contract stipulates the cafe owner maintain kosher supervision and he has told Reiner that going forward they will hold her accountable for adhering to kashrus regulations. When asked if non-kosher ingredients were ever brought in, he said he has spoken with several rabbis at the RCBC and no one ever raised that suggestion. “The only person qualified to raise that issue would be Rabbi Poupko,” he said. Rabbi Poupko reiterated that withdrawing RCBC certification was based entirely on the mashgiach being fired without prior notice to the RCBC and the inability to agree on a replacement.

Mr. Shenker said he will be placing new emphasis on kashrus standards at the cafe. “We are committed to having a rabbinically supervised kosher cafe and we are actively working towards that now,” he said. “Going forward, we intend to take a much more active role in the kosher supervision of the cafe, as it has a direct impact on our ability to serve all our members.”

Observant members of the community who frequent the JCC have been very unhappy to learn that the cafe is currently not under recognized kosher supervision. Miriam Motechin, a Bergenfield resident and member at Kaplen JCC, has been enjoying the cafe for many years. “In my mind it’s just temporary. It’s got to be. I won’t eat there until it’s got supervision, but I’ve been eating there my whole life, since grade school,” she told The Jewish Link.

By Bracha Schwartz

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