The Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway has told Gourmet Glatt Emporium that it would resume supervision of the Cedarhurst, L.I., kosher supermarket if the owners brought in a partner it could approve.
"The only way the Vaad will physically supervise the premises wherein Gourmet Glatt is located is if it will have a partner it will trust, [thereby] ensuring kashrut to the Five Towns community," said Franklyn Snitow, the Vaad’s lawyer.
In the meantime, the once-bustling store is largely empty as area rabbis who make up the Vaad counsel against shopping there: and two other area kosher supermarkets appear to have benefited. The Vaad pulled its kosher supervisors from the store Oct. 27, saying the owners had violated their contract by hiring another kosher supervisor without the Vaad’s approval. Mark Bolender, a partner in the store, said at the time that the owners acted after the Vaad threatened to pull their supervisors on Feb. 1 unless they sold their store. He attributed the threat to a "personality" conflict.
But Snitow suggested otherwise when asked about an article last week that quoted a family representative as complaining about the "Vaad’s growing stringencies" that Bolender considered unnecessary.
"Statements made last week by and on behalf of Gourmet Glatt concerning their unwillingness to adhere to the rules of the Vaad provide ample justification for the Vaad’s decision that it could no longer ensure the integrity of the kashrut process at Gourmet Glatt," Snitow said. Bolender declined comment.
Some of those shopping at his store recently declined to give their names to a reporter who stopped them to ask about the controversy. But they all appeared indignant about the Vaadís decision.
"How could the Vaad force them to sell?" said one elderly woman. "They just renovated this store and they are honest. Of course I trust them. My husband was a rabbi and I’ve been shopping here 14 years. … I just feel so badly for them."
Another person who refused to give his name said simply, "Maybe because the store is bigger they thought they could get more money from him."
"The ayatollah has come," another woman said sarcastically as she pushed a basket full of groceries and several rib roasts. "I’m here today just because of this controversy."
Lenny Koegel of Oceanside said it might have been simply that "the rabbis were insulted" that another kosher supervisor was hired. "The food here is kosher," he said. "[The conflict is] going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the more modern people in this community." David Rinzler of Woodmere said simply that he believes the store’s owners are "getting a raw deal."
But not far away at the Supersol supermarket in Lawrence, Boomie Pinter of Far Rockaway defended the Vaad’s actions as he scanned the meat aisle. "It’s a question of trust," he explained. "I’m not privy to all the information the rabbis have and I’m not a Kool-Aid drinker who goes along blindly. But if you trust the Vaad to be in charge of kashrut, you have to trust them to be in charge."
A short distance away at Brach’s Kosher Supermarket in Lawrence, Rina Goldberg of Cedarhurst was putting shopping bags into her car. "It’s definitely more crowded," she said of the store. "I had a hard time finding a parking spot. I was in Gourmet Glatt’s parking lot and I overheard non-Jewish workers asking why that lot was so empty."
As Abe Blank of Cedarhurst walked into Brach’s, he paused to say he would probably continue shopping at Gourmet Glatt: but not just yet. "There has to be some solidarity behind the Vaad," he explained. "On the other hand, I feel sorry for Gourmet Glatt. The owners spent a lot of money on the expansion and they have been here for quite a few years. You always got the impression that everything was done right. I’ll shop there again, but right now there is a lot of community pressure not to have you go there. The rabbis are exerting pressure not to go there. … [But] if there was a problem, they should have tried to correct it and work with them. I think the Vaad is trying to show its muscle now."
Another shopper inside Brach’s who declined to give his name said he would not shop at Gourmet Glatt because of the large number of rabbis from across the Orthodox spectrum who voted to withdraw the Vaad’s kosher supervision.
But a shopper at Gourmet Glatt expressed concern about the larger implications of this controversy.
"It goes to the sociology and economy of this community and of how you practice your Judaism," she said. "Integrity is just not about whether you shortchange people, it’s about how you treat people. … It’s an embarrassment to the community because it’s Jew against Jew."