By Howard Blas
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 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.
Howard Blas is a former resident of New Haven, now living in New York.