November 5, 2012

Kosher Community Weathers Biggest Challenge Ever; Slowly Returns to Normal

NEW YORK — The kosher community is slowly emerging from an historic challenge, the full dimensions of which is yet to be told. For kosher supermarkets, the test began even before Hurricane Sandy hit as stores were crowded with shoppers hording food in preparation for the storm of the century. By Sunday afternoon, many stores had depleted shelves, particularly perishables and water. 

Even as the hurricane approached, shelves were being replenished, but the worst was yet to come as the ensuing power outages eventually shut down many stores in the tri-state area. In Flatbush, Glatt Mart experienced a huge rush on Sunday, as people hurried to stock up on essentials like eggs, bread, milk, and water. On Tuesday, they informed the community they had deep freezers available for those with no power, a service they provided free of charge.

In Boro Park, Meryl of Gourmet Glatt said they started getting calls on Monday from people looking for freezer space, a request they had no problem fulfilling, since the Boro Park Gourmet Glatt was one of the lucky supermarkets that did not lose power throughout the storm. “Other than a brief period when we were scarce on water, we have been able to provide our customers with everything they needed,” said Meryl.  

Also in Brooklyn, volunteers from Masbia Soup Kitchens/Met-Council and Chaverim were busy Tuesday cooking and delivering emergency food for relocated seniors in the Park Slope Armory. Met Council has been emptying its kosher food pantry to help the poor and others. “We anticipate continuing need for at least another week in communities of Far Rockaway, South Brooklyn and Staten Island,” said Willie Rapfogel, Met Council’s Executive Director. 

In the hard-hit Five Towns area, Brach’s of Lawrence was open for customers on Tuesday as they were running on generators, since the entire area had no power. Gourmet Glatt of the Five Towns was not as lucky, and was unable to restore power. According to the management, they threw out “hundreds of thousands of dollars of perishables,” but were finally able to reopen this week. 

Far Rockaway and Five Towns residents did have other food sources, though, with community organizations setting up food distribution centers. Rabbi Wolowik at the Chabad of Five Towns expressed thanks to “Nachi Light of QCumbers in Cedarhurst who has generously offered to provide delicious fresh meals … to those who do not have power or cooking facilities.” He encouraged people to come with their families to enjoy hot soups, salads, and more. In Bayswater, the JCCRP distributed food at the Young Israel on Healy Ave.

Major supermarkets that were part of the wwidespread power outages in the Northeast kept some supermarkets closed Tuesday, while others gradually reopened throughout the day in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Karen Meleta, a spokeswoman for Wakefern, told Supermarket News on Tuesday, the day after the hurricane, that many ShopRite stores throughout the region were without electricity, as was the company's Edison, NJ distribution center, which was running on generator power. 

Tracy Pawelski, of Ahold USA, told SN that as of Tuesday afternoon "under 20" Stop & Shop stores in New York and New Jersey were closed due to damage, flooding or road closures as a result of the powerful storm, which caused what some estimated as tens of billions of dollars in damages.” Fairway Markets still had its store in Red Hook, Brooklyn closed. Whole Foods Market reopened three of its seven New York City supermarkets as of Tuesday afternoon. Several of its stores were in locations that had lost power.

Several kosher manufacturers and distributors were also affected either by flooding or power shortages. However, KosherToday has learned that most large kosher manufacturers were back in business by Wednesday. At Alle Processing, workers slowly returned on Wednesday. By week’s end, stores like Pomegranate were fully stocked in what one official called “nothing short of a herculean effort by the kosher world.”  The manufacturers and distributors were working hard to replenish shelves despite the difficulties of travel and obtaining fuel for their trucks.

By far, the most inspiring stories emerged from the hardest hit communities where the extent  of communal support was unprecedented. This past Shabbat thousands of Jews without power celebrated Shabbat in the homes of friends and relatives in communities that fared better. Organizations like Achiezer worked round-the-clock to help affected residents in such communities as the Five Towns, Far Rockaway, Belle Harbor, Canarsie, Manhattan Beach, Seagate and elsewhere. 

FEMA and state agencies were scrambling for shelf stable kosher meals that could be self heated. Sources in the kosher community revealed that companies like La Briute were only able to fulfill a fraction of that request. But Jewish communal organizations were distributing thousands of kosher meals on their own without the aid of government agencies.

Photo courtesy of NOAA.