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The Jewish Daily Forward

Kosher Soup Kitchen Struggles

Monday, April 7th, 2014

On a recent chilly afternoon in Queens, two women shivered in a line of about 50 people that trailed out the door of Masbia, a kosher food pantry and soup kitchen.

The first woman, from Manhattan, wore baggy pants. The other, from Queens, was clad in a long, draping skirt.

Their outfits signaled differences in how they interpreted proper Jewish dress for religious women, but both were there for the same reason: They needed kosher groceries, which are more expensive than average, as they try to live on less since food stamp reductions last November.

“When food stamps are cut, it’s hard to buy kosher,” said one of the women, Debbie Greenbaum of Queens.

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A Williamsburg Toy Story

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Samuel Lipschitz, 27, grinned as a pint-sized red smart car pulled up next to the curb outside his toy store on Lee Avenue. Lacquered onto the side of the car was a children’s cartoon character: a freckled, round-faced boy with curly brown peyes, or sidelocks, and a yarmulke.

“What Walt Disney did to Mickey Mouse — that’s what I’m trying to do here,” said Lipschitz, who designed the character.

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Keeping Kosher, via Colombia

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Every morning, when Ruben Diaz arrives at the soup kitchen where he has worked as the head chef since January 2013, he is not allowed to turn on the oven.

“I feel strange,” Diaz said. “It’s a little bit hard.”

Diaz, the head chef at Masbia, the most robust kosher soup kitchen network in New York, is not Jewish and must wait for his supervisor to turn it on for him.

It’s one of several religious rules Diaz follows as he prepares 500 meals a day for a mixed community that will eat at the soup kitchen later in the evening. Diaz also cannot crack his own eggs or check vegetables for bugs, which are not kosher.

Masbia is one of several food pantries and soup kitchens in New York that is seeing more clients ever since food stamps cuts went into effect in November.

“Sometimes we don’t have enough money to buy chicken. Sometimes we don’t have enough money to buy produce,” Diaz said. “These are real problems.”

Diaz, 28, came to New York about 10 years ago for a better life.

He started as a waiter for Masbia in 2006 and worked his way up. The organization funded Diaz’s kosher cooking classes at a local Borough Park culinary school.

He grew up Catholic and said he didn’t know many Jews in his hometown of Bogota, Colombia. As for kosher rules, he knew just that Jews didn’t eat pork or shellfish.

“I didn’t know there was kosher and not kosher. For me, food was food,” he said.

“Now some people tell me, ‘you’re more Jewish than me’ because I know all the rules.”

 

Food Stamp Cut Fears Grow

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

For Shabbat dinner last week, Daniel Sayani planned to eat rice and beans. He consulted Jewish law to determine the minimum amounts of bread and grape juice needed to bless the Friday night meal. Since his budget was just $1.50, saying the prayer over wine was out of the question.

Sayani chose to live on the average food stamp benefit of $31.50 for a week, joining activists around the country as part of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge. He felt sick and cranky after cutting costly fresh fruits and vegetables – not to mention Starbucks coffee – out of his diet.

“It’s extremely humbling,” said Sayani, a cantor at Shore Parkway Jewish Center in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and an intern at the Orthodox Jewish social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek.
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