Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Quiet Kashrus Resolution

Many of you might remember that a few months ago, the JCC in West Bloomfield considered allowing non-kosher catering at the JCC, thereby threatening the kashrus status of Milk and Honey, the only upscale kosher restaurant in Detroit. If you don't remember, check the post here. At the same time, the restaurant is still operating, remains kosher, and seems to be running as it always had. Did the issue die a quiet death? Hardly. Through the diligent efforts of a number of members of our community, the JCC decided to maintain its kashrus policy, thereby ending the crisis.
First and foremost, numerous members of the Jewish community communicated with the JCC leadership -- both lay and professional -- regarding the importance of maintaining Milk and Honey as a kosher restaurant, and emphasizing the value that the restaurant brings to the JCC as an institution. Kudos for that.
Secondly, the rabbinic leadership on the Vaad maintained a unified stance against the possibility of having non-kosher catering in the JCC and allowing Milk and Honey to remain a kosher restaurant. Had the JCC board heard different messages from different members of the Vaad, they would have easily been able to argue that there was room to allow non-Kosher catering and still maintain kashrus on site. This was an important lesson about just how much we can achieve when we present a unified front to the community.
Third, many members of the non-Orthodox community came forward, especially those with a stake in the Jewish Academy, whose new building will be the second and third floors of the main JCC building. Having a non-kosher restaurant in the same building as the Jewish Academy would not have been a tenable situation.
Fourth -- and probably most significantly -- the leadership in Federation -- both lay and especially professional, communicated the impact that this decision would have on the entire community to the JCC Board, and strongly pushed for the maintaining of the status quo, allowing Milk and Honey to remain kosher. Moreover, the Jewish Federation has encouraged the JCC to apply for funding to supplement some of the financial hit that it takes in lost revenue because it maintains a kosher-only policy. If you read that and didn't think that's a big deal, think again. It's important to emphasize that in many other communities around the country, federations are the organizations pushing against traditional values like Kashrus. Here, we see precisely the opposite - where our federation is pushing for the values and needs of the traditional community, even when it's going to cost some money. Again, that's a testament to the unique sensitivity of our federation's leadership, and also to the Orthodox community's continued involvement with federation activities.
Finally, we must also thank the members of the JCC Board. While I disagree with their initial desire to allow non-kosher catering at Handleman Hall, I understand the financial realities and pressures that they face. In the end, they too compromised for the sake of the community's well-being, and shouldered a greater financial burden in the process.
I guess one of the great lessons from this episode is the importance of our involvement in the broader community. If we close ourselves off from the larger community, then when we have needs and concerns, we have no one to turn to. On the other hand, experience shows us that when we engage with Jews from across the religious spectrum on a host of issues, they open themselves to the needs of our community as well.