As Passover approaches, longtime OU kosher supervisor sounds alarm on Manischewitz
Three days before the beginning of Passover, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, a veteran mashgiach (kosher supervisor) for the Orthodox Union (OU), filed a lawsuit against Manischewitz and the OU, saying he can no longer stand behind the kosher status of the Manischewitz products he has supervised for 20 years, including its Passover matzos.
“I believe this is a breach of public trust. I just couldn’t handle it,” Horowitz told the Journal on April 21, two days after he filed suit in the New York State Supreme Court.
Teaming up, Welch’s and Manischewitz challenge kosher grape juice monopoly
Welch’s is coming to seder this year.
For decades, America’s kosher grape juice market has been dominated by Kedem, whose sweet libations come in concord, blush, white, peach, diet and a variety of sparkling flavors.
But with U.S. sales flat when it comes to non-kosher grape juice, Welch’s, America’s largest grape juice company, is muscling its way into the kosher market.
Starting in January, Welch’s will begin selling 100 percent grape juice certified by the Orthodox Union as kosher for Passover and year-round use. The kosher juice is being produced in partnership with Manischewitz, the 120-year-old kosher food company known for its sweet concord wine and ubiquitous Passover matzah. The bottles will carry both the Welch’s and Manischewitz logos, and Manischewitz matzah boxes will carry ads for the grape juice.
“What’s very cool about it is taking advantage of what Manischewitz does for kosher consumers and what Welch’s does for grape juice consumers and really bringing that together,” Ike Kim, senior brand manager of Welch’s bottled juice business, told JTA.
Welch’s recipe won’t change, but the production process for its kosher juice line, including regular and sparkling, will be subject to the same strict production restrictions that apply to kosher wine: namely, that the juice passes exclusively through observant Jewish hands from the time it is pressed until it is pasteurized.
“It’s long overdue for Manischewitz to come out with a grape juice,” said David Sugarman, Manischewitz’s CEO.
Welch’s still will maintain its regular line of grape juices, which will not be certified as kosher.
Unlike the non-organic Kedem lines, Welch’s kosher grape juice does not use sulfites as a preservative, Lee said.
Kedem’s parent company, Royal Wine Corp., did not return a call seeking comment.
Both Kedem’s and Welch’s juice are considered 100 percent grape juice and fulfill the Jewish legal requirements necessary to use the drink for sacramental purposes like Kiddush and Havdalah.
This is not the first time that Welch’s has gone kosher. Some years ago the company tried a kosher grape juice, but it was discontinued relatively quickly. Welch’s hopes that by teaming up with Manischewitz, things will turn out differently this time around.
“The fact that we’re going to this market with Manischewitz is a huge differentiator from history for us,” Kim said. “Once we see how we perform on Passover, that will help us understand how much we can grow the kosher market.”
The brew that’s fit for a Jew
Manischewitz has its role, but now and then a Jew needs a good cold beer.
Shmaltz Brewing Co., with headquarters in San Francisco and a brewery in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has been producing beers worthy of the Chosen People for 15 years and counting.
“Completely shocking,” says proprietor Jeremy Cowan, when asked about his brand’s longevity. In fact, Cowan says he is still not sure how it’s even possible that the first 100 cases of Shmaltz—handcrafted as an experiment for Hanukkah in 1996—have grown into the production of over 10,000 barrels a year internationally.
In celebration of the 15th year, a series of new and repackaged brews are being released, including the appropriately named Jewbelation 15 and Genesis 15:15. There is even a new book that chronicles the company’s first 13 years called Craft Beer Bar Mitzvah, which includes a list of suggested beers to accompany each chapter.
“When I started Shmaltz, it was really just an experiment,” Cowan says. “I just thought it would be fun and funny to make this country’s first and only Jewish celebration beer.”
With the help of a small brewery in Northern California, the former English major pitched a business idea (despite not knowing a dram from a dreidel), and Shmaltz was born. Hand-brewed, hand-labeled and hand-delivered, the first bottles of Shmaltz quickly caught on, even outside the Jewish community.
“Once I got into the project,” Cowan recalls, “I realized this was my opportunity to create my own brand of a Jewish community organization. [It] allowed me to celebrate my culture and to tie it into Jewish text, holidays, and traditions in a meaningful contemporary way most relevant to my own sensibility.”
While he is happy with his creation’s cache in the Christian and Catholic worlds, Cowan is especially proud of the impact he has had in Jewish homes. Most of his beers are certified by the Kosher Supervision of America (KSA), which is accepted by the Orthodox Union (OU) worldwide.
When it comes to kosher dietary law, beer isn’t subject to the same level of rabbinic and Talmudic scrutiny as wine is, Cowan notes. However, he says it “was important to get the [Shmaltz] beers kosher certified so the whole community, regardless of their level of observance, would feel confident bringing our products into their homes and into their lives.”
Cowan says the name of Shmaltz’s first offering—“He’Brew”—was a “fun shtick my pals came up with when we were just slightly underage in Northern California.” Though his product has been the subject of “lots of funny looks and questions,” Cowan emphasizes that the most important judge—his mother—approves.
“She even helped me deliver cases of the first batch,” he says, noting that she is “relieved that the business is doing well enough that I don’t need to sleep on her fold-out couch nearly as often as I used to.”
Once people get past the name, Cowan suggests, they often find that Shmaltz products are more than just a Jewish joke. “When people read the story and taste…the beer,” he says, “[they] realize…that I was very serious about this fun and delicious project that honestly celebrates Jewish tradition, text, and sensibility, [and] they love it.”
For its 10th anniversary, Shmaltz expanded by adding a new line of East Coast-inspired beers. Approached by “a nice Jewish boy from Manhattan” who had become a fan and who wanted Cowan to help celebrate New York’s most famous playground—Coney Island—Cowan decided to kick off a “sideshow” beer line to raise money for the famous fun park.
Today, Shmaltz’s Coney Island line includes such Boardwalk-inspired flavors as Albino Python, Sword Swallower, Human Blockhead, and Freaktoberfest.
“For over 125 years, Coney Island has been America’s Playground,” Cowan suggests. “Shmaltz Brewing is ecstatic to celebrate that flavor and spirit through this exceptional line of unique craft lagers.”
Looking to the future, Shmaltz continues to expand while keeping its roots firmly in mind.
“One of my favorite parts of my craft beer business is to play with stereotypes and add unique angles and create additional layers of meaning and flavor,” Cowan says, “to tickle people’s expectations and increase their delight with our offerings.”
Manischewitz opens new HQ in N.J.
The Manischewitz Co. celebrated the opening of its new headquarters in Newark, N.J., by making the world’s longest piece of matzah.
The production of the 25-foot-long matzah, equal to 336 regular matzah squares, was overseen Tuesday by Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger. Metzger also affixed mezuzahs to the doorways of the company’s offices.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker said the company’s presence in his city “makes me the proudest mayor in America. It gives me great naches,” The Herald News of North Jersey reported.
The headquarters were moved from Secaucus; the Manischewitz production facility had moved to Newark four years ago. The 123-year-old company, which now has 80 corporate positions and up to 400 factory jobs, was founded in Cincinnati.
Where Korbel Meets Manischewitz
Okay, let’s just get this out in the open. The marking of the second millennium since the birth of Jesus is, well, not a Jewish event. In fact, it doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that it’s pretty much a Christian way of chalking up the years.
Nevertheless, Jews will most likely be celebrating Y2K along with rest of the world, not as a Christian holiday, but as milestone that is part of the society in which we live.
“Jews don’t write 5760 on checks,” says Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple. “You can’t stick your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t one meaningful way of marking time. It’s not a meaningful way of marking time as Jews, but is a meaningful way of marking time, and that has an impact on people.”
Of course, there are ways of celebrating the New Year that are in keeping with Jewish values.
“If a Jewish value is being expressed in the millennium it’s the awareness of time, the sanctity of time and optimism in the future,” Leder says. He contrasts January 1 with Tishri 1, the Jewish New Year.
“Jews don’t celebrate time in a frivolous or careless way, they celebrate the passage time with introspection,” Leder says. With New Years Eve coinciding with Shabbat this year, some shuls grabbed the chance to infuse some Jewish flavor into a secular celebration.
“I did not want Shabbat to be forgotten nor relegated to a position of secondary importance,” says Rabbi Mordecai Kieffer of Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim. “There are plenty of rabbis who decry the incursion of the secular world into the sacred, so I say it is about time that the sacred begin to influence the secular.”
Kieffer decided to combine Korbel toasts with the Maneschewitz kiddush, putting together a “Shabbat in Two Centuries” program for his Conservative congregation. It will begin Friday evening at 8:45 p.m. with a late Shabbat service and Torah study, followed by dinner, games and a midnight toasting of the New Year. The next morning, services will begin at 8:45, there will be a champagne brunch at 10 a.m., followed by Musaf and then a luncheon. For more information call (714) 772-4720.
The Happy Minyan, a Shlomo Carlebach-style group out of Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, thought it would be a great week to team up with Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz of the Chai Center for special Shabbat services and dinner.
Schwartzie, a legend for attracting the unaffiliated, is always looking for a good hook, so he’s letting the Y2K event replace his usual “Not-A-Christmas Party” for this time of year.
“I think it’s just the right mix of ‘aha!’ when you’re looking for what to do,” he says, giving a good alternative to those who don’t want to be in on the club or party scene.
Plus, he adds, “everybody has in the back of their mind, ‘I’m going to go to a Jewish thing, mother will be happy.'”
Services will be at 4:30ish p.m. at the Holiday Inn Select at 1150 South Beverly Drive, north of Pico. Schwartzie will conduct Shabbat services in English, with members of the Happy Minyan leading songs. Dinner and a game of “Stump the Rabbi” will follow, till whenever. The evening is $26; call (310) 391-7995 for more information.
As for Rabbi Leder, he will celebrate Friday, Dec. 31 the only way he knows how.
“How am I going to celebrate? I am going to celebrate around the Shabbat table, with my family, and do what we do every Shabbat: Express our hopes and love for each other. That is a Jewish way of recognizing the passage of time .”