Rubashkin Revenge: Ethical Certificates at Center of Dispute


About eight months ago, when Katsuji Tanabe agreed to display the Tav HaYosher certificate in the window of his one-year-old restaurant on Pico Boulevard, the head chef and owner of Mexikosher knew that the “ethical seal,” issued by the Modern Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, would inform customers that he treats his workers with respect and in accordance with California labor laws.

Tanabe didn’t know that in displaying the certificate he was also, in effect, choosing a side in a mostly covert battle between two segments of the Orthodox Jewish community.

On one side is Uri L’Tzedek, a four-year old nonprofit promoting social justice causes that has been supported by a handful of prominent Jewish foundations, including the Joshua Venture Group, Bikkurim, and the Jewish Federations of North America. On the other are an unknown number of individuals who are acting independently and largely anonymously.

At Mexikosher, the certificate hung in the window for between four and six weeks; during that time, Tanabe said he received phone calls from individuals identifying themselves as being from “different Chabads,” and threatening to boycott his restaurant if he didn’t take the certificate down.

Tanabe, who said he hadn’t changed any of his policies to earn the Tav, decided to remove it.

“I don’t talk about politics or religion in the restaurant,” said Tanabe, 31, who describes himself as “Mexican-Japanese-Catholic.” “We only talk about food.”

Although the pushback against the Tav appears to be coming primarily, if not exclusively, from individuals affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement, there is no evidence that any official encouragement came from Chabad, according to the organization’s leaders and those involved in the anti-Tav efforts.

The headquarters of Chabad of California is located on Pico Boulevard, within blocks of a dozen Kosher-certified restaurants, including at least one that displays the Tav. In a recent interview, the group’s CEO, Rabbi Chaim Cunin, said he hadn’t heard of the Tav or Uri L’Tzedek until very recently, and that he knew of no coordinated effort to oppose the program.

“If there’s any such conspiracy it’s deep underground,” Cunin said.

The battle between Uri L’Tzedek and the mostly nameless Orthodox Jews threatening to boycott the 100 restaurants nationwide that participate in its signature program may be taking place in the shadows, but it illuminates a rift within American Orthodoxy stemming from the 2008 raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

Uri L’Tzedek established the Tav Hayosher in 2009 as a free certification. To qualify, employers must demonstrate that they calculate worker’s hours accurately, pay wages—including overtime – promptly and in full and grant breaks to their employees, as required by law. Studies have shown that many food-service businesses – both kosher and non—fall short of these basic legal requirements.

Over the last few months, multiple owners of kosher-certified businesses who display the Tav have been urged to take it down.

“People are threatening the 100 Tav owners around the country, saying they are going to hurt their business and boycott them,” Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, wrote in an email to The Journal on July 9.

The hardest-hit are in Los Angeles, Yanklowitz said, where Tav-certified businesses have received more complaints than in any other city. Yanklowitz said three local restaurants chose to drop the certification in the face of this controversy. As of July 20, nine Los Angeles-based businesses were listed among the certified restaurants on the Tav’s website.

The issue appears not to be the Tav certification, per se, but rather that in 2008, Uri L’Tzedek was the instigator of a boycott of products from the Agriprocessors meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, in the wake of the massive immigration raid that closed down the plant.

Aron Markowitz, 31, a self-described “Chabadnik” who has a book of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings on his desk in his Wilshire Boulevard office, is among those who’ve objected to the certificates. He said in an interview that he first heard about the Tav less than a month ago, and, initially, the principle behind the Tav certification sounded to him like a good idea.

50,000 sign pro-Rubashkin petition to White House


An online petition in support of jailed kosher meat executive Sholom Rubashkin garnered 10 times its anticipated goal of 5,000 signatures.

The petition, which calls on President Obama to order an investigation into judicial misconduct in Rubashkin’s financial fraud trial, garnered 51,605 signatures.

Created Sept. 22 by the Justice for Sholom organization, the petition was posted on the White House’s We the People website, which was launched by the Obama administration to encourage public participation in government. Its goal was 5,000 signatures by Oct. 22.

On Sept. 26, an appeals court in St. Louis turned down a motion for a new trial for the former executive of Agriprocessers, once the nation’s largest kosher meat plant. The court ruled that the presiding judge in the original case, Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, did not have to recuse herself because she was involved in planning the May 2008 federal immigration raid on the Agriprocessors plant, which led to the company’s bankruptcy later that year.

Rubashkin was convicted of financial fraud in 2009 and sentenced to 27 years in prison, two more years than requested by prosecutors. He is serving his sentence in New York State.

Several dozen members of Congress and a few U.S. attorneys general had written in favor of leniency in Rubashkin’s sentencing. In the federal raid on the plant, 389 illegal immigrants were arrested, including 31 minors.

The petition calls on Obama to “To take prompt and effective steps to correct the gross injustice that has been perpetrated with the federal prosecution of Sholom Rubashkin.”

Even after Agriprocessor scandal, inhumane methods still used in kosher slaughtering overseas


Agriprocessors’ 2008 kosher slaughter scandal provoked solemn vows of reform among producers of glatt kosher meat in the U.S. But despite some industry improvements, America’s leading kosher certification authority continues to authorize the sale of millions of pounds of glatt kosher beef slaughtered by means that animal welfare experts condemn as inhumane, a Forward investigation has found.

The questionable practices occur in South and Central America, where the primitive slaughter method known as shackle and drag is used in factories that supply American glatt kosher distributors.

Though the Orthodox Union, the country’s largest kosher certification agency, has said that it objects to the practice, it has continued certifying meat produced by this method despite years of public criticism. O.U. officials say they must also take into account the impact that banning import of such meat would have on beef prices.

But some animal rights activists are now calling the huge kosher certification agency to account.

“Years of inaction have demonstrated that the O.U. is, in fact, complicit in this abuse” despite rhetorical opposition to these practices, wrote Hannah Schein, manager of undercover operations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, in an e-mail to the Forward.

Beginning in 2004, successive investigations by various groups, government agencies and media outlets, including PETA and the Forward, revealed a pattern of mistreatment of animals and workers at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa. An infiltration of the plant by undercover PETA operatives found that cattle were allowed to struggle on the floor for up to three minutes after their throats were cut.

Agriprocessors filed for bankruptcy in November 2008, months after a massive federal immigration raid on the plant. Meanwhile, religious groups and activists called for reform in the kosher slaughter industry.

Three years later, some practices have improved at the kosher plant that was at the heart of the controversy. But other practices that kosher officials call problematic continue, both at the former Agriprocessors plant and elsewhere in the industry.

Observant Jews in America generally seek meat slaughtered under the glatt kosher standard, which has effectively replaced the less stringent non-glatt as the religiously acceptable certification for kosher beef in the United States. The O.U. has not certified non-glatt beef since the 1980s, and while mass producers like Hebrew National continue to produce kosher beef that is not glatt, they do not cater to the observant Jewish market.

The glatt kosher beef industry, like the meatpacking industry at large, is opaque. Information on the slaughterhouses is surprisingly hard to find. Even basic figures like the size of the glatt kosher beef market in the United States are nearly impossible to gauge.

Most experts agree that three major firms sell the lion’s share of glatt kosher beef in America. Two of them, Agri Star Meat and Poultry based in Postville, Iowa, and Minnesota-based Noah’s Ark Processors Corp., own their own slaughterhouses in the United States; the third, Maspeth, N.Y.-based Alle Processing, rents time at a slaughterhouse in Illinois and imports frozen beef.

It’s largely that imported frozen beef that has animal rights advocates up in arms.

No meatpacking plants in Central and South America certified by the O.U. to supply glatt kosher beef to the United States use upright pens — the humane gold standard — to slaughter cattle, according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator of the O.U.’s kosher division. American abattoir certified by the O.U. use upright pens almost exclusively.

The slaughter methods used in Central and South America, on the other hand, have been all but banned from American glatt kosher plants.

“It’s not the system we recommend or have been advocating,” Genack said of the Central and South American plants’ practices. “There’s an attempt to wean [the Latin American operations] away from the system, which is what we would like. It hasn’t happened yet.”

But the O.U.’s chief kosher official has said this before, notably in a 2008 article in the Forward and in a 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times.

“I know it’s a long period of time, but we’re juggling,” Genack said. “There are competing considerations here. It’s quite easy to say, ‘Why don’t we just cut out South America?’ But it would represent a disruption of supply and inevitably would mean kosher meat would go up higher in price. We’re trying to supply a modest cost for struggling families. That’s the whole concept behind the O.U.”

Genack acknowledged that the Central and South American plants’ use of the controversial shackle and drag method of slaughter was problematic. In this process, the cattle’s legs are bound and the animals are flipped onto the ground before the shokhet, or ritual slaughterer, cuts the animal’s throat.

The method is used in part because these Latin American plants ship most of their product to the Israeli beef market, and kosher guidelines enforced by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate require cattle to be inverted during their slaughter. The inverted position of the cow is thought to keep the animal from pushing against the slaughterer’s knife. Excessive pressure exerted by the cow or the shokhet would make the kill unkosher.

The upright pens used in the United States are considered by animal welfare experts to be far more humane than other methods. They keep the animal standing during the slaughter, and secure their heads to keep them from applying pressure to the knife.

In the shackle and drag method, “they’re just dragging them out of a box and holding them down on the floor with five guys on top of them,” said Temple Grandin, a humane slaughter expert whose innovations in animal handling have been adopted industrywide.

An article published by Grandin on her website calls the shackle and drag method a “serious problem” and indicates that a slaughterhouse using the method would fail an animal welfare audit.

Central and South American plants also use the better-known shackle and hoist method — a practice outlawed in the United States since 1958 — though there are signs that this practice is declining.

In a shackle and hoist kill, live cattle are raised in the air by a chain tied around their leg before they are slaughtered. The American law banning this practice permitted an exception for ritual slaughter. And the method is said to continue at a few small abattoirs in the United States. But no slaughterhouses certified by the O.U. in the United States employ shackle and hoist or shackle and drag.

Both shackle and hoist and shackle and drag are thought to be more dangerous for slaughterhouse workers than the upright pen.

In 2000, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the highest authority on Jewish law in Conservative Judaism, unanimously ruled that shackle and hoist is a violation of Jewish laws against cruelty to animals and unnecessary risk to human life.

It’s impossible to know exactly how much glatt kosher beef is imported from Latin American plants that continue these problematic practices.

An extensive search using the paid online database Import Genius, which catalogs all shipboard deliveries into the United States, revealed that Alle has imported nearly 30 million pounds of frozen beef from Latin America since 2006.

Imports by the firm have remained relatively steady over the past five years, with the exception of a huge spike in imports in late 2008 and the first half of 2009, when the Agriprocessors plant went offline. Over the past 12 months, Alle has imported at least 850,000 pounds of beef.

Most of that meat has come from two plants: Frigorifico Las Piedras, in Uruguay, and Centro Internacional de Inversiones S.A., in Costa Rica. An official at the Uruguayan plant would not comment on the plant’s slaughter practices; an official at the Costa Rican plant missed a scheduled interview without explanation and did not respond to a subsequent attempt to contact him.

Sam Hollander, Alle’s owner, also did not respond to a request for comment. His firm sells processed and frozen beef under its Mon Cuisine and Meal Mart brands, and also sells kosher meat to airlines under its Schreiber brand.

Although no other kosher firms were listed in the Import Genius database, that database would not include beef sent into the country by truck or train and would miss imports delivered to intermediary companies contracted by the kosher firms to facilitate the delivery process.

In a statement, Agri Star said that all the meat used in its “fresh meat operation” is processed locally, but a spokesman would not say whether that applied to its frozen and processed meat products.

Genack maintained that kosher standards in the Latin American slaughterhouses are controlled by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and practices at the plants are ultimately outside the purview of the O.U. Genack said that he had spoken with Yona Metzger, Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi, about the Latin American plants as recently as this past summer.

A spokesman for Metzger, Avi Blumenthal, said that Metzger opposed shackle and hoist, but he could only request change and not enforce it, as the matter is “not connected to kashrut.”

Blumenthal claimed that the vast majority of glatt kosher beef shipped to Israel from Latin America came from plants using high-tech inverting pens, which flip the cows upside down and are considered more humane than the shackle and drag method. But Blumenthal’s claim puzzled Genack, who said that the O.U. is unaware of any inverting pens in use in Central or South America.

“I don’t understand what they’re referring to,” Genack said. The Israeli Chief Rabbinate’s kashrut authority certifies more slaughterhouses in Central and South America than the O.U., and Genack said it was possible that the inverting pens were being used in places where the O.U. had no presence. But he said, “If an [inverting pen] was in the slaughterhouses that we were at and they were using it, we’d be using it, as well.”

In fact, some progress appears to have been made. Genack said that a plant in Mexico which he would not name is now using the more humane upright pen for beef imported by Alle.

But according to Genack, that progress has not reached the Uruguayan and Costa Rican plants.

The Latin American cattle are grass fed, in contrast to grain-fed American cattle, and some argue that the Latin American animals have an overall better quality of life. But Naftali Hanau, founder and CEO of Grow and Behold, which sells pasture-raised beef and poultry from North American farms, said he isn’t so sure. “They arguably do have a better life than a typical American feedlot cow,” Hanau told the Forward. But “when you factor in the end of the line, when it comes to transportation and handling and being slaughtered through a system that is arguably more inhumane, it’s a question of values. Personally, I’m not going to buy that meat.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazis

Agriprocessors’ Rubashkin denied new trial



Former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was denied a new trial by a U.S. appeals court.
 The St. Louis Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 16 that Rubashkin did not prove in his bid for a new trial that the presiding judge in the original case, Linda Reade of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, should have recused herself because she was involved in planning the May 2008 federal immigration raid on Agriprocessors that led to the company’s bankruptcy later that year.

 

Rubashkin, the former head of what once was the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and packing plant, located in Postville, Iowa, was convicted of financial fraud in 2009 and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Rubashkin is in a federal prison in New York state.

In the federal raid on the plant, 389 illegal immigrants were arrested, including 31 children.
The appeals court also disagreed with Rubashkin’s contention that the sentence was too long.

A Rubashkin attorney told the Des Moines Register that his client would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
 


Rubashkin appeal seeks new trial


Lawyers for convicted former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin have appealed a judge’s decision denying their bid for a new trial.

In a brief filed Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Mo., lawyers for Rubashkin made four arguments on his behalf, chief among them that the presiding judge in his case, Linda Reade, should have recused herself. Reade had rejected that argument in October.

Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 on 86 counts of fraud related to his management of the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, and later was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison.

According to the brief, government documents that surfaced after Rubashkin’s conviction and not made available to the defense showed that Reade was involved in the planning for a major federal immigration raid of the Postville plant in May 2008. Reade’s “excessive coziness” with prosecutors planning the raid raised doubts about her impartiality in the case, the brief claims, and as a result Rubashkin is entitled to a new trial or, at a minimum, an evidentiary hearing.

The 2008 raid at the time was the largest immigration enforcement action in American history and led to a string of accusations against Rubashkin, among them charges of identity theft and child labor violations. The bulk of those charges subsequently were dismissed.

Still, the trial was widely criticized, particularly in the Orthodox community, for the alleged zealousness with which federal prosecutors pursued the case.

Rubashkin family members fined $2 million


Members of the Rubashkin family, who operated the now-defunct Agriprocessers kosher meatpacking plant, must pay a total of more than $2 million after defaulting on loans.

A federal judge ordered Dec. 16 that Abraham Aaron Rubashkin and sons Sholom and Tzvi must pay the money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Value Recovery Group. The latter was owed more than $1.6 million in unpaid rent, according to court records, The Associated Press reported. The judgment also includes interest and litigation costs.

Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin was sentenced last June to 27 years in federal prison after being convicted in November 2009 on 86 counts of fraud in connection with the Agriprocessors plant.

In a federal raid on the plant in May 2008, 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were arrested.

Op-Ed: Prosecution was overzealous in Rubashkin case


The unusually severe sentence of 27 years in prison for Sholom Rubashkin is a victory for a prosecution that from the outset pursued a win-at-all-costs strategy. But the success comes at a price, and not just to the 51-year-old man now facing a virtual life sentence, his wife and 10 children. The government’s handling of this case has sullied our justice system.

One recalls the prosecution’s opening salvo on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville in May 2008—the shock-and-awe raid, replete with a Black Hawk helicopter, guns and wholesale arrests. The resources used were far disproportionate to what should have been necessary for an adequate pursuit of its investigation. The unprecedented incarceration of immigrant workers for the types of violations that were alleged and the violations of due process, in which immigrant workers were shuttled through the court system barely understanding the proceedings, set the tone for a grossly overzealous prosecution.

The prosecution’s Javertian tenacity was unwavering and remained punitive throughout the judicial process. A sale of the business, which the Rubashkin family sought after the indictment, would have alleviated much of the bank’s losses. But the government took steps that effectively deterred any viable buyer from taking real interest.

As part of the sale process run by the federally appointed trustee, the U.S. attorney took the extraordinary measure of requiring interested buyers or investors to sign an affidavit disclosing any continued involvement with the Rubashkin family. Simply put, the government sought to bar a buyer or investor from even consulting with a member of the Rubashkin family about the business, including those who have never been accused of any crimes or wrongdoing. At the sentencing hearing, the defense referred to this measure as the “No Rubashkin edict.”

To put this measure in perspective, one must understand that the Rubashkins were a family that for more than 30 years developed the distribution of kosher meat across the country into a $300 million business. The family members were the ones who knew the wholesalers, the distributors and all the customers. Without being able to consult with those who knew the business the best, the risk of failure for a buyer or investor was too great. The bidding was suppressed, and people backed off.

Further, after the appointment of the trustee, the government took the remarkable position of threatening forfeiture and seizure of the company’s assets. This action further diminished the value of the company and exacerbated the bank’s loss. Since sentencing is informed in part by the magnitude of loss, one must conclude that the prosecution’s entanglement in the sale served ultimately to increase the number of years Sholom Rubashkin will spend behind bars.

Drawing attention to the prosecution’s excesses does not, of course, excuse the mistakes made by Sholom Rubashkin. The Orthodox Union after the indictments required that he step down from management as a condition of our providing kosher certification of his products. Rubashkin himself has acknowledged that he did not have the experience or skills suitable to run a large food operation. He was convicted of bank fraud and should pay his debt to society. But it is without question that there has been a troubling lack of balance in the prosecution of this case.

Perhaps most telling is the letter written by no less than six former attorneys general of the United States, from Ed Meese to Ramsey Clark, expressing shock at the life sentence originally proposed for Rubashkin by the U.S. attorney.

As that letter stated, “The potential absurdity of the sentencing guidelines are on full display in this case because, at least according to the government’s proposed calculations, the advisory sentencing guidelines here recommend a life sentence for Mr. Rubashkin. We cannot fathom how truly sound and sensible sentencing rules could call for a life sentence—or anything close to it—for Mr. Rubashkin, a 51-year-old, first-time, non-violent offender whose case involves many mitigating factors and whose personal history and extraordinary family circumstances suggest that sentence of a modest number of years could and would be more than sufficient to serve any and all applicable sentencing purposes.”

From the beginning, the government’s case was based on misconceptions of the family and the plant. The recent acquittal of Rubashkin on state charges that he knowingly allowed minors to work at Agriprocessors is further testimony to this false impression created by the U.S. attorney, as well as the Iowa attorney general.

This was not a case of someone embezzling money for personal gain. He leveraged everything he had for the company. He mortgaged his own home in order to stave off the company’s bankruptcy. He did not seek personal gain at the expense of others. He was simply trying to keep his business afloat.

The Iowa attorney general and the U.S. attorney, while ostensibly seeking justice, have instead destroyed a company, shattered the lives of hundreds of families and eviscerated the economy of a region. Justice has not been served in this case; indeed it has been diminished.

(Rabbi Menachem Genack is the chief executive officer of OU Kosher.)

Rubashkin: L.A. Rally Protests 27-Year Sentence


The announcement this week that Sholom Rubashkin had been sentenced to 27 years in prison for fraud prompted the Los Angeles Orthodox community to rally together Monday evening in support of Rubashkin, his family and the expected legal appeal of what many feel is a disproportionate punishment for a white-collar crime.

Rubashkin, the former CEO of Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, was convicted late last year on 86 counts of financial fraud. In addition to the prison sentence, the judge,  Linda Reade, who sits on the federal bench in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, ruled Rubashkin must pay nearly $27 million in restitution to several banks.

Meir Simcha Rubashkin, 23, the fourth of the convicted man’s 10 children, arrived in Los Angeles on Monday to speak at the rally, which was attended by approximately 800 men and women from various local Orthodox congregations.

Held at the Moshe Ganz Hall on La Brea Avenue, the evening consisted of lengthy — and at times somber — speeches both objecting to the prison sentence and emphasizing the need for the Jewish community to band together. The speeches were preceded and followed by prayers for Sholom Rubashkin’s wellbeing.

A large banner, which read “Justice for Sholom Mordechai,” hung above Meir Rubashkin’s head as he spoke, and he stood out amid a lineup of speakers who all were much older men. White shirt collar unbuttoned and wearing a traditional black hat and black coat, Meir Rubashkin traced the emotional toll of his father’s experience since his arrest last year — from watching his father being handcuffed and taken away “like a common criminal,” to sitting in the courtroom while the judge announced the guilty verdict and while his father passed notes to his family saying, “Just tell everybody that I am unshaken in my faith … I accept what comes,” to being angered by the judge’s decision to not allow Rubashkin to go home with his family between the verdict and sentencing, instead keeping him behind prison bars.

Meir Rubashkin also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support for his father. “One of the things that gives him strength is to know that he has the backing of the Jewish world,” he said.

Certainly support was in abundance among the speakers at the rally, which included Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, Rabbi Yaakov Krause of Toras Emes Academy and Rabbi Ezra Schochet.

They continually referred to Rubashkin as “our brother.”

Rubashkin, Rechnitz said, “is blatantly being treated unfairly,” and added that the judge’s decision to condemn the 51-year-old Rubashkin to what essentially amounts to a life sentence is an “unfathomable verdict.”

Krause, who told the crowd he has known Rubashkin and his family for 40 years, agreed with Rechnitz, calling the verdict “outrageous,” a sign of “clear prejudice” and “certainly anti-Semitism. No one condones criminal activity,” Krause continued, “but the scapegoating [and] the viciousness is enough to send shivers down the spine.”

Following the rally, Meir Rubashkin said he would see his father on June 22 in Cedar Rapids, where the judge was to officially announce the sentence.

Rubashkin, speaking in a separate interview, also echoed the rhetoric of a memo on the Web site justiceforsholom.org, which cites “the enormous disparity between the treatment of Mr. Rubashkin and others who committed similar [white-collar] offenses” but received lesser sentences.

“That’s racism at its best…or at its worst,” Meir Rubashkin said. He also spoke during the rally of what he saw as hateful sentiments in Iowa against Orthodox Jews.

Rabbi Sholom Weil of Los Angeles, standing next to Meir Rubashkin, agreed that Rubashkin’s sentence makes a statement about negative attitudes toward Jews. “It’s not about Sholom Rubashkin. It’s an attack on Jewish identity, Jewish ideals,” Weil said.

Rubashkin’s brother-in-law, David Goldman, stood in the audience, where there were not enough chairs to accommodate all those who had shown up. Goldman described the significance of such rallies. “It’s a matter of helping Sholom and the family emotionally and monetarily,” Goldman said.

Outside the rally, volunteers collected donations to support Rubashkin’s legal council for the expected appeal.

For more information on how to express concern regarding the handling of Rubashkin’s case, check jewishjournal.com articles.

Rubashkin sentenced to 27 years


Kosher meatpacking executive Sholom Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years in a federal prison for his conviction on federal financial fraud charges.

U.S. District Judge Linda Reade filed the sentencing memorandum Monday and will present the sentence in federal court Tuesday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Rubashkin was convicted last November on 86 counts of fraud in connection with the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa.

The prison term will be followed by five years of parole, according to Reade’s ruling. Rubashkin also will be required to make restitution of nearly $27 million to several financial institutions.

Prosecutors had requested a 25-year sentence, according to the Des Moines Register.

Rubashkin lawyer Guy Cook, noting the prosecutors’ request, called the sentence “unfair and excessive.”

“It’s essentially a life sentence for a 51-year-old man, and it’s not in the public interest,” he told the newspaper.

Rubashkin was acquitted earlier this month in an Iowa state court on 67 counts of child labor violations relating to 26 teenagers from South America who worked at the plant.

The Agriprocessors plant was the site of a federal immigration raid in May 2008 in which 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were arrested.

Rubashkin acquitted in child labor case


Kosher meatpacking executive Sholom Rubashkin was acquitted in an Iowa state court of child labor violations.

Rubashkin was found not guilty on all 67 counts of child labor violations, relating to 26 teenagers from South America who worked at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

Several then-underage workers at the Agriprocessors plant were flown in from Guatemala by the court to testify against Rubashkin.

The jury reached its verdict during the second day of deliberations. The state trial in Waterloo, Iowa, had lasted a month.

Rubashkin was convicted last November on 86 federal financial fraud charges in connection with the plant. His sentencing in that case is set for this month.

The Agriprocessors plant was the site of a federal immigration raid in May 2008 in which 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were arrested.

Rubashkin: I should not have entered the family business


With a federal judge expected to issue a sentence in his case later this month, a former kosher meatpacking executive expressed regret for his actions—and entering the family business.

The two-day sentencing hearing in the financial fraud conviction of ex-Agriprocessors official Sholom Rubashkin was held last week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Linda Reade reportedly indicated that she will issue her ruling May 27.

At least 10 witnesses spoke on Rubashkin’s behalf, including a psychiatrist who interviewed him in jail. The psychiatrist said Rubashkin expressed regret for the harm he had caused himself and others, the Des Moines Register reported. Several former business partners and family members also testified.

In his testimony, Rubashkin reportedly said that he made mistakes and expressed remorse. He described himself “a conflicted and flawed human being”—as someone who was thrust into running the family business without adequate training or interest.

“Conflicted in that I allowed myself to be drafted into my family’s business against my wishes and better judgment,” Rubashkin said, according to The Associated Press. “I basically should have stayed in teaching and being an emissary” for the Lubavitch movement.”

The Agriprocessors plant in the Iowa town of Postville was the site of a federal raid in May 2008.

Federal prosecutors submitted a sentencing memorandum last month requesting life imprisonment based on their reading of federal sentencing guidelines. Rubashkin’s attorneys have requested that he be sentenced to no more than six years in prison.

Sentencing memos filed by prosecutors in the case accuse Rubashkin of bribing Postville Mayor Robert Penrod. Rubashkin was not charged with bribery, but the presiding judge can take such accusations into account when deciding on a sentence. Rubashkin’s attorneys told the Register that Agriprocessors made a loan to Penrod under duress from the mayor.

Rubashkin supporters held prayer services on his behalf in cities throughout the country and around the world April 27, the night before the start of the two-day hearing. They describe him as a kind, charitable father of 10 who may have committed crimes but does not deserve a life sentence.

Earlier that day, six former U.S. attorneys general in a letter to Reade criticized prosecutors’ request that Rubashkin be sentenced to life in prison.

Federal immigration officers raided the Agriprocessors Postville plant in 2008, arresting hundreds of employees. The raid set the company on a slow slide toward bankruptcy.

Prosecutors dropped immigration charges against Rubashkin last November, just days after a jury convicted him of financial fraud.

Rubashkin sentencing hearing moves into second day


A federal judge is expected to issue a judgment in the sentencing of a former kosher meatpacking executive in three to four weeks.

The sentencing hearing in the financial fraud conviction of ex-Agriprocessors official Sholom Rubashkin is set to continue Thursday in federal court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after a full day of testimony Wednesday.

Ten witnesses spoke Wednesday on Rubashkin’s behalf, including a psychiatrist who interviewed him in jail. The psychiatrist said Rubashkin expressed regret for the harm he had caused himself and others, the Des Moines Register reported. Several former business partners and family members also testified.

The Agriprocessors plant in the Iowa town of Postville was the site of a federal raid in May 2008.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors submitted a sentencing memorandum requesting life imprisonment based on their reading of federal sentencing guidelines. Rubashkin’s attorneys have requested that he be sentenced to no more than six years in prison.

Sentencing memos filed by prosecutors in the case accuse Rubashkin of bribing Robert Penrod, the mayor of Postville. Rubashkin was never charged with bribery, but the presiding judge can take such accusations into account when deciding on a sentence. Rubashkin’s attorneys told the Register that Agriprocessors made a loan to Penrod under duress from the mayor.

Rubashkin supporters held prayer services on his behalf Tuesday night in cities throughout the country and around the world.

Also Tuesday, six former U.S. attorneys general, in a letter to Linda Reade, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, criticized prosecutors’ request that Rubashkin be sentenced to life in prison.

Former attorneys general request leniency for Rubashkin


Six former U.S. attorneys general have criticized prosecutors’ recommendation that a kosher meatpacking plant executive receive life in prison for bank fraud.

The former attorneys general, as well as 17 other Justice Department veterans, expressed their concern in a letter to Linda Reade, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa who is presiding over the Sholom Rubashkin case. Rubashkin was the former manager of the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville, Iowa, convicted last November on 86 counts of financial fraud. His sentencing hearing is set for Wednesday.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors submitted a sentencing memorandum in the case in which they calculated that Rubashkin’s crimes resulted in a score on a federal sentencing guidelines scale that correlates with life imprisonment. The memo prompted expressions of outrage from a number of Jewish leaders. The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to intervene in the sentencing.

The letter writers noted the “potential absurdity” in prosecutors using the federal sentencing guidelines to calculate a recommendation of life in prison for Rubashkin, saying the guidelines can produce sentencing ranges that are greater than necessary and “lack any common sentencing wisdom.”

“We cannot fathom how truly sound and sensible sentencing rules could call for a life sentence—or anything close to it—for Mr. Rubashkin, a 51-year-old, first-time, non-violent offender whose case involves many mitigating factors and whose personal history and extraordinary family circumstances suggest that a sentence of a modest number of years could and would be more than sufficient to serve any and all applicable sentencing purposes,” the letter said.

The six former attorneys general to sign the letter are Nicholas Katzenbach and Ramsey Clark, both from the Johnson administration in the mid- to late 1960s; Edwin Meese III, who served from 1985 to 1988 during the Reagan administration; Richard Thornburgh, from 1988 to 1991 during during the Reagan and Bush administrations; William Barr, from 1991 to 1993 during the Bush administration; and Janet Reno, from 1993 to 2001 during the Clinton administration.

Kenneth Starr, the former judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, and solicitor general, has said he also will sign the letter.

Federal immigration officers raided the Agriprocessors Postville plant in 2008, arresting hundreds of employees. The raid set the company on a slow slide toward bankruptcy. Prosecutors dropped immigration charges against Rubashkin last November, just days after a jury convicted him of financial fraud.

Justice Dept. again won’t intervene in Rubashkin case


The U.S. Department of Justice again has declined to intervene in the sentencing of a convicted kosher meat executive.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer wrote in a letter Monday that concerns about the sentencing of former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin were best raised with the presiding judge in northern Iowa, Linda Reade, or with local federal prosecutors.

Breuer’s letter, addressed to Rubashkin’s attorney Nathan Lewin, follows several appeals for examination of the case. Federal prosecutors are seeking a hefty sentence for Rubashkin’s conviction on fraud charges. Sentencing is due to take place this month.

Two weeks ago, federal prosecutors submitted a sentencing memorandum in the case in which they calculated that Rubashkin’s crimes resulted in a score on a federal sentencing guidelines scale that correlates with life imprisonment. The memo prompted expressions of outrage from a number of Jewish leaders and led to a series of letters to the Department of Justice and Reade seeking redress.

In a letter Monday to Reade, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman and former Iowa federal judge Paul Cassell wrote that the sentencing guidelines would seem to call for a harsher sentence than if Rubashkin had been convicted of murder, kidnapping or rape.

“In fact, the Government’s guidelines calculations are so flawed that they imply that his sentence should be the same as if Mr. Rubashkin had committed first degree murder,” Tolman and Cassell wrote. “Such a lengthy sentence would clearly be disproportionate to his offenses.”

Separately, Lewin wrote Breuer on April 11 asking that Justice Department attorneys be assigned to investigate the conduct of the Iowa prosecutors. Breuer also received a letter from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which described the sentencing recommendation as “grotesque.”

A jury convicted Rubashkin last November on 86 counts of financial fraud. He has yet to be tried on charges stemming from his alleged hiring of illegal workers to staff the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. In the wake of a massive federal immigration raid in 2008, during which hundreds of company employees were arrested and subsequently deported, Agriprocessors gradually slid toward bankruptcy.

Breuer’s letter marks the second time Justice Department officials have declined to get involved in the case. Following a January letter to Attorney General Eric Holder from a coalition of rabbis asking for reconsideration of the case, a department official responded that the case had been “fully litigated” and there was nothing more to be done.

Kosherfest 2008 is heaven on earth for foodies


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Business could not have been better for Ilan Parente, owner of Solomon’s Finest Kosher Meats, the only fresh meat supplier at this year’s Kosherfest 2008, the international kosher food and food service trade show.

Held Nov. 11 and 12 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey, Kosherfest (photo, above) offered exciting new foods and kosher innovations, but also reflected the difficulties in the kosher industry brought about by the growing meat shortage.

With the recent collapse of Agriprocessors, the United States’ leading meat supplier, many businesses came to Kosherfest to find solutions to their empty shelves.

One such restaurateur, Marc Epstein, came to Kosherfest to find more meat and cheese sources. Epstein, who owns Milk Street Café in Boston, was frustrated by the lack of options. “Choice is good, and there is no choice,” he lamented. Epstein also attributed the problem to increased stringencies of the rabbinic establishment over the years.

Parente, on the other hand, who specializes in natural meat products, was reaping the rewards. Traveling to Kosherfest from Dawson, Minn., Parente had been inundated with buyers. They’re under “tremendous pressure,” he said, “trying to get Klal Yisrael as much meat as we can.” Parente’s company sells beef, bison, lamb and elk meat, uses no antibiotics on their animals and feeds them an “all-vegetarian diet.”

Kosherfest was also celebrating its 20th anniversary at a new location in New Jersey (rather than the Javits Center in Manhattan, where it has been held in recent years). The change notwithstanding, regular exhibitors and attendees said it felt like business as usual.

Celebrity Jewish chef Jeff Nathan (“they call me the ‘Jewish Emeril'”), who owns the kosher restaurant, Abigael’s, on Broadway near Times Square in Manhattan, said Kosherfest 2008 seemed on par with previous years.

“Jersey is a little more laid back, that’s why I live here,” he said. Nathan did notice “a little leaning toward lighter and healthier” foods at the show, something he has been hoping to see more of. Some examples included a number of new gluten-free products, soy nut butter — as a peanut butter substitute — and many desserts advertised as “trans-fat free.”

The event continued to be international in flavor, bringing together kosher food purveyors, caterers and distributors from more than 28 countries. Attendees traveled from as far away as Turkey, South Africa, Italy, Panama and Israel and as close to home as Los Angeles, Chicago and New Jersey.

Rabbi Gershon Finesilver, who attended the event on behalf of the London Beit Din (LBD), called the event “amazing.” It was the London-based rabbi’s first time staffing a Kosherfest booth and he likened the event (and the concomitant sampling) to “a very large Kiddush. You’re nibbling all day.”

In addition to educating American consumers about the LBD’s role in supervising ingredients across Europe and Asia, the LBD was showing off its newest heksher, a slightly curvier design than it had before, with a hint of Asian flair. Finesilver said the new design had been in use for a couple of years, even if Americans might not have seen it.

Each year Kosherfest organizers hold a competition for the best new kosher-certified products. This year, Zelda’s Sweet Shoppe of Skokie, Ill., took top honors with a “Southern Pecan Pie.” Zelda’s pie won the Best in Show award, the prize for best dessert, the prize for best packaging design and the prize for best snack food (for its caramel corn series).

After racking up so many awards, Zelda Neiman, the company’s matriarch, couldn’t help but stand at her booth beaming. “The show itself is amazing [as well as] a little overwhelming,” she said.

Neiman, who keeps kosher, said she enjoyed seeing all of the kosher-certified products at the show. She had been planning to come to the event before as an attendee but it just never happened. Then, as a first-time exhibitor, her company won the top awards; “Nothing could be better,” she said.

Other award-winners included Bella Baby organic frozen baby food, which won the prize for best new organic product; Kedem All Natural Premium grape juice for best new beverage, and Davida Aprons & Logo Programs, Inc. for best new food service product — a baby bib that reads, “I’m not crying, I’m davening.”

Exhibitor Linda Hausberg of Brentwood, who founded Linda’s Gourmet Latkes, was attending Kosherfest for the first time. Hausberg called herself a “PTA mom” who started her business after watching her homemade latkes sell out at a fundraising event for her kids. She launched her product at Vicente Foods and now sells her frozen latkes at Whole Foods around the country.

Other highlights of this year’s Kosherfest included a sushi-making competition that pitted sushi chefs from Eden Wok, Milk N’ Honey NYC, Glatt A La Carte and Simply Sushi Café against one another for the title of best sushi. Simply Sushi of Monticello, N.Y., took the prize for best presentation, taste and creativity.

But for many, Kosherfest is all about sampling the food. From a rose-flavored fruit juice to spicy turkey jerky and tomato-basil risotto, and from mouth-watering Danish blue cheese and chocolate crepes to elk-meat sausages, the show was a kosher gastronome’s dream come true. There was also a kosher Scotch by Speyside (for those who need a heksher on their liquor), freestanding vending machines with hot food available in minutes by Kosher Vending Industries, a kosher gelatin (courtesy of Kolatin), parve ice cream bonbons by Nestlé and nougat by Sally Williams (a South African favorite).

Rachelle Lewis of Beverly Hills might as well have been in heaven: “This is so exciting,” she exclaimed; “It’s fabulous!” Lewis works for Grocers Media, Inc., which markets new products with promotions inside supermarkets that use a barcode system. Though she’s been to many different food shows, she said this year’s Kosherfest was “one of the best.”

As someone who keeps kosher, the event was particularly exciting — “It’s uplifting to see so many upscale [products],” Lewis said. She particularly enjoyed some fresh Israeli pita she had tried with falafel as well the Oxygen-brand sauces and glazes. “They have a bottled charosets that I couldn’t imagine would taste good. But it does!”

Postville Jewish community struggles to survive after raid


POSTVILLE, Iowa (JTA) — After former Agriprocessors executive Sholom Rubashkin was arrested earlier this month, Rashi Raices joined several dozen members of this town’s Jewish community in volunteering the equity on their homes to guarantee his return to face trial.

All told, they were willing to put up the equivalent of about $2 million, according to the judge in the case. The court also received 275 letters from around the world testifying to Rubashkin’s character.

Rubashkin stands accused of a host of crimes stemming from his stewardship of the Agriprocessors meat packing plant in Postville. To much of the outside world he is the public face of a rapacious company that has demonstrated deep contempt for the law.

But to the several hundred Jews of Postville — home of the company’s main plant and once the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the United States — Rubashkin is a figure of reverence, a man who built a successful business and thriving Jewish community while performing countless unsung acts of kindness.

“The community cares very much for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin,” Raices told JTA on Sunday, three days after a federal magistrate rejected the appeals and ordered Rubashkin detained until trial.

“If they didn’t trust him, and if they didn’t care for him, they would not put up their homes,” Raices said. “Do you think if we really thought he was going to run away that we would put up our homes?”

The public offering on Rubashkin’s behalf is all the more noteworthy because it comes at a time of tremendous uncertainty for Postville’s Jews. The shutdown of Agriprocessors, which filed for bankruptcy Nov. 4 and hasn’t operated the plant in more than a week, has had deep consequences.

“People for the first time are going on to food stamps and Medicaid and unemployment,” Raices said.

Agriprocessors was the economic engine for the entire region of northeast Iowa, but the Jewish community was particularly dependent. Some 90 percent of Postville’s Jews were employed directly by the company, many of them as ritual slaughterers, or shochtim. Even those who didn’t often were employed by organizations established to service the community and therefore are dependent indirectly on Agriprocessors.

Teachers in the Jewish community school haven’t been paid since Oct. 3. Jewish Agriprocessors employees are, by one estimate, 12 weeks behind in their pay. A nonprofit effort has been established to raise money for the Jews of Postville and state assistance is on the way, but in the meantime some families are struggling to heat their homes and keep food on the table.

Their situation has gone relatively unnoticed, even though a massive federal immigration raid in May made this sleepy northeast Iowa town a focus of national interest. Instead, the bulk of news reports have focused on the plight of the largely immigrant work force detained by the federal government and the unsupported families they left behind. Much of the plant’s former non-Jewish work force is now stuck in Postville with dwindling resources, living off the generosity of area churches and dependent on the good will of the city’s residents.

On Nov. 21, Mayor Robert Penrod initiated the process of having Postville declared a disaster area — a move that is expected to result in nearly $700,000 in state assistance. Later in the day, a notice was posted in the Postville synagogue announcing that help is on the way for those struggling to pay for food and utilities.

“It’s a man-made disaster,” said Aaron Goldsmith, a former Postville city councilman and frequent spokesman for the community. “It’s as if we were hit by the Katrina flood. It doesn’t discriminate. The economic impact of the shutdown has hurt Jew and gentile alike, suppliers, sub-suppliers, the city’s infrastructure and the general morale of the broader community.”

Morale in the Jewish community has been especially hard hit because of a widespread sense among Postville Jews that they have been given a raw deal. Not by the Rubashkins, whose business practices some outside critics blame for the current crisis, but by the media, which many Jews in Postville see as unduly biased against the company, and by the federal government, which is seen as having moved more aggressively against Agriprocessors than against other companies accused of hiring undocumented workers.

That sense of grievance was compounded Nov. 20 when U.S. Magistrate Judge Jon Scoles refused to release Rubashkin on bail, concluding that he posed a “serious risk of flight.” Rubashkin faces substantial jail time for his alleged role in a scheme to defraud the company’s bank, as well as a host of charges related to his role in helping procure false documentation for the plant’s illegal work force.

In his ruling, Scoles cited a number of factors that made Rubashkin a flight risk, including the fact that Jews are granted automatic citizenship in Israel and that two former Agriprocessors supervisors already are believed to have fled there. He also noted that a travel bag filled with cash, silver coins, Rubashkin’s birth certificate and his childrens’ passports were found in his home.

His attorneys countered that Rubashkin’s financial situation was deteriorating and that he was saving the money to meet his family’s needs. They also argued that Rubashkin was tied deeply to the community and his 10 children, eight of whom still reside in Postville, including a mentally challenged son who is said to be particularly reliant on his father.

“Any judge can now say that they will not allow a Jew out just because he is a Jew, because a Jew has the right to run to Israel,” Raices said. “So you know what? Everyone’s hurting themselves out there by not bringing an outcry about that. That is blatant anti-Semitism. And he’s just the first one that’s suffering from that.”

“This past Wednesday was a very black day for Judaism, not just for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin,” she added. “It was a black day for Jews in America.”

Goldsmith declined to go as far, but he did offer that Rubashkin was the victim of “over-prosecution” and that the judge’s decision was “perplexing.”

While the community anguishes over Rubashkin’s fate, it also has more pressing concerns. At the Kosher Community Grocery on Nov. 21, the shelves were noticeably less than fully stocked. In the kitchen, Mordy Brown was slicing onions for cholent, part of the meal he was preparing for the approximately 40 yeshiva students in Postville.

Brown said the store is extending credit to some families short on funds and that cash flow is “very low.” Some meat remains in stock, but last week’s order, Brown said, is going to be the last for a while. He predicted the shelves would be empty in three days.

“It’s getting really tough,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, at the packing plant, all was quiet. Handwritten signs posted in the window announced more bad news: No work on Sunday and Monday. A court-appointed trustee was due Monday in Postville; the town is hopeful that checks will be issued soon thereafter.

But there are few illusions that Agriprocessors can recover as a going concern. Virtually the only hope for the future of the Postville Jewish community rests with the plant’s purchase by another company.

“I don’t know that the name Agriprocessors can be resurrected,” Goldsmith said, “but I think the plant can be resurrected. There just might be too much baggage with the old name.”

Talks with investors have been under way for months but no deal has been announced. Bernard Feldman, the company’s recently appointed chief executive, submitted an affidavit to the court claiming that he expected “such negotiations will be fruitful [and] completed in the very near future.”

In the meantime, the community languishes in uncertainty. And while the worst of the humanitarian crisis will likely be avoided through state assistance and outside donations, the intensity of the anger remains.

“It’s a 20th century pogrom,” said a customer at the kosher grocery who declined to give his name, “just without the horses and the houses haven’t been burned down yet.”

Agriprocessors closed — now where’s the beef?


NEW YORK (JTA)–A supermarket in New Jersey with a large kosher section has shelves nearly empty of kosher beef. In New York, a kosher steakhouse says its customers are canceling reservations because choice cuts aren’t always available. And the nation’s largest kosher meat producer, reportedly besieged by new orders, is turning away new customers.

The kosher meat market is in a tailspin as production at the Agriprocessors’ meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, which had been operating at a fraction of its normal capacity since May, finally ground to a halt this week. The company, whose meat was sold under the labels Rubashkin’s and Aaron’s Best, among others, filed for bankruptcy Nov. 4.

“What I’m hearing all over the country is that one day you can get poultry in some places, one day you can get brisket, the next day you can’t get pastrami,” said Menachem Lubinsky, the publisher of Kosher Today and a former consultant to Agriprocessors. “People are being very innovative in how they’re getting their products.”

Though Agriprocessors officials say they hope to reopen the plant later this week, trouble has long been brewing in Postville and savvy industry folks began looking for alternatives months ago.

In the wake of a federal immigration raid in Postville on May 12, meat buyers began shifting their purchases to other companies, which have struggled to meet the increased demand. Alle Processing, a New York City kosher meat supplier that has become the largest in the United States with the collapse of Agriprocessors, has had to place a moratorium on new customers, according to several industry insiders.

Retailers and restaurants who already had relationships with other suppliers have fared the best, though many report only a portion of their orders are being filled. Those who were more dependent on Agriprocessors are finding themselves in real trouble.

At Heinin’s, a specialty foods supermarket in the greater Cleveland area, the shelves have been without kosher meat for months. A buyer for the company told JTA his efforts to locate an alternative are not going well. An Albertson’s supermarket in the Dallas area also was bereft of beef on Monday.

“I just got back from the supermarket and there was absolutely none,” said kosher consumer Shalom Abrams. “Normally they have an 8-foot section of kosher meat.”

At the ShopRite in Livingston, N.J., on Sunday, the shelves were teeming with glatt kosher beef and lamb from Solomon’s and chicken from Empire Kosher Poultry, which announced this week it would be increasing production by 50 percent beginning Nov. 24. One town over, in West Orange, the situation was vastly different: The most plentiful item in the kosher beef display was the Rubashkin’s signage.

“Overall, it’s a lot less selection,” said Michelle Amin, shopping at the West Orange ShopRite. “For the community who’s here to have this kind of empty shelf, it’s crazy.”

Even large retailers with multiple supply options say their orders are not being fully filled.

Yakov Yarmove, who purchases kosher meat for the Supervalu chain, which operates more than 2,400 stores across the country, estimates he’s getting about 90 percent of what he needs. Several other large supermarket chains with reported supply disruptions did not respond to requests for comment.

Michael Schreiber, the owner of East Side Kosher Deli in Denver and a supplier of kosher meat to customers in seven Rocky Mountain states, told JTA he would have been “in deep trouble” if he had relied solely on Agriprocessors. As it is, he is struggling to keep up his stocks.

“I may order 500 pounds of a certain primal cut for my guys to then break and I may only get 300 pounds, but I am getting the product,” Schreiber said. “Are my stocks as deep as normal? No, not hardly. But I can keep customers in product.”

The decline of Agriprocessors placed fish and poultry center stage last week at Kosherfest, the annual kosher food trade show held Nov. 11-12 at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey. While purveyors of kosher poultry and fish were abundant, including many first-time exhibitors from North America and abroad, there were only a handful of meat producers, and those few were besieged by buyers desperate for supplies. None of the major kosher meat producers were there: no Agriprocessors, no International Glatt, no Alle.

With their finances in ruins, Agriprocessors has been courting outside investors and rumors were rife at the show as to who might buy the company’s facility in Postville. Names floated most often were Empire and Alle, as well as the non-kosher giant ConAgra. Costco and Sam’s Club have both reportedly expressed interest.

Empire representatives say the company has investigated the possibility of entering the kosher beef market but has made no decisions. But Empire’s announcement that it plans to expand production of chicken is widely hoped to alleviate pressure on the kosher poultry supply at a crucial moment–the week of Thanksgiving.

“Empire is proud to be able to step up to the plate and be sure that consumers throughout the United States have easy access to kosher poultry at their local supermarkets and butcher shops,” Greg Rosenbaum, Empire’s chairman and CEO, said in a news release. “We are extremely grateful for the cooperation of our kosher certifying agencies, the OU, KAJ and Star-K, as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, to make this rapid expansion possible.”

On Monday, Agriprocessors executives appeared in bankruptcy court in New York where they met their lender, First Bank Business Capital of St. Louis. First Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against the company for defaulting on a $35 million loan.

According to a report in the Des Moines Register, First Bank had sought a total freeze on spending until Agriprocessors cleared up its debts. The company responded that a freeze would force it to cease all operations. A judge appointed a trustee to oversee the case, and a company spokesperson told the Register that the details would be worked out this week. The company hopes to resume poultry production on Thursday.

In an unrelated legal setback for Agriprocessors, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear its case against the National Labor Relations Board, according to a report in the industry publication Meatingplace. A lower court had rejected the company’s argument that a union vote at its Brooklyn warehouse was invalid because its workers were illegal immigrants and therefore not entitled to organize.

Agriprocessors did not respond to requests for comment.

For kosher beef, problems are likely to remain–a fact that has sparked interest from companies as far afield as Australia. Ephraim Nagar, the owner of Talia’s Steakhouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, told JTA he had received an e-mail from a company gauging interest in kosher meat exports from Down Under.

For Nagar, who used to get all his supply from Agriprocessors, any new product would be an enormous relief. Other suppliers have declined to deal with him because he was not a regular customer. To acquire beef, he has had to send drivers to outer borough warehouses, driving up his costs. Some customers are calling in advance to find out if the restaurant has the specialty items for which it is known.

“Assuming they made a reservation of, let’s say a table of 10,” Nagar said, “two or three people are eager to eat these bison buffalo or the baby lamb rack, and if we do not have that, they cancel the reservation.”

(JTA correspondent Sue Fishkoff contributed to this report.)



Troubles at meat plants prompt increased fear of kosher beef shortages


NEW YORK (JTA) — With the kosher meat producer Agriprocessors facing mounting financial problems, and a fire-related shutdown at another major kosher producer, industry insiders say major supply disruptions are inevitable, and kosher consumers should brace themselves for some rough times.

Agriprocessors in the past week or so has endured a cascade of awful news. First, Iowa’s labor commissioner hit the company with nearly $10 million in fines for alleged wage violations. Then, the son of the company’s founder was arrested on charges that he helped purchase false identification for the company’s illegal workers. And on Oct. 31, news broke that a St. Louis bank had initiated foreclosure proceedings after Agriprocessors and its owners defaulted on a $35 million loan.

Kosher industry insiders are predicting that the company will not pull through. Company officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Meanwhile, production at the nation’s third-largest slaughterhouse, North Star Beef in Minnesota, has ground to a halt after a fire, the Forward reported Monday. Also according to the newspaper, a smaller Agriprocessors plant in Gordon, Neb., stopped operating in October.

Short-term disruptions in the supply of kosher meat, particularly kosher and glatt kosher beef, are now virtually guaranteed. Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of kosher supervision for the Orthodox Union, said he already has heard from communities that have no supply.

“There is going to be a sharp decline in availability immediately,” said Genack, adding that the company is trying to survive but that the situation is grim.

Some kosher markets have not felt the crunch, among them Daryl Schwarz, owner of Kosher Club on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, a full-service kosher supermarket under RCC supervision. “I’m not having any problems yet,” Schwarz said. “It’s a little early to see what happens. I have plenty of product.”

Farzad Kohanzadeh, co-owner of Livonia Glatt Mart, has so far experienced a steady flow of meat, in part because he deals with a variety of suppliers who meet the approval of their kashrut supervising body, the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC). “Eventually it will affect us, but right now it has not.”

Those who have stricter kosher supervision have been more hard hit. Albert Zadeh, one of three owners at Pico Glatt Mart on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, has experienced some shortages, particularly with special cuts of beef. “We’ve been in business for 17 years, but it has never been like this. The cases were always full of meat.

“Because we are under Kehilla [kashrut] supervision, we can’t get a different brand of meat,” he said, adding that Agriprocessors has raised the prices three to four times in the last five months. Last week, to keep up, Pico Glatt raised the price of every meat and chicken item by 29 cents per pound.

Avraham Shamoil, owner of Little Jerusalem on Pico Boulevard and La Peer Drive for 30 years, has also experienced a shortage. His meat falls under Crown Heights kashrut supervision, which he says is even stricter than Kehilla. Quantities don’t reach Los Angeles as they used to.

“Basically we cannot get enough meat, chicken, turkey,” Shamoil told The Journal. “It’s been very difficult for us. We’ve been dealing with [Rubashkin] for years, and now we cannot get.”

Agriprocessors representatives have had virtually nothing to say publicly over the past week as they faced a succession of ominous developments. But Bernard Feldman, the New York tax attorney hired in September as the company’s new chief executive officer, offered one stark prediction to the Des Moines Register.

“I don’t believe we’re going to have substantial production of any kind in the near future,” Feldman said in Monday’s edition.

Agriprocessors has been reeling since May 12, when federal authorities conducted what at the time was the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in Postville, arresting nearly half the company’s workforce. The company’s troubles have only intensified in the last week.

In addition to the foreclosure by First Bank of St. Louis and the arrest of Sholom Rubashkin, the staffing company responsible for approximately half of the labor at the Postville plant suspended its contract. Beef production has been shut down for several days. And reports out of Postville suggest that the company lacks the resources to slaughter and process the chickens in its possession, though some chicken slaughtering reportedly is taking place.

A federal judge placed the company in temporary receivership after First Bank filed a lawsuit alleging that Agriprocessors and its owners defaulted on a $35 million loan. The lawsuit demands the return of the bank’s collateral — a category that includes “virtually all” of the owners’ personal property as well as the company’s accounts receivable, inventory and proceeds.

Agriprocessors also has received a power disconnect notice, the Des Moines Register reported. The company’s electric utility, Alliant Energy, reportedly is working with the company to work out a payment plan. Meanwhile, a relative of the company’s owners has issued a call for the Jewish community to donate funds to help save the company.

Kosher industry insiders, including Agriprocessors’ competitors, uniformly believe that the company’s collapse would be a disaster for the country’s kosher meat supply. Agriprocessors has been a pioneer in the industrial-scale production of kosher beef, and in many smaller Jewish communities its products are the only kosher ones available.

“For the kosher marketplace, there’s no question there’s going to be short-term shortages of kosher and glatt kosher meat and poultry,” said Elie Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Empire Kosher, a poultry producer. “The industry overnight cannot pick up the decreased level of volume that Agriprocessors has been doing over the last couple of months.”

Rosenfeld said his client continues to see growing demand for its product, but he would not comment on reports that Empire has been exploring opportunities to begin producing kosher beef.

Harris reported from New York for Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Jewish Journal contributor Orit Arfa contributed to this article.

Rubashkin son arrested, Agriprocessors fined $10 million in kosher slaughterhouse probe


POSTVILLE, IOWA (JTA) — The former manager of Agriprocessors was arrested today on charges related to the hiring of illegal workers.

Sholom Rubashkin, 49, was arrested by immigration officials and was due to appear in federal court later today.

Documents filed with the court allege that Rubashkin conspired to harbor illegal immigrants at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. They further charge that he aided and abetted in the use of fake identification documents and identity theft.

Rubashkin is the highest-ranking Agriprocessors official to face criminal charges stemming from the May 12 federal immigration raid at the company’s Postville meatpacking plant. More than one-third of the company’s workforce was arrested.

According to the criminal complaint filed Thursday, Rubashkin provided funds that were used to purchase new identification for workers at Agriprocessors who were found to have bad papers. The complaint further alleges that Rubashkin asked a human resources officer to come in on a Sunday to process the new employment applications of several such workers.

Company representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Nathan Lewin, an attorney who represents Rubashkin’s father and the company owner Aaron Rubashkin, dismissed the arrest as unnecessary and motivated by federal law enforcement’s desire for good publicity.

“The arrest of Mr. Sholom Rubashkin today was a wholly unnecessary and gratuitous act by federal prosecutors apparently engaged in an unseemly competition with State of Iowa officials to capture headlines in a vendetta against Agriprocessors,” Lewin said.

Rubashkin’s arrest comes a day after Iowa Workforce Development announced it would levy nearly $10 million in fines against the company for alleged labor infractions.

In response to the action by the state labor agency, Agriprocessors CEO Bernard Feldman told The New York Times that he had “grave doubts as to the appropriateness of the claimed violations, and we also take issue with the intended sanction imposed per claim.”

Iowa Workforce Development, the state’s labor regulation agency, levied $9,988,200 in civil penalties against the kosher meat producer in Postville for four categories of infraction. The largest is for charging employees for frocks — the regulation agency claims the company is guilty of more than 90,000 such incidents, assessed at $100 per infraction.

“Once again, Agriprocessors has demonstrated a complete disregard for Iowa law,” said Dave Neil, the state’s labor commissioner. “This continued course of violations is a black mark on Iowa’s business community.”

According to Iowa Workforce Development, the company has 30 days to contest the penalties in writing before they become finalized. The department has an additional wage investigation under way that could lead to further penalties.
The fines are the latest challenge to Agriprocessors, once the nation’s largest producer of kosher meat before a massive federal immigration raid on May 12 resulted in the arrest of more than one-third of its workforce.

With its reputation taking a drubbing and concerns mounting that the company could lose its kosher certification, Agriprocessors hired a compliance officer and installed a new chief executive.

Company representatives did not immediately respond to JTA’s request for comment.

L.A. Orthodox rabbis want business ethics to be kosher, too


Seeking to accentuate Jewish traditions that place a premium on ethical integrity, Los Angeles Orthodox rabbis are encouraging local businesses to sign up for a new seal of certification that ensures employers are treating workers fairly and humanely.

The move comes in response to allegations over the past year that the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, routinely violated the rights of its employees, many of them undocumented workers and many of them underage.

“We have always considered ourselves to be a light onto the nations — we’re the ones who are supposed to be a paradigm and example and role model for the rest of the world of what it means to be an ethical, moral, Godly person,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, leader of Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park. “If the world or if the media is looking askance, for whatever reason, at the Orthodox community, then it behooves us to address the issues.”

Korobkin rallied his colleagues, Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, to address the national crisis in kosher confidence by turning an eye toward businesses that serve the Jewish community on a local level.

They will offer, at no cost, a rabbinic seal of approval to any business or institution that volunteers to undergo scrutiny to verify that employees are being treated according to local, state and federal labor laws. The certificate will not be tied to kashrut in any way.

“We felt we had to do a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name], and the kiddush Hashem was to be really concerned about the employees and how they are being treated,” Muskin said. “It has nothing to do with kashrut — this goes way beyond kosher eateries and butcher shops and bakeries. We want to know our schools and shuls and businesses are treating employees correctly.”

The three rabbis, and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob, introduced the concept to their congregants in sermons during the High Holy Days. They have volunteered their own synagogues to be analyzed first and then within the next few months, hope to expand to other shuls, schools and businesses, starting mainly with the Pico-Robertson corridor and reaching out as the project grows.

A similar initiative in Israel, Bema’aglei Tzedek, was founded in 2004.

Last year, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism created Hekhsher Tzedek, a certification for kosher food processors that encompasses fair treatment of workers, corporate integrity and environmental responsibility.

The Los Angeles group is calling itself Peulat Sachir: Ethical Labor Initiative, based on language from the verse in Leviticus 19 that prohibits an employer from withholding wages overnight from a worker.

“Whereas we are appropriately extraordinarily careful about the laws of kashrut, clearly we have an attitude that is less rigorous and perhaps even somewhat lackadaisical when it comes to this whole other vitally important area of Jewish law,” Kanefsky said. “A religious community has to be very concerned about kashrut, about education, about mikvah [ritual bath], and it has to be very concerned that the people we interact with on a regular basis are being treated in way that is halachically proper.”

Peulat Sachir will involve itself in six areas: minimum wage, overtime, rest and meal breaks, workers compensation, leave policies and anti-discrimination protections. A lay board of labor lawyers, businesspeople and others with expertise in the field will analyze business practices by looking at paperwork and talking with employees.

The board will not deal with the complex area of immigration status. Labor laws apply equally to documented and undocumented workers, explained Craig Ackermann, a labor lawyer and lay leader on the project.

Businesses will not have to pay for certificates, but the rabbis acknowledge that businesses may have to spend more to qualify for the certificate, if, for instance, they have to start paying for overtime, giving paid leave or making sure workers get appropriate breaks.

Whether businesses which are not now in compliance will risk having to pass those costs on to customers is an open question.

“As people committed to halacha (Jewish law), we pay what has to be paid so we can fulfill the halacha — we do it for kashrut, we do it to teach our children Torah. Should we not do it for the halacha of following the law of the land or of how we treat our employees?” Kanefsky asked.

The halachic concept of “dina demalchuta dina,” the law of the land is the halacha, makes legal adherence and Jewish law one and the same, he pointed out.

Ackermann guesses that the first businesses to respond positively will be those that are already in compliance with labor laws.

The rabbis are hoping that once consumers begin to ask for the certificate or more heavily patronize businesses that are certified, business owners will see the benefits, both moral and monetary, to being able to display a Peulat Sachir certificate in the window.

“We’re hoping this is something store owners won’t be able to dismiss easily,” Kanefsky said. “And frankly, the idealist in me believes that store owners will want to be a part of this mitzvah of raising awareness about this in our community.”

Over the next few weeks, the rabbis will continue to constitute the lay board and will reach out to businesses and different segments of the community. They are contacting leaders of the Iranian community, because a large percentage of the businesses on Pico Boulevard are Iranian owned. They are also reaching out to the right wing of the Orthodox community, which on a national level has been wary of similar projects.

That debate came into focus last month, when the right-wing Agudath Israel of America reacted tepidly to an announcement from the centrist Orthodox Rabbincal Council of America (RCA) that it is creating a guide to labor ethics to be distributed not only to kosher producers but to all businesses.

The RCA, which serves as the halachic adviser for the Orthodox Union (OU) kashrut certification agency, said it will write into kosher supervision contracts the need for companies to comply with all local and federal laws regarding labor and environmental issues. While the OU has long had a rule on the books that its certified companies must be in compliance with the law, this gives more teeth to the provision and raises awareness among kosher purveyors.

The RCA’s new guidelines will also delineate talmudic and biblical business ethics beyond American law, which it hopes businesses will voluntarily adopt.

Korobkin expects that the ethics initiative in Los Angeles will spread to other communities.

“I am hopeful that this will raise a greater level of awareness within various elements of the Orthodox community that this is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Korobkin said. “I think many times we in the Orthodox community want to know how to react to crisis, and sometimes the way we react is by having a tehillim [psalm reciting] rally, or we speak about the need to daven [pray] harder, or to do teshuvah [repentance]. We feel this is form of teshuvah, as well — this is a form of raising awareness in certain areas where there is room for improvement. We can act as a shining example to society at large and to other communities.”

For more information on the Ethical Labor Initiative, call (310) 276-9269.

Agriprocessors names new CEO


NEW YORK (JTA) — Agriprocessors has named a New York attorney as its new chief executive officer.

The hiring of Bernard Feldman of Long Island as the kosher meat producer’s new chief executive keeps the company in the good graces of the Orthodox Union, which said last week it would withdraw its kosher supervision if new management wasn’t hired within two weeks.

During an interview on Sept. 18 with JTA, Feldman said he had no experience in the meat industry, but was qualified for the position due to his “extensive experience in reorganizations and assisting companies who are experiencing financial difficulties.”

Feldman said he would spend “a major part” of his time at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, which was the site of a massive federal immigration raid on May 12, but would retain his New York residency.

“I believe that Agriprocessors serves a vital function to the Orthodox community and others who are in need of acquiring glatt kosher food,” Feldman said, explaining why he had decided to take the position.

The threat by the Orthodox Union (OU), the best known of the agencies providing kosher certification to Agriprocessors, came after a criminal complaint was filed against five company officials on more than 9,000 counts of child labor violations. Among those named was owner Aaron Rubashkin and his son Sholom, the former manager of the Postville plant.

On Thursday, two of the five individuals named in the complaint — both employees in the company’s human resources department — were indicted in U.S. District Court. Both face jail time if convicted.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s head of kosher supervision, said he had met with Feldman and was pleased with the decision, calling it “credible and wise.”

“We will continue to monitor the situation,” Genack said, “but we’re pleased by the turn of events.”

Feldman enumerated several goals he intends to pursue, including restoring Agriprocessors to “prominence,” ensuring good record keeping, complying with government regulations and resupplying the company with “qualified productive employees.” Feldman said he would stay “on board” as long as it takes to achieve those goals.

PETA hidden camera expose costs Agriprocessors support of key expert [VIDEO]


An undercover video shot last month at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant has raised new questions about the company’s slaughtering practices and cost it the support of one of the country’s leading experts on animal welfare.

Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who has served as consultant to scores of slaughterhouses across the country, said the practice shown in the video — in which two workers make “gouging,” saw-like cuts into the necks of animals immediately after the ritual cut performed by a rabbi — is inhumane.

Grandin said she hasn’t seen that type of second cut at any of the approximately 30 kosher slaughterhouses she has visited, nor did she see it when she toured the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, in 2006, at which time she declared it satisfactory.

The practice also was not in evidence in a video released by a Long Island Jewish newspaper of a visit to Postville by 25 Orthodox rabbis on July 31. After visiting, the clergymen said the plant adhered to the highest standards of kosher practice.

The new video, shot Aug. 13 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), has led Grandin to conclude that slaughterhouse visits are useless in determining whether animals are being treated properly. She has called for Agriprocessors to install round-the-clock video cameras on the kill floor that can be independently audited by a third party over the Internet.

“There’s no point,” Grandin said of the visits. “I’ve been in business 35 years, and I’m getting sick and tired of [it]. They act good when you’re there, and they don’t act good when your back is turned. They did the same thing for the rabbis they would do for me — put on a show.”

Agriprocessors did not respond to Grandin’s comments, but the company released a statement Sept. 5 after the PETA video was first reported by The New York Times.

“Agriprocessors fully complies with federal humane slaughter laws and is monitored by inspectors of the United States Department of Agriculture,” the statement said. “All kosher slaughter procedures are under the exclusive direction of the supervising agencies and rabbis who certify the kosher status of the animals, as is provided by law.”

Grandin’s criticism comes as Agriprocessors is working hard to revive its image, following a massive federal immigration raid in Postville on May 12 that led to the arrests of nearly 400 illegal workers.

Unlike other critics of Agriprocessors, which the company has sought to dismiss as “radical” or “fringe” groups pursuing narrow agendas, Grandin is a nationally renowned figure, whose judgments were previously touted when they were favorable to the company.

After PETA released a similar undercover video made in 2004, pressure mounted on Agriprocessors to have Grandin inspect its procedures, which she did two years later. Grandin concluded that the company had improved its procedures since the first video was shot, a fact publicized in news releases by both Agriprocessors and one of its supervising agencies, the Orthodox Union (OU).

“Temple is really important,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the OU’s head of kosher supervision. “She’s universally accepted. I think she’s a very honest person. Generally, Temple is someone who is accepted as an arbiter in terms of these issues of animal welfare. She doesn’t have an agenda against shechita [ritual slaughter] in any way.”

Grandin’s latest remarks strike at one of the central public relations vehicles the company has employed in its struggle to restore its flagging reputation: tours of the plant. The largest of these was the rabbinic visit on July 31, paid for by Agriprocessors and organized by the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue group. After a three-hour tour, the rabbis concluded that the company’s image as a chronic rule-breaker was inconsistent with reality.

“The current situation at the Agriprocessors plant is diametrically opposed to the rumors and innuendos that we had heard before we got here,” Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the council’s executive vice president, said following the visit. “We saw a state-of-the-art plant, a tremendous emphasis on safety and excellent standards of kashrut. While we have no personal knowledge of what may or may not have happened in the past, the Agriprocessors plant that we saw today is far different than what has been reported.”

Lerner declined to respond to Grandin’s comments. However, Genack said that the Orthodox Union had opted not to participate in the July trip for fear of being used as Grandin had — as a tool to buttress the company’s image.

“It was meant to give confidence on the public relations side,” Genack said of the rabbinic visit. “We didn’t want the OU to be either critic or apologist…. With all these issues remaining still unresolved, we didn’t attend because [we] wanted to be objective and separate from the story itself.”

Two OU rabbis accompanied the rabbis on their tour, but Genack said they were there solely to illustrate the plant’s kosher supervision, and he had specifically requested that they not be identified as members of the delegation.

After filming the controversial method on Aug. 13, PETA, which makes no secret of its opposition to all forms of animal slaughter, turned the footage over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and pressed for an investigation. According to the department, a so-called “second cut” is permissible only under direct rabbinic supervision.

USDA spokesperson Amanda Eamich said the department cited the company for a second-cut violation subsequent to Aug. 13 but added that the violation was “not egregious” and that the company was currently in compliance.

Agriprocessors has accused PETA of illegal conduct in producing the video, including breaking and entering, trespassing, industrial espionage and misrepresentation as an employee. PETA said the company is trying to deflect attention from its own misconduct.

“Our investigations are entirely lawful,” said Hannah Schein, a PETA investigations specialist. “Agriprocessors’ conduct is not.”

Iowa files 9000 charges against Agriprocessors, OU threatens to remove Kosher cert


NEW YORK (JTA)—Following the filing of criminal charges against owners of the kosher meat producer Agriprocessors, the Orthodox Union says it will withdraw its kosher certification of the company within two weeks unless new management is hired.

“Within the coming days, or lets say a week or two, we will suspend our supervision unless there’s new management in place,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the O.U.‘s head of kosher supervision.

Genack’s comments came just hours after Iowa’s attorney general filed criminal charges against Agriprocessors and its owner, Aaron Rubashkin, for child-labor violations.

On Tuesday, the attorney general’s office charged Rubashkin, his son Sholom, and three human resources employees with more than 9,000 violations of Iowa’s Child Labor law, according to a statement from the attorney general’s office.

Former workers had alleged child labor violations at Agriprocessors almost immediately after a massive immigration raid at the plant in Postville, Iowa, the country’s largest kosher meatpacking plant. The company has denied having knowingly hired underage workers.

“All of the named individual defendants possessed shared knowledge that Agriprocessors employed undocumented aliens,” said the affidavit filed Tuesday in Allamakee County District Court. “It was likewise shared knowledge among the defendants that many of those workers were minors. The company’s hiring practices encouraged job applicants to submit identification documents which were forgeries, and known to contain false information as to resident alien status, age and identity.”

The alleged violations, which date back to September 2007, are each punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of between $65 and $625, the attorney general’s office said. An initial court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 17.

Agriprocessors has been under the gun since a raid on May 12 resulted in the arrest of nearly 400 employees on illegal immigration charges. Following the raid, employees alleged they were shorted on pay, forced to work long hours and were the targets of sustained sexual harassment.

In May, the company announced that the Postville plant’s manager, Sholom Rubashkin, would be replaced. Months later, Rubashkin is still a regular presence at the plant and no replacement has been named.

The attorney general’s complaint represents the first criminal charges to be brought against the company’s owner and senior management.

PETA says Agriprocessors misled rabbis about slaughter procedures [VIDEO]


Agriprocessors rebukes Obama, Israel sends flood aid to Ukraine


Agri Rebukes Obama Over Criticism

Nathan Lewin, who is representing the largest kosher meat producer in the United States, in a statement released early Tuesday wondered whether Barack Obama had weighed the evidence in the case or considered the company’s repeated denials.

On Monday, Obama said the company had hired underage workers to avoid paying decent wages and benefits.

“This is a shocking statement from a former president of the Harvard Law Review and former constitutional law professor who has sworn, as a United States Senator, to uphold the Constitution which prescribes a presumption of innocence until guilt is proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” Lewin’s statement said.

Campaigning Monday in Davenport, Iowa, Obama fielded a question about the company, which was recently the target of a massive federal immigration raid at its plant in Postville.

“We’ve got to crack down on employers who are taking advantage of undocumented workers,” Obama said. “When you read about a meatpacking plant hiring 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds — that is some of the most dangerous, difficult work there is.”

Obama, who did not mention Agriprocessors by name, said the children were “wielding buzz saws and cleavers.”

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “And the only reason they’re hiring these folks is because they want to avoid paying decent wages and providing decent benefits.”

Obama’s criticism followed the publication Sunday of an Op-Ed by Iowa governor and fellow Democrat Chet Culver in which he said Agriprocessors had “taken the low road” in its business practices.

Israel Sends Flood Aid to Ukraine

The Israeli government airlifted humanitarian aid to Ukraine for its flood-hit western regions. Antibiotics, bandages and other materials required for medical care were sent to the Ukrainian Emergency Ministry, said Shahar Arieli, a leader of the Israeli Mission to Ukraine, at a news conference Friday.

According to the Ministry, storms and floods last month in six western regions of Ukraine killed at least 32 people. Hundreds of towns and villages were flooded, 40,000 houses were damaged and thousands of residents were evacuated, officials said. The Ukrainian government called the flooding the worst the country has seen in years.

Aussie Jews Seek to Block Hezbollah TV

A Hezbollah-run TV satellite channel that promotes terrorism is being beamed into Australia via Indonesia. Jewish community leaders this week urged the government and the national broadcasting authority to block the transmission of Al-Manar, which twice has been stopped from broadcasting into Australia. The new broadcasts come from a satellite company that is partly owned by the Indonesian government.

The station broadcasts vehemently anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-American vitriol, as well as messages from suicide bombers.

John Searle, the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, said in a statement that he was “distressed” at the anti-Semitic content that is being broadcast in Australia.

“Al-Manar is renowned for inciting violence and hatred,” he said. “It broadcasts disgraceful anti-Semitic propaganda, including the infamous blood libel allegations, and it seeks to legitimize terrorism.”

But the Australian Arabic Council said Al-Manar should not be restricted and that Hezbollah, while anti-Zionist, was not anti-Semitic. Donald Robertson, a spokesman for the Australian Communications and Media Authority, said ACMA has “strong concerns about the broadcast of Al-Manar programs in Australia.”

Jewish Funds for Justice Launches Gulf Coast Microloans

Jewish Funds for Justice will launch the “8th Degree” on Aug. 29, on the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the first person-to-person microloan program in the United States. It will partner contributors nationwide with small business owners on the Gulf Coast.

The “8th Degree” is named for what medieval philosopher Maimonides “termed the highest form of charity — when a giver makes a loan or helps someone in need become self-sufficient,” according to a press release on Friday.

U.S., Canada Assist Israeli, Palestinian Archivists

U.S. and Canadian archivists launched a project to help Israel and the Palestinians preserve their archives. Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States, and Ian Wilson, his Canadian counterpart, traveled to Israel and the West Bank earlier this year to meet with officials of the Israel State Archives and the Palestine National Archives.

“The purpose of these meetings was to discuss projects that would assist in the digitization of paper records of both Israel and Palestine that would ultimately document the joint heritage of people in the region,” said a statement released Thursday. “They are also working with both institutions to develop archival training programs for their staff, and have received enthusiastic support from [U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice] and the State Department for these projects.”

The announcement was made in conjunction with the launch of a joint U.S.-Canada exhibit on the Treaty of Paris, the 1783 agreement that ended the Revolutionary War and divided North America into the United States and the British-held colonies that would become Canada.

Ex-Beatle McCartney Will Perform in Israel

Former Beatle Paul McCartney will perform in Israel 43 years after government officials banned the Fab Four.

His Sept. 25 concert in Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park is expected to be one of the largest in Israeli history.

The show is part of a world tour by McCartney comprised of more than 100 shows.

Earlier this year, Israeli Ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor invited McCartney and Ringo Starr to perform in Israel for the country’s 60th birthday.

In 1965, Israeli government officials denied the Beatles a permit to perform out of fear their music would corrupt the morals of the nation’s youth.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


Eating Bambi, Zell again, Bergson, broken heart


Agriprocessors

I was relieved to learn that Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of Chabad of Yorba Linda found that the working conditions and safety benefits at the Agriprocessors plant were “above par” (“Eating Bambi,” Aug. 8).

Has he done a comprehensive survey of meatpacking plants in the United States in order to come to this conclusion? Has he personally worked the line at a number of these plants, preferably during a speedup? Does he have firsthand knowledge of the working conditions at Agriprocessors before the raid?

Does he consider the preraid working conditions par or below par? Is it possible that we have an unacknowledged Upton Sinclair working a pulpit within our community?

Bill Friedman
Studio City

Sell It, Sam

As you point out in “Sell It, Sam” by Rob Eshman and “Troubling Times” by Gina Nahai (Aug. 1), the Los Angeles Times is not doing well. But its problems have been ongoing for a long time and were compounded when it cut out the local news coverage several years ago.

It goes back many years, when it was perceived guilty of biased reporting, perhaps even yellow journalism, and certainly a lack of objectivity and fairness, especially when the State of Israel was involved. Its headlines reflected personal bias.

Also, its use of statistical data was highly questionable perhaps skewed to reflect a personal value or viewpoint, rather than the facts. Its editorial page lost vitality and has become increasingly bland.

That’s my perception, and apparently, many other readers see it the same way.

The L.A. Times’ problems were there long before Sam Zell acquired it. His challenge: Can he remake it to better serve its customers, the people living in the Los Angeles area?

He does have a few good writers and other assets. That’s a start. A major city deserves a major newspaper.

George Epstein
via e-mail

Bankruptcy Protection

In response to the article about our temple (“Synagogue Files for Bankruptcy Protection,” Aug. 1), we are pleased to share with the community that our synagogue, Temple Beth Haverim of Agoura Hills, has much good news.

Our early childhood center has the largest enrollment in our five-year history for the 2008-2009 year. We have the largest membership enrollment at this point in the summer for the new year in our temple’s history. This past year, we had over 400 families enrolled in our synagogue.

Our Men’s Club has received recognition as a “quality club” from the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, and our chapter has also received the chaverim award for best overall programming from the Western Region of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs.

We offer free tuition kindergarten through second gradein our award-winning religious school under the direction of Nili Ziv. We offer three years’ membership for the price of two in our temple.

We invite all to join us at our next open house brunch on Sunday, Aug. 17, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. We invite all to join us for the High Holy Days at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

We are proud to be celebrating our 25th silver anniversary. We are working hard to turn our silver anniversary into a gold one.

We are a hard-working group of devoted families at Temple Beth Haverim. Thank you all for your support.

Rabbi Gershon Weissman
Temple Beth Haverim
Agoura Hills

Forgotten Hero

The Aug. 1 article in The Jewish Journal on the anti-Holocaust hero Peter Bergson is in the last act of our great tragedy (“‘Forgotten Hero’ Bergson Gets His Due Times Two“). The first act starred our greatest post-biblical hero who came closest to preventing the Holocaust.

In 1903, Theodor Herzl responded to the Kishinev pogrom by traveling to Russia to press the pogrom’s architect, Von Phleve, for relief. Herzl later reported to the Sixth Zionist Congress that he had received written permission from the czar to allow the Jews to emigrate.

Heartbreakingly, this followed the announcement by the British and Egyptian governments that Herzl’s El Arish project to explore the feasibility of a territorial concession in Palestine had failed. This played a major role in Herzl’s untimely death at age 44.

Isn’t it time that every Jewish child take at least one course in Herzl? If he isn’t the modern father of the Jewish People, who is? For without Herzl’s many contributions, the Holocaust would have excluded any chance of a Jewish state in Israel.

Charles S. Berdiansky
Los Angeles

Broken Political Heart

The majority of American Jews still vote incredibly it would seem Democratic, despite the numerous and chronic letdowns, disappointments and ineptitude of that party’s leadership in the last two decades or so.

I came across Marty Kaplan’s article (“On Having Your (Political) Heart Broken,” Aug. 1) in The Journal, and this sentence leaped out at me: “His [Obama’s] recent political shifts, while disconcerting, I have chalked up to a misguided effort to chase voters who will never be for him anyway.”

Doesn’t that statement give people cause to be puzzled if not scared?

Kaplan is letting us all know that he believes Obama’s waffling on immensely important issues should be glossed over as a simple effort to win the White House and tell voters what they want to hear.

Huh?

Remember again he is a Jew and an educated one at that, someone who should be thinking our next president shouldn’t be thought of as shifting positions just to win a contest, the highest position in the free world, at that.

Kaplan is disconcerted about policy shifts of the Democratic contender? Let’s go for a stronger word we all should be feeling scared as heck this novice will actually be the person dealing with Jewish enemies.

The last type of politician we should, as Jews, want is someone who shifts positions, waffles and goes whichever way he feels his audience will pressure him least.

Peter M. Shulman
Playa del Rey

Eating Bambi (recipe included)


Most of the anti-Semitic mail I get these days doesn’t concern Israel, Hollywood or even the threat of a nuclear war in the Middle East it’s about meat.

The largest supplier of kosher meat in America, Agriprocessors Inc., has been the subject of ongoing public investigation and criticism for two years now.

An undercover investigation in the Forward newspaper first revealed inhumane treatment of cows at the company, located in Postville, Iowa.

A further investigation brought charges of exploitative labor practices.

Then, on the morning of May 12, 2008, in what officials called, “the largest single-site operation of its kind in American history,” 900 agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement executed a raid of Agriprocessors.

They rounded up hundreds of illegal immigrants, who comprised some 75 percent of the company’s workforce.

A subsequent story by New York Times reporter Julia Preston found that 20 of the employees were underage, some as young as 13.

The article reported on several sickening incidences, including one, documented by an company report, in which a worker holding a knife was kicked by a rabbi, cut himself, was sent for stitches, then ordered back on the line.

Agriprocessors has refuted, fought or attempted to make right on these charges. The company brought in animal expert Dr. Temple Grandin to advise on raising the company’s animal treatment standards.

Agriprocessors owner Aaron Rubashkin denied he has engaged in unethical labor practices and blamed the failure of U.S. immigration policy.

“Everything is a lie,” Rubashkin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The company has taken out full-page ads in the Jewish press, including this paper, offering a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges.

Last week, it hosted a group of 25 Orthodox rabbis from the United States and Canada on a one-day visit to the plant.

“It’s a different picture than what’s been portrayed,” Rabbi Dovid Eliezrie of Chabad of Yorba Linda told me. “We roamed the plant for hours, talked to anybody we wanted to. The working conditions, the safety benefits, I found them above par. It’s not the reality the unions are telling.”

The trip may have served to calm concerns among some kosher consumers, but judging by my mail, the damage is far more widespread.




Bambi trailer (1942)


What will The JEWS Think of Next?!?!?” read a letter I received this week. Inside, the author had considerately attached a folded copy of Preston’s New York Times article.

Of course, the image of bearded, black-hatted rabbis abusing farm animals and poor Guatemalan workers is red meat to the scattered anti-Semites out there, but this isn’t a problem of anti-Semitism.

Kashrut is a legal system rooted in morality, and the problems at Agriprocessors occurred because we chose to look away from the messy business of killing animals for food.

Now, like the rest of America, we are looking. There is great unease with our food supply and our factory farm system, a system created by market forces that places profit and efficiency above sustainability, kindness and flavor. The Jews, to our discredit, have simply followed the market’s lead it’s called Agriprocessors, after all, not Moishe’s Kindly Kosher Cow Farm.

But just as Americans in general are taking control of their food supply “locavore” was the Oxford American Dictionary’s 2007 Word of the Year there is a broad consensus that the kosher “brand” should stand for something more than the most narrow and utilitarian interpretation of kosher practice. We can’t blame the system without changing our personal behavior.

That’s why another common e-mail I get these days is also about meat about whether there is a source in Los Angeles for kosher, organic, humanely raised and slaughtered meat.

My search led me to Musicon Farms, a mail-order source for venison.

That’s right, deer. Kosher Bambi.

Norman Schlaff runs Musicon Farms, the only kosher venison farm in the United States.

Situated on 100 acres in Goshen, in upstate New York, the farm slaughters about 25 deer every six weeks. Customers include high-end restaurants in New York, such as Le Marais and Levana; mail-order customers nationwide, and Tierra Sur, the exceptional Oxnard restaurant headed by chef Todd Aarons.

If you Google Musicon, you’ll find some nasty comments from the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. They sent undercover investigators there who took footage of the slaughter, and I gasped watching Bambi’s throat cut but I didn’t look away.

Schlaff, in a phone interview with me, maintained that his animals are treated with care they roam freely, and there is music playing to reduce noise level and stress in the loafing barns. They’re raised without steroids and chemical additives and are fed an organic diet of hay, grains and fruit.

Schlaff, a New York native, made his money in sound engineering his technology is installed in Shea Stadium, at the U.S. Open and on either side of movie house ticket booths around the country. He’s not getting rich selling a few dozen deer for between $5.50 and $30 per pound, plus pricey, specialized shipping.

And he understands slaughtering kosher or not isn’t pleasant.

“It takes a day to get it out of your system,” he said.

And so, putting my money where my mouth is, I ordered.

The package arrived overnight from UPS. Inside, beneath several high-tech layers of insulation and packing ice, were 10 pounds of individually wrapped and freshly butchered venison steaks, chops and stew meat.

The next day, I turned the cute deer I’d seen on Musicon’s Web site into cholent.

It was delicious, and morally challenging, and discomfiting but I didn’t look away.



Summer Venison Cholent

This makes a lighter, more broth-y cholent that is perfect for warm summer days. If you don’t have any dead deer handy, you can substitute beef, or for a vegetarian version add 1 cup pearl barley.

2 medium onions, peeled and cut in quarters
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
1 cup dried  white beans, rinsed very well
8 sundried tomatoes
1 large carrot, peeled and cut in 1 inch chunks
1 stalk celery and leaves, cut in1 inch slices
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut in1 inch chunks
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in1 inch chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
6 eggs, washed very well
1 1/2 pounds venison stew meat
1/4 cup brandy or cognac (optional)
1 t. sweet paprika
venison bones
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Choose a large  dutch oven or casserole pan with a tight fitting lid, the kind you can use on the stove and in the oven.

Heat the olive oil until hot, add the stew meat and bones and quickly brown on all sides.

Remove the meat and bones. Add the onion,  garlic and paprika and brown for 5 minutes.  Deglaze the pot with brandy or cognac (or, if you prefer, skip this step).

Add all the other ingredients, including the meat and bones, placing the eggs on top carefully.

Add water  3/4 of the way to the top.  Increase heat to high and bring to boil. Cover the pot with the lid and place in the oven for 6 hours or overnight.

To serve, carefully remove the lid, give each person a whole egg, some meat and vegetables and plenty of broth.  And say a little blessing for the deer.

— Rob Eshman

Orthodox rabbis: Agriprocessors Iowa kosher plant passes muster


NEW YORK (JTA)—Organizers of a delegation of Orthodox rabbis say the Iowa meat-packing plant raided by federal immigration authorities in May bears no resemblance to its image as a place where safety lapses are routine and workers allegedly are abused and underpaid.

Some 25 rabbis went to Postville, Iowa, last week on a visit paid for by Agriprocessors, the slaughterhouse’s owner, and coordinated through the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue association.

In the course of their one-day visit, the rabbis toured the plant and met with its recently hired compliance officer, the mayor of Postville and a Presbyterian minister.

Some of the rabbis also met with representatives of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, which has taken the lead in ministering to families affected by the raid.

“At this point I don’t see any reason why someone should not buy things from Agriprocessors,” Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, the regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Illinois and the president of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, told JTA.

“They run a very impressive operation. They’re very dedicated to making sure that everything is being done in the most appropriate way possible.”

The visit is the latest effort by Agriprocessors, the largest kosher meat producer in the United States, to reassure kosher consumers and revive its public image. Its image has taken a drubbing since authorities arrested some 400 illegal workers May 12 in what the government describes as the single largest immigration raid in American history.

In the raid’s aftermath, employees have unleashed a flood of allegations against their former employer, charging that they were subjected to harsh working conditions and sexual abuse, among other complaints. The company has denied the charges.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Labor Commissioner announced that he was turning over the results of a months-long investigation of child labor allegations at Agriprocessors to the Iowa attorney general for prosecution. The commissioner, Dave Neil, described the alleged violations as “egregious” and urged the state to prosecute the violations “to the fullest extent of the law.”

Agriprocessors responded by saying it was “at a loss to understand” the labor commissioner’s referral. It noted that the company cooperated with the investigation and claimed the government denied requests to identify underage workers so they could be terminated.

“The government’s press release does not state that the company knowingly hired underage workers,” the statement said. “The company asks the public to keep an open mind and wait for the evidence before making any judgments about these, or any other, allegations.”

To date, no senior managers have been charged with a crime, though a grand jury investigation is ongoing. Two supervisors have pleaded guilty to assisting illegal immigrants in the procurement of false employment documents and a warrant is outstanding for a third.

While the visiting rabbis were careful to point out that they have no personal knowledge of what transpired before their arrival, they expressed confidence that current conditions at the plant contrast with its checkered reputation.

Participants told JTA there were no restrictions placed on where they could go in the plant and with whom they could speak. Several conducted their own interviews with employees, who reported that they were treated well and were provided with ample safety training.

“I was shocked when I walked into that plant because I was expecting a lot worse,” Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the executive vice president of National Council, told JTA. In a statement, Lerner referred to the plant as a “Cadillac.”

In the eyes of the company’s critics, and even some Orthodox rabbis, the fact that Agriprocessors paid for the trip renders the whole enterprise more than a little suspect. Lerner was outraged by the suggestion that the rabbis’ impartiality might be compromised.

“Give me a break,” Lerner said. “To impugn the integrity of 25 people is out of line.”

But Maury Kelman, a lawyer and Orthodox rabbi who has led congregations in Israel and New York, said that Jewish law insists that rabbis involved in such matters do everything to avoid even the perception that their judgment could be compromised.

Neither of the council’s two news releases regarding the trip disclosed that Agriprocessors had footed the bill for the rabbis, though it was reported in the media.

“If they’re going and being paid by Rubashkin, then that should be forthrightly disclosed—not that if somebody asks them, they should only acknowledge it then,” Kelman said.

“It’s very important if rabbis are going that things look totally above board, and that it’s 100 percent clear that the desire is to do the right thing and not just the expedient thing. If somebody’s being paid, you’re beholden to them. Halacha is very clear about this.”

The rabbis were criticized as well for not meeting directly with former workers, who have lodged the harshest complaints against the company, though they did meet with one of their advocates, Paul Rael, the director of Hispanic Ministries at St. Bridget’s.

Lerner said his group was expecting to speak with the workers and was surprised to see that none were present for the meeting.

The rabbinic delegation, which dwindled to four for the late-afternoon meeting with Rael, sought to establish itself as a conduit between the church and Agriprocessors to discuss outstanding issues.

Rael told JTA he was “absolutely” ready to open a dialogue with the company, while Chaim Abrahams, an Agriprocessors representative, said the company was “considering” the suggestion “in a positive light.”

Regarding past allegations, Lerner said he had asked that a file be prepared of worker complaints and that he would take up the issue with Agriprocessors. But Lerner stressed that the main issue now should be how to move forward.

Rael said he won’t be ready for that until various issues, like employee back pay, are worked out.

“The minute that I got through giving my little dialogue, they said, ‘That’s the past,’ ” Rael recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah, but the past is what created the problem.’ If their intent is to move forward, I can’t move forward until this issue is totally, totally done.”

Agriprocessors tries to clean up its act


POSTVILLE, Iowa (JTA)—It’s 9 a.m. on a recent Monday and about 60 people are milling around outside Jacobson Staffing, the national employment firm contracted by Agriprocessors to replace hundreds of workers lost in a May 12 federal immigration raid.

They are hoping for jobs at the nation’s largest kosher meat-packing plant.

One woman chats in Russian on her cell phone. Thirty Somalis, the women in traditional dress, huddle under a shady tree. A group of young white men, most of them locals, sit apart from half a dozen African Americans who arrived the day before on a temp agency bus from Indianapolis.

Agriprocessors is hurting. According to Chaim Abrahams, an executive acting as company spokesman, the plant lost the majority of its workers after the raid. Nearly half of the plant’s 800 employees were arrested for working without documentation, and many others “disappeared in fear,” he said.

The company, which until May supplied the bulk of the nation’s kosher beef and 40 percent of its kosher poultry, has been trying desperately to replace those lost workers, offering higher wages and working through employment agencies across the United States in an attempt to return badly damaged production levels to normal.

The tour revealed many empty workstations inside the plant, and more than a few beards and side curls on the assembly line, belonging to rabbis pressed into emergency service.

“To the media, this looks like a for-profit company on one side, and on the other side, individuals who are hurting and suffering,” said Abrahams, as he conducted a two-hour tour of the plant for a reporter. “But the company is also hurting and suffering. We are not able to keep up production levels and reach out to our customers.”

Nearly three months after the raid and six weeks before the busy High Holidays season, kosher butchers and restaurant owners in the United States still report higher prices and irregular supplies of meat and poultry. Some critics charge that these reports are being exaggerated to increase sympathy for the company among kosher consumers worried about their dinner tables.

Agriprocessors is under fire for a litany of complaints ranging from labor violations, including underage employees, to workers’ claims of physical and financial abuse. The plant had been cited for state and federal labor violations before the raid, including inadequate safety precautions.

Although two supervisors have been indicted, the plant’s owners and top management have not been charged.

On Tuesday, the Iowa Labor Commissioner announced that he was turning over the results of a months-long investigation of child labor allegations at Agriprocessors to the Iowa attorney general for prosecution. The commissioner, Dave Neil, described the alleged violations as “egregious” and urged the state to prosecute the violations “to the fullest extent of the law.”

The company maintains its innocence. The owners—the Rubashkin family of Brooklyn, N.Y.—have been instructed not to speak about the case.

The tour makes it clear the company is trying to clean up its act. New workers are vetted through E-Verification, a federal system that checks work eligibility and legal status. Signs to that effect are displayed prominently throughout the plant, and those showing up for work are quick to tell reporters they have all their documents in order.

The plant is immaculate, with no discernible smell other than chlorine. Health and safety measures, including yellow chains separating raw food from ready-to-eat products, are conspicuously in place.

Agriprocessors is pouring money into new equipment, including an automatically timed salting and soaking process that went online a couple of months ago. New workers say they are receiving their overtime pay, in contrast to workers before the raid who say their pay stubs were doctored.

Some new workers, however, tell reporters their paychecks show unexpected deductions; several of those workers have since quit.

“Did you see a dilapidated, old plant?” asked Agriprocessors founder Aaron Rubashkin, who called to follow up after the tour.

“Did you see rabbis abusing anyone with a meat hook?” he continued, referring to one of the more egregious allegations of worker abuse from before the raid.

The employment campaign is bearing fruit. Hopeful workers are pouring into town, from Somalia and Krygystan, from Chicago and elsewhere in Iowa, all lured by the $10-an-hour wages, plus time and a half after 40 hours and raises for experienced workers. That’s significantly more than the $7 to $7.50 hourly wages paid before the raid and more than these workers say they can make at home.

“My buddy started last week, and he’s already making 16 bucks an hour,” said one young man from a neighboring town.

A Chicago man, who answered an online ad placed by a temp agency in Indianapolis, signed up for a 60-hour workweek and is looking forward to the overtime.

“I just had my interview, and I told them I’ll chase ‘em, I’ll cut ‘em up, whatever they want,” he said.

Like some other new workers this man, who declined to give his name after Jacobson representatives told employees not to speak to the media, said the temp agency made certain promises that have not panned out.

“They told me I’d pay $100 the first week for housing, and $60 a week after that, but the company told me today I have to pay $100 every week,” he said.

His pay is deposited directly into a bank account, and he is charged $5 for each withdrawal, according to a withdrawal slip he presented for inspection. He says he was told he must withdraw that $100 every week and pay it back to his temp agency in cash.

Rubashkin dismissed the man’s complaint, suggesting that he “is free to take a bus home, no one is forcing him.”

But the man is eager to work and has no intention of leaving. Although he “feels bad” about the Mexicans and Guatemalans he has displaced, the man said, “business is business”—a comment with which Rubashkin himself might agree.

Some locals say the arrival of this new group of outsiders has disturbed the delicate social balance finally negotiated in this small town of 2,500 residents, which before the raid included about 1,000 Hispanics, mostly from Guatemala and Mexico, and 500 Chasidic Jews from Israel and New York. The plant is by far the town’s largest employer.

That fragile modus vivendi “was blown apart” by the May 12 raid, said Jeff Abbas of KPVL-FM, the town’s feisty independent radio station. And locals are holding their breath at the sight of so many new foreigners in town, hoping early reports of increased crime will settle down.

The organized Jewish community mostly has stayed away from Postville. The only Jewish aid that has come to the hundreds of former employees and their families was a truckload of food and about $20,000 raised by a handful of Jewish social justice groups. Agriprocessors itself handed out boxes of meat and poultry to some of the affected families.

Many of the arrested workers, who never met a Jew before coming to Postville, blame all Jews for what has happened to them.

“They abused me, I didn’t like them,” said one Mexican woman, a former worker at the plant who was arrested in the raid and now wears a GPS monitoring bracelet on her right ankle, unable to work or leave town as she awaits her Oct. 14 court date.

But she and others interviewed were happy to see more than 400 Jews come to town from Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul for a July 27 interfaith service, march and rally on their behalf. She listened to the pledges of support rabbis and leaders of the sponsoring Jewish groups made that day, and she takes their words seriously.

“I believe they will help us,” she said.

Iowa Labor Commissioner prosecutes Agriprocessors on 57 counts


The Iowa Labor Commissioner’s Office has sent dozens of alleged violations against Agriprocessors to the state attorney general for prosecution.

In its months-long investigation, the labor commissioner’s office found 57 cases of alleged child labor violations by the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, according to a news release from the Iowa Workforce Development. Each case includes multiple violations.

“The investigation brings to light egregious violations of virtually every aspect of Iowa’s child labor laws,” said Dave Neil, the state’s labor commissioner. “It is my recommendation that the Attorney General’s Office prosecute these violations to the fullest extent of the law.”

Allegations against the Agriprocessors’ plant in Postville, Iowa, include minors working in prohibited occupations, failing to obtain work permits, exceeding the allowable hours, exposing employees to hazardous chemicals and working with prohibited tools, according to Neil.

Under Iowa law, each day a violation continues constitutes a separate offense.

Agriprocessors released a statement Tuesday saying it was “at a loss to understand” the labor commissioner’s referral. It noted that the company cooperated with the investigation and claimed the government denied requests to identify underage workers so they could be terminated.

“The government’s press release does not state that the company knowingly hired underage workers,” the statement said. “The company asks the public to keep an open mind and wait for the evidence before making any judgments about these, or any other, allegations.”

Agriprocessors has been struggling to restore its production capacity and revive its public image since May 12, when a federal immigration raid on the plant netted 389 illegal workers. Claims that underage workers were employed at the plant were among a host of allegations that emerged in the raid’s aftermath.