Missing Matzah? It’s a Chain Store Problem

The hunt for matzah stretched beyond the afikomen this year. A matzah shortage this week left many Southern California shoppers driving to multiple supermarkets in search of the unleavened bread, which plays a leading role during Passover seders and is used throughout the week.

Linda Guss, a Valley Village resident, said her local Ralphs was totally out of matzah when she did her Passover shopping last week.

“The checkout lady said that this was happening at other stores as well. In all my years, I have never seen a grocery store completely out of matzah,” she said.

Shortages have been reported across Southern California, but the problem isn’t confined to the Southland. The Bay Area and Reno have also reported shortages, and supplies are limited in Portland, Ore.

Ralphs did not return calls seeking comment. A Vons and Pavilions representative said the chain hadn’t been affected, but calls to several area stores found no stock at press time Tuesday. Trader Joe’s and some Costco stores did not carry matzah this year, and representatives from Gelson’s and Whole Foods say their supplies are dwindling.

“Unfortunately, due to a manufacturer issue, there has been a shortage on matzah this year, which has impacted our stores,” Whole Foods spokesperson Shawn Glasser said.

Construction issues and problems with a new state-of-the-art oven at Manischewitz’s only plant in Newark led the company to announce it wouldn’t produce Tam Tams and other kosher-for-Passover products this year, including its flavored matzah lines. Instead, the company focused on unsalted, whole wheat and egg matzah. In late January, R.A.B. Foods Group, Manischewitz’s parent company, sent a memo out to distributors listing which products would not be available, adding that its plant would work around the clock to produce Passover products.

“The last few months have been difficult; we are now heading in the right direction. We appreciate your patience and support, look forward to serving all of our customers with our full line of quality products and will work very hard to win your confidence back with improved service in the future,” the memo stated.

While rising food prices and mounting global food shortages are not to blame for the shortage this year, David Rossi, Manischewitz’s vice president of marketing, told the New Jersey Jewish News that the company does expect prices to rise in 2009 once its wheat contracts are renegotiated after Passover.

“We’re biting the bullet for this Passover,” Rossi said. “We’ll get through it and come out better.”

Streit’s West Coast distributor and other matzah manufacturers could not be reached for comment about the shortage.

Manischewitz spokeswoman Amy Stern said that production of kosher-for-Passover matzah ended in late March, and that retailers had up until the week before Passover to place their orders.

Los Angeles kosher markets contacted said matzah boxes still line their shelves.

A representative for the recently re-opened Glatt Mart said it still had a full selection of matzah. And Kosher Club owner Daryl Schwarz says his matzah supply hadn’t been affected.

“It’s purely a chain store problem,” he said. “We’ve got matzah!”

Jewish Chaplain Need Faces Obstacles


For more than two years, Norma Glickman led a mostly solitary vigil as she sat by her husband’s bedside during his all too frequent hospitalizations.

It was not until the day he died, and only after he took his last breath, that a nurse finally asked her if she would like to meet with a Jewish chaplain.

As Glickman recounts it, the spiritual support and comfort that she and her husband needed was not offered until it was too late.

There may be a number of explanations as to why the Glickmans didn’t have access to a Jewish chaplain, including the fact that as Norma states, “I didn’t know it was something I could have requested.”

However, even if the request had been made, it’s questionable whether or not a Jewish chaplain would have been available.

The fact is that there is a significant and recognized shortage of qualified Jewish chaplains. As the need for their services grows, we as a community need to re-examine and remove the obstacles that have long hindered the growth of this profession.

On Jan. 9, I attended a four-day conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains (NAJC). More than 100 chaplains from all over the United States and Israel attended. Discussions andworkshops ranged from professional interests, such as the possible collaboration with other similar groups forming common certification standards, to the more highly charged, including looking at domestic violence in Jewish families, facing the reality of long-term care, elder abuse, etc.

The chaplains were a most idealistic group, and their energy and enthusiasm for the works of chesed that they do was palpable. Whether it was military chaplains who described miraculous healing stories on the front lines, or those who worked in various public and private institutions, they all shared a conviction that their work was vital, and it gave them a sense of meaning and fulfillment.

At the same time, their dedication to their profession was tempered by the reality of a limited job market and the challenge of upgrading the status of their profession. As one participant remarked, “I’m frustrated by the fact that so many people need our services, and yet institutions simply aren’t hiring.” This is particularly distressing given the growing need for trained professionals in this field.

In 2002, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles released a report titled, “Service to Jews in Institutions.” This important work examined the services provided to Jews in the prison system, hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. However, it also noted that there are other “vulnerable populations,” including Jews living in residential recovery programs, those living in shelters, as well as Jewish seniors and disabled living independently.

The report cited statistics from the Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey ’97, including the fact the number of Jews in Los Angeles older than 65 grew from 11.1 percent to 20.4 percent in 1997 (with 4,500 living in residential facilities), and that “almost one in five households reported that someone in the household had been hospitalized in the preceding year.” These numbers are sure to grow as baby boomers age and advances in health care prolong life expectancy.

Among the report’s findings was the fact that there were “deficits in the number of chaplains and parachaplains” and, as a result, one of the suggestions made was to “conduct a training program for both ordained clergy and nonordained Jews that gives them the skills and knowledge needed for chaplaincy.”

At the Academy for Jewish Religion, CA (AJR, CA), we took the report findings and, particularly, the latter recommendation very seriously. As a result, AJR, CA, established a Jewish Chaplaincy Program in 2003.

This program is two academic years, plus one summer, with a year’s practicum/field work and a masters’ thesis among the requirements. The program weaves together an integration of Judaism, training and counseling, human development, the skills to lead relevant liturgical ceremonies, halachic requirements relating to life-cycle events, knowledge of Jewish medical ethics and issues related to the dying, etc.

The graduating student will be capable of working in various settings, but the question is will there be jobs available? For while The Federation study acknowledges the need for Jewish chaplains, a number of obstacles still need to be confronted and overcome.

Low pay and few benefits have been among the negative factors that have contributed to the dearth of chaplains. Related to that, both the medical and insurance industries still adhere to the principle that the healing of the body takes precedence over the less measurable needs of the healing of the soul. This translates into lack of reimbursement to chaplains by insurance companies and the paucity of chaplaincy positions in health care institutions.

In addition, until fairly recently, Jewish chaplains were overwhelmingly ordained rabbis, and there has been resistance among some to accept nonordained colleagues, the feeling being that only clergy have the necessary religious training required to minister in this realm. However, with the opportunities for professional/religious training available, this attitude needs to change.

Indeed, according to Cecille Asekoff, the NAJC’s coordinator, there does seem to be “a trend of nonordained people going into chaplaincy, as compared to 10 or 15 years ago.”

This change is encouraging, because while it may be part of the job description of congregational clergy to visit their sick congregants, not everyone belongs to a synagogue, nor is it just the sick who need their spiritual needs met. In addition, congregational clergy have so many responsibilities already that good intentions aside, many may simply not have the time to do all that they would like in this area.

As the need for qualified Jewish chaplains grows, we as a community must act. The budgetary constraints of nonprofit institutions are a reality that cannot be ignored. But, at the same time, how can we ignore the spiritual comfort of so many of our fellow Jews?

As for Norma Glickman, the experience that she and her late husband went through has had a profound impact on her. Last summer, the former program director for seniors at the Westside JCC applied and was accepted as a first-year student in the AJR, CA’s Jewish Chaplaincy Program.

Rabbi Mel Gottlieb is dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California’s Rabbinical School and Chaplaincy Program. He is also a licensed clinical social worker and holds a Ph.D in psychology.


Teacher Shortage

There is no summertime lull at schools for Jewish education.

Even as day campers toting towel-stuffed beach bags invade day schools and synagogue religious classrooms, administrators are spending their summer scrambling to fill staff vacancies for September, at a time when qualified Judaic and Hebrew instructors are difficult to find.

The shortage stems from an increasing demand statewide for public school teachers, a shift in Israel’s economy and what some suggest is a failure of planning by Reform and Conservative movements.

In addition, Orange County presents its own set of difficulties for recruiting, given the region’s description by one educator as “Jewishly disadvantaged.”

“People involved in Jewish teaching want an active Jewish community,” says Eve Fein, director of Rancho Santa Margarita’s Morasha Jewish Day School, who recently filled two staff positions by tapping existing residents.

“We have pockets of it here, but to create Jewish life here takes more work,” she said. “You can have a terrific impact, but to take a leap to Orange County is a challenge in itself.”

Fortuitously for administrators, the proliferation of Jewish day schools during the ’70s and ’80s coincided with economic doldrums in Israel. Religious school administrators, too, were happy to staff classrooms with Israeli-born teachers seeking better job opportunities in the U.S.

Not so the last decade.

“During the high-tech boom, we hardly saw an Israeli teacher at all,” says Yonaton Shultz, personnel services director for the Los Angeles Bureau of Jewish Education. Today, he says, the initial waves of Israeli immigrants are nearing retirement, and recent Jewish education graduates prefer jobs as administrators, for which benefits are better than in teaching. “Where is the next batch?” he asks.

Unlike secular recruiters, who resort to signing bonuses and housing subsidies to lure candidates, such enticements are rarely offered for Jewish jobs.

Even so, religious school directors are devising clever inducements for teachers, who typically work part-time. These include reduced religious school tuition for their children and free temple membership.

Some solve their recruiting difficulties under their own roof. “You have to keep your antenna up,” says Joanne Mercer, religious education director at Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm, which this fall will hold 10 sessions each of Hebrew and Judaic study for 350 students. Mercer is a former public school teacher and long-time Sunday school teacher, who was named acting director to fill a vacancy and assumed the post in 1991.

Transforming congregants who hunger for personal Jewish growth into qualified teachers is a pet recruitment project of Joan S. Kaye, director of the Orange County Bureau of Jewish Education. In 1994, she received a five-year, $200,000 grant to devise a program to train and mentor congregants on teaching in a Jewish school.

This summer, Kaye herself is seeking an assistant director to succeed Jay Lewis, who after seven years in the county was named Hillel executive director at the University of Kansas. Kaye has posted a job description at jewishjobfinder.com, a Web site started last October.

Passion alone, though, is no substitute for the perquisites accorded professionals. “Being a Jewish educator wasn’t viewed as a real job,” says Shultz, who reports that 50 percent of day school teachers lacked benefits in 1987.

No longer is that the case as competitive pressure forced day schools to shift hiring to full-time staff, instead of part-timers, he says. To stay competitive, some day schools are offering pension benefits. “That’s going to make it a long-term field,” he predicts.

This month, a new effort to fill the day school administrative pipeline starts by subsidizing 10 graduate students enrolled in a leadership training program at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and at the Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

Eight other campuses, which have yet to be identified, are also expected to offer the program, says Paul Flexner, human resources vice president for the Jewish Education Service of North America, the Jewish Federation’s educational arm. Students will receive a $25,000 stipend, health insurance and 12 graduate credits, about a third necessary to complete a master’s degree.

“Come Sept. 3, almost every classroom will have a teacher,” Flexner says. In a cautionary note to parents, though, he adds, “That doesn’t mean they have any training or experience.”

In Country

Israel may suffer from a lot of shortages — oil, water, new immigrants — but it has an astounding abundance, an endless supply, of opinions.

I began hearing them on my Delta flight to Ben-Gurion Airport. I heard more standing in the passport-control line — and I hadn’t even officially stepped foot in the country yet.

A few more came my way as I headed south toward my brother-in-law’s kibbutz in the Negev. A high school student wearing a kippah and tzitzit poked his head into my car and asked where I was headed. He heard my American accent. "It’s good you’re not afraid to come here," he said, as if I had asked. "You know, we watch the reports on CNN, the kids getting shot in your high schools, and we think it’s really dangerous in America."

These opinions come unbidden, without preamble, as if people are just jumping into the middle of an ongoing conversation.

That conversation is a mostly depressing one, as I’ve heard in the past few days here. The economy has been sucker-punched by the plunge in tourism, the worldwide recession and the high-tech bust. The pre-Oslo sense of isolation has returned, made worse by a sense that Israel has been betrayed by its Palestinian peace partner and by its American Jewish supporters, who have voted with their feet to stay away in droves.

But if the al-Aqsa intifada has darkened opinions, it has also refined them (opinion in Israel has long been more diverse, more freewheeling and less infected with guilt and jingoism than its American Jewish counterpart). The left here, as evidenced by a recent newspaper interview with Chaim Shur, the father of the left, is now more wary, if not outright disdainful, of its former Palestinian partners. The right, as evidenced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon himself, is more willing to consider the limitations of force.

And the debate continues, amid a daily life that is as full and vibrant as ever. After all, Israelis have always argued politics the way Angelenos talk about movies and real estate — it’s just what’s in the air.

The only opinion that’s been hard to come by here is how the current crisis will end. To that question, I usually get just a slow, silent shrug.