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Our Parents' Home in Edmonton, which offers both non-kosher and kosher meals to residents

By BERNIE BELLAN

In our last issue (October 3) I suggested something for consideration within our Jewish community that might have raised the ire of some readers (which I had no doubt it would): Change the requirements that the Simkin Centre, Camp Massad, and B’nai Brith Camp serve only kosher meals.


What I suggested was that preparation of kosher meals be consolidated within the Simkin Centre alone - and that the Simkin Centre be allowed to operate a non-kosher kitchen as well.
The reason, plain and simple, is that the cost of kosher food has been skyrocketing for years - and, based on past performance, can be expected to continue skyrocketing each year, much more than the cost of non-kosher foods.
As I expected, I did receive some push-back from some readers who argued that keeping kosher is intrinsic to Jewish life and that it would be tantamount to heresy to go along with what I was suggesting.
As well, I was told that there hasn’t’ been any pressure coming from within those three particular institutions to change their policies toward kashrut.
But, the fact is that keeping up with the cost of kosher has placed increasing financial burdens on those institutions; for the most part, however, individuals directly involved with their operation simply don’t want to go public with their concerns. Some of them have said to me: “Don’t make waves”


Nonetheless, I decided to do some research into just how much increases in  the cost of kosher meat especially has far outsripped the increased costs of non-kosher meat.
For prices, I looked at meat and chicken prices, both kosher and non-kosher, on display at the Superstore on Grant, as well as prices in an ad we ran in May for Carver’s Knife, which sells fresh kosher meat and chicken.
The differences in prices will probably not come as a shock to anyone who’s used to buying kosher, but for anyone who isn’t they may seem astonishing.
Lean ground beef was for sale at Superstore for $8.59/kilo (or $3.90/lb.)
Kosher ground beef (and it didn’t specify that it was lean) sold for $26.41/kilo (or $12/lb.) That’s 307% more than the cost of non-kosher ground beef!
(Kosher ground beef, when it was on sale at Carver’s Knife in May, sold for $20.40/kilo. That’s still 237% more than the cost of non-kosher.)
Whole chickens at Superstore sold for $6.59/kilo
Marvid kosher chickens at Superstore sold for $9.46/kilo
Boneless chicken breasts at Superstore sold for $10.49/kilo
Kosher boneless chicken breasts at Carver’s Knife in May sold for $18.45/kilo
While the price differential between kosher and non-kosher chicken was not as large as it was for beef, it was still substantial. Also, I delved back into our archives to see for how much kosher ground beef was selling 18 years ago in Winnipeg, when a store known as Tuxedo Quality Foods was operating a kosher butcher shop. The price back then was $3.99/lb. At IGA at the same time, the price for unkosher lean ground beef was $1.79/lb. While tha twas a pretty hefty price difference, it was only 224% more for kosher than kosher than non-kosher ground beef .
While the price of beef has risen since then, it hasn’t been a steady rise. I wasn’t able to find figures for the Canadian market, but a comparison of cattle prices in the United States shows about a 60% increase in the cost of cattle since 2000. (As a matter of fact the price of beef was much higher in 2015 than it is now.)
However, the cost of kosher ground beef in Winnipeg has gone up by 300% since 2000. While the cost of non kosher ground beef has also gone up by 217%, the differential between the price for kosher and non-kosher ground beef has grown by a huge amount. Other cuts of beef have shown an even greater price differential over the past 18 years.

My suggestion in the Oct. 3 issue was that the Simkin Centre maintain both a kosher and non-kosher kitchen and provide kosher meals for residents who wish to keep kosher. I also suggested that the Simkin Centre could provide kosher meals for Camp Massad and BB Camp - but I was told by some individuals associated with those camps that there is no pressure coming from within to do that.
I did do a comparison of camp fees though between BB Camp and Camp Stephens, the YMCA-operated sleep-over camp in Lake of the Woods. The three-week program at Camp Stephens cost $1640 in 2018; the three-week program at BB Camp will cost $2625 in 2019.
The four-week program at Camp Stephens cost $2035; the three-week program at BB Camp will cost $3,525 in 2019.
I realize that there are many other factors aside from the cost of keeping kosher that go into the fees that BB Camp charges, but there can be no doubt that having to provide kosher food for everyone - including the many staff who aren’t even Jewish, adds considerably to the cost of running the camp.

I also wanted to know whether there are Jewish camps anywhere in Canada and the United States that aren’t strictly kosher and did find that camps operated by the Reform Jewish community are not kosher, although they do maintain a “kosher style” form of adherence. For instance, they do not serve meat with milk. Families that would like their children to keep kosher at those camps are asked to send kosher foods along with their children.

One might well ask: Just how many people will ask for kosher food if they are asked whether they would like kosher food?
At the Simkin Centre, as a requirement under the WRHA, 20% of the residents must be non-Jewish, even though the Simkin Centre is still considered a faith-based personal care home. (That became a requirement when the WRHA took over the funding of all personal care homes in Winnipeg.)
Why on earth does the centre have to provide kosher meals for those non-Jewish residents? At the same time, you might wonder whether the Simkin Centre is given any additional funding in order to serve kosher food. The answer is it gets a small amount from the WRHA toward that purpose, but not nearly enough to cover the extra costs of having to maintain a kosher facility. (See letter from Simkin Centre CEO Irwin Corobow on the opposite page.)

I also spoke with the executive director of a seniors’ home that opened in Edmonton three years ago known as “Our Parents’ Home.” While that facility is primarily intended to serve the Jewish community, it is privately operated and under the control of a not-for profit corporation. There is no requirement that a minimum number of beds be reserved for non-Jews. Further, I was told that since not all the beds have been filled as yet, there is also no pressure to give preference to Jewish residents.
But, I was also told that Our Parents’ Home maintains both  kosher and non-kosher kitchens. So - in at least one instance of a Jewish nursing home in Canada, my idea of saving money by not preparing kosher meals for all residents has been put into implementation.
As for our two sleep-over camps - I suppose that if keeping kosher is not considered a problem by anyone directly involved with running those camps, that’s well and good. But, As someone at the Jewish Federation’s “Footprints” event on Wednesday, October 10 noted, however, “it sure is expensive to be Jewish”.

Finally, while keeping kosher may be of great importance to a certain segment of the Jewish community, it hardly occupies the same significance that it once did. The survey of American Jews that was published by the Pew Research Center in 2013, found that “Just 19% of the Jewish adults surveyed say observing Jewish law (halakha) is essential to what being Jewish means to them.” (Other factors in determining Jewish identity that placed much higher in importance included remembering the Holocaust, leading an ethical/moral life, working for justice/equality, being intellectually curious, caring about Israel, having a good sense of humour, and being part of a Jewish community.)

While I realize that I am very often a provocateur in what I write, there is something to be said for trying to engender a discussion about an issue which, like so much else within our Jewish community, is only talked about in private. The problem though, as I realize it, is: Who will have the courage - other than someone like me, to raise the subject of loosening the requirements for keeping kosher within the organizations that are directly affected by the spiralling costs associated with keeping kosher?

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