(JTA) — Ahead of Passover 2020 — as life worldwide ground to an abrupt halt in the face of a rapidly spreading pandemic and people faced the specter of empty grocery shelves, or staying confined at home — a range of rabbis tried to make it a little easier to observe the holiday.
Long lists of foods and newly lenient guidelines from Jewish organizations circulated among people who keep kosher for Passover, explaining which foods they could purchase and eat on the holiday, given the year’s extraordinary circumstances. The message — sometimes explicit, sometimes implied — was that these special permissions applied only temporarily.
Now, one rule instituted as a COVID provision by the Conservative movement is becoming permanent: Before Passover begins, Jews may buy certified kosher products that have kosher-for-Passover ingredients and are certified gluten-free and oat-free — even if they aren’t explicitly certified kosher for Passover.
When it first appeared in 2020, that rule was written in a way that suggested it was an emergency measure, using the words “when the situation demands.” This year, that four-word phrase has been removed from the Rabbinical Assembly’s Passover guide, and the guidance has moved from a separate section into the main list of allowable products.
The edit reflects how some shifts in Jewish practice that first appeared at the outset of the pandemic, as stopgap measures, have since been normalized. It also allows — for at least a narrow set of Jews who observe Jewish ritual in accordance with the Conservative movement’s dictates — more robust and potentially less expensive options for keeping kosher during Passover.
Rabbi Aaron Alexander, chair of the Kashrut Subcommittee on the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, which issues the movement’s Jewish legal rulings, said the change does not reflect a shift in the movement’s approach to Jewish law, known as halacha. Instead, he said, it reflects confidence that the Food and Drug Administration’s strict rules about how products can be labeled can be trusted when it comes to Passover observance.
“It’s not a significant change in how we understand halacha in general and how we understand the general Passover laws,” Alexander said. “It’s always been the case that there are products you can buy without a KP [symbol] before Passover, when you can be pretty sure that there’s no chametz and that any accidental admixture would be minimal.”
The requirement for foods to be certified gluten-free and oat-free, Alexander said, is “an extra line of defense” for people buying products before Passover that are not explicitly labeled kosher for Passover.
The policy shift opens new doors to kosher-keeping Jews: Rather than seeking out specialty items with Passover kosher certification, often carried only in kosher supermarkets and in major markets, they can observe Passover by taking advantage of the increasing number of products that are labeled kosher, gluten-free and oat-free, as long as the ingredients accord with Passover laws.
The gluten-free marketplace is estimated at $6 billion a year in the United States and is growing by an estimated 10% each year, according to industry trend reports. The marketplace serves people with celiac disease — whose incidence is rising — as well as people who seek to reduce or eliminate their gluten intake for perceived health reasons.
Some people with celiac disease say they look forward to Passover because more products will hit shelves that they can count on to be free of gluten. Now, Jews who follow the Conservative movement’s guidance can benefit from some of the wide array of gluten-free foods that are already available.
On Passover, five types of grain are prohibited (except for when they are used to make matzah): wheat, spelt, barley, oat and rye. By purchasing products that are certified gluten-free and oat-free, consumers can avoid buying food that contain those five ingredients.
“In an effort to definitively alert consumers to the presence of wheat gluten in packaged foods, the FDA mandates that any product including the words ‘gluten-free,’ ‘no gluten,’ ‘free of gluten,’ or ‘without gluten’ must contain less than 20 parts per million of glutinous wheat, spelt, barley, or rye,” a footnote to the guide states. “This eliminates the possibility of a gluten-free packaged food containing 4 of the 5 hametz-derived grains in any quantity that would be viable according to Jewish law.”
Alexander emphasized that the gluten-free and oat-free guidance should be seen as “a good way to figure out whether or not the products you’re getting before Passover could be problematic.” He cautioned that looking at the rest of the ingredients is crucial: Some certified gluten-free products, for example, could still be prohibited for Passover because they contain yeast.
Sarah Chandler, an ordained Hebrew priestess and Jewish educator who used to run a pickle business, already bought food with gluten-free labels during her pre-Passover shopping.
“It’s very practical, and it’s also consistent with other levels of kashrut,” Chandler told JTA regarding her pre-Passover shopping. “The fact that you and I can go to a grocery store and buy eggs — you don’t need a kosher symbol on it. We just know that it’s eggs. We’re not worried that the egg is from a bird of prey and not kosher. We can just assume that [if] it says ‘chicken eggs,’ they’re chicken eggs.”
She added, using a Hebrew term for kosher certification, “We don’t need a hechsher on it. The hechscher just means a certain level of supervision.”
Chandler is a vegetarian and eats a variety of nut butters, which are often expensive. Recently, she bought a jar of gluten-free cashew butter that was on sale for $6 instead of its regular price $12. (A jar of almond butter by a kosher brand marketed for Passover can run around $18.) Because it’s still unopened and the ingredients are kosher for Passover, she plans to eat it during the holiday.
Kosher-keeping Jews with gluten intolerance and celiac disease have especially found a lifeline in the growing marketplace of gluten-free food.
Lisa Goldman, also known as the “Gluten Free Jewish Momma,” is an Orlando-based advocate for the gluten intolerant on behalf of her now-grown daughter, who was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012.
“My daughter was crying over not being able to have matzah balls because matzah [is] very high in wheat,” Goldman recalled. “So it was so exciting when all of the Jewish brands started to come out with a gluten-free version of many of their products.”
By the Way Bakery, a kosher, gluten-free and dairy-free bakery in New York City founded in 2011 by Helene Godin, may be a destination where Jewish shoppers who abide by the Conservative ruling could get food for the holiday. It is offering multiple Passover items this year, though the menu isn’t certified kosher for Passover.
By the Way Bakery is certified kosher, and its individual products that are sold in Whole Foods are in the process of being certified gluten-free.
“I’m really careful with the word ‘certified,’” Godin told JTA. “We are not certified with respect to Passover. I can tell you what is in [our products]. We’re very transparent. If you go to our website and you go to the FAQ section, there’s a link to our ingredient summary. And we list everything that’s in every product.”
Some of the items on this year’s Passover menu include an orange almond cake that Godin calls “the little black dress of desserts” because it goes with everything, and a chocolate truffle torte. By the Way Bakery’s cakes and cookies are made with wheat flour alternatives, many of which fall into the category of kitniyot, or foods such as legumes, corn, and rice that some Jews, including many Ashkenazim, avoid eating on Passover. Sephardic Jews traditionally eat kitniyot on the holiday and the Conservative Movement began permitting the consumption of kitniyot during Passover in 2016.
“There are people who say, ‘You’re not kosher enough,’” Godin said. “And there are people who say, ‘Oh, I’ll eat that.’”
Another popular gluten-free kosher bakery, Modern Bread and Bagel, is offering non-kitniyot foods for Passover. Like By the Way Bakery, Modern Bread and Bagel is not certified kosher for Passover, but all of its kitchen’s ingredients are kosher for Passover.
Godin says her company gains new customers every Passover, but this year has been an especially busy time. The number of orders for the orange almond cake, which has not been on the menu in several years, was three or four times larger than what she expected.
“Our projections were that we would be up 20% over last year. And we’ve well exceeded that,” she said. “Post-COVID, people just want to celebrate and get together.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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