TORONTO — Beth Tzedec Congregation has become the first major shul in the GTA to select a caterer that is certified as kosher by Badatz Toronto, a kashrut supervisory agency formed in 2008.
Beth Tzedec Congregation recently selected its new exclusive caterer, Applause Catering, which is poised to take over the kitchen in January, marking the end of not only Beth Tzedec’s three-year contract with caterer Zuchter Berk, but also its long relationship with the Kashruth Council of Canada, which oversees the COR certification.
Applause is certified by Badatz Toronto, which is led by rabbis Amram Assayag and Moshe Bensalmon.
Choosing a kosher caterer was extremely important to Beth Tzedec, said synagogue president Carolyn Kolers, but the decision didn’t hinge on which agency was involved. “That was not a criterion at all,” she said.
Applause was one of several caterers, including Zuchter Berk, that made presentations to Beth Tzedec – North America’s largest Conservative synagogue, with some 2,700 member families – in a process that took several months to complete.
“This was not a choice between kosher certifications,” Kolers said, listing several factors that led to the choice of Applause, such as the desire to find a caterer who would operate on-site – Zuchter Berk has a large off-site commissary where most food preparation is done – and, of course, flavour. As a leading contender, Applause was invited to present a taste test to the board, which it apparently aced.
The selection of the new caterer engendered some controversy when an e-mail earlier this fall from the Kashruth Council to its board members implied the community would not be well served by the appointment of a Badatz-certified caterer at the synagogue.
The Kashruth Council subsequently sent a second e-mail in which CEO Rabbi Tuvia Basser admitted his regret at the “lack of precision” in his initial e-mail, and retracting the implication that Beth Tzedec would choose a caterer that did not uphold “a high standard of kashrus.”
In a statement to The CJN, the Kashruth Council explained that “our intention was to allow for Beth Tzedec to continue offering its catering facilities to the full range of the kosher community, including those who only feel comfortable eating from COR-supervised establishments… frankly, we are hurt by any false allegation that we don’t have the best interests of the community at heart.”
Badatz’s Moti Bensalmon, Rabbi Bensalmon’s son, said Badatz did not get involved beyond sending out a brief clarification e-mail. “Beth Tzedec put out a tender, then decided on their own who was best for them,” Moti Bensalmon said.
Beth Tzedec’s spiritual leader Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl investigated Badatz’s kosher standards thoroughly. “It was [Rabbi Frydman-Kohl’s] belief and it is our belief that Badatz oversees kashrut to the… highest degree,” Kolers said. “We want anyone who is kosher… to feel comfortable eating in our synagogue.”
Until now, Badatz – which recently collaborated with Montreal’s MK kashrut agency and other kashrut organizations across Canada to form a new kosher food safety initiative – had been supervising commercial factories and catering at banquet halls, Moti Bensalmon said.
Zuchter Berk, meanwhile, continues to provide services to Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, Sephardic Kehila Centre, Beth Radom Congregation, the Kiever Congregation and Kehilat Shaarei Torah Synagogue, as well as community centres, event venues, hospitals and airlines.
Jay Stochinsky, one of four partners in Applause Catering, says “Rabbi Bensalmon has very high standards. He worked for COR for 23 years.” All the partners have been impressed with his “professionalism, the honourable way he dealt with us.”
Stochinsky said that, having worked as a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) with the Kashruth Council himself, “I know their standards,” and Badatz’s are comparable.
However, of Beth Tzedec’s ultimate decision, Applause partner Cary Silber said, “they weren’t interviewing a kashrut service – they were interviewing a caterer.”
“Their goal is to give their members an opportunity to have really great food in the shul,” Silber said.
Kolers admitted the decision shows there’s room for more than one kashrut organization. “We’re acknowledging that there’s a second hashgachah. But it was not about us wanting to see Badatz succeed or not succeed, or COR be harmed or not.”