Our Jewish Federation generously supports our local vaad hakashrut (kosher supervision agency), the Lehigh Valley Kashrut Commission, or LVKC. Tonight I presented our annual funding request before the Federation's Allocations Committee, and preparing that request reminded me of why local kashrut certifiers and local kosher bakeries are important.
A local vaad supervises the little supermarket bakery. Therefore:
• Kids from non-observant families can have a birthday party with a kosher cake, and everyone can eat;
• Visitors to town can find fresh kosher bread and not buy the packaged, chemical-treated stuff;
• Kosher-observant Jews visiting relatives can find food.
Without that bakery, all of the above becomes harder. Further, the community cannot grow, because outsiders perceive it to be a backwater.
The local bakery keeps the Jewish community going. And so does the Vaad - in the bakery, and beyond:
• A local vaad provides assistance to a college Hillel seeking to make kosher food available, or to offer housing with a kosher kitchen;
• A local vaad answers people’s questions and does research on commercial kashrus, using the database of knowledge and connections it has developed in the commercial realm;
• A local vaad provides supervision for community-wide events, so that they can truly be community-wide;
• A local vaad holds kashrut awareness programs for people who would never go to oukosher.org or star-k.org.
There’s more, too, but that’s what came to mind tonight as I prepared our report for the Federation.
The challenge is that as the major kashrut certifiers – OU, Star-K, Chof-K etc – expand, the local kashrut certifier faces the loss of key businesses. National organizations take over major facilities, the ones which can provide the greatest income for the least actual supervision.
Whether these businesses pay so much as a gesture of corporate responsibility to the community, or whether it’s just because they’re used to large numbers, those businesses often supply income which helps subsidize supervision for smaller, cash-poorer businesses. We can certify a small operation at zero margin, and we can subsidize supervision of community non-profits, because of a large bottling company that gives us more dollars than we need to pay our supervisor.
So when a local business goes with a national supervision, that damages the local vaad – and the result can be catastrophic for a community. (I also discussed this somewhat here.)
The national and international organizations are important. The local orgs even depend on them, because all of the ingredients coming into our local facilities are produced under those broader certifications. But let’s not forget the work done by the locals, and the way that they, and their supermarket bakeries, keep small Jewish communities going.