Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Spotlight On Food And Politics
Counting Continues In State Legislative Races

Democrats will remain in control of all statewide offices and the two legislative houses when the new legislative session begins in January. An inauguration is being planned for Governor Kathy Hochul’s first full term as New York’s chief executive. For political insiders, the only items hanging in the balance include whether or not the Democrats will retain their supermajority veto-proof status in each house. The Senate is one seat away from their supermajority of securing 42 seats.

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As of this writing, Central New York will head for a hand recount because less than .05 percent of the vote separates incumbent John Mannion and challenger Rebecca Shiroff. Out of approximately 12,000 votes cast, Mannion leads his opponent by 41 votes in the 50th Senate district, which includes Onondaga and Oswego counties.

On Wednesday, November 16, Shiroff wrote on Twitter, “When I announced my campaign for the state senate against John Mannion, I knew this would be a tight race. Today’s unofficial results confirm that. We look forward to the hand recount where every ballot will be thoroughly reviewed & tallied. Thank you to all who are checking in.”

Brian Curran

In the Assembly, four seats are still in limbo. If one of those contests goes in favor of the Democrats, they will maintain their supermajority status. The current breakdown in the 150-seat chamber is 99 to 47.

This is where the results stand as of this writing:

Longtime Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket, Suffolk County), is trailing his opponent, Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson, Suffolk County), by 973 votes. Flood has 51 percent of the vote. Englebright has been a member of the Assembly since 1992.

Another Suffolk County district is still up in the air as incumbent Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights) is leading newcomer Chris Sperber (R-Centereach), but not by enough for anyone to declare victory.

A Nassau County district pits a former assemblyman against an incumbent assemblywoman; the Republican is ahead by 244 votes. My sources tell me that Republican Brian Curran is leading Democrat Judy Griffin by 160 votes. A mandatory hand recount is needed. More than 50,000 votes were cast in this race.

In a Queens Assembly seat that includes the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Far Rockaway, the race is too close to call as 246 votes separate Democrat Stacey Pheffer Amato from Republican Tom Sullivan, with Sullivan garnering 50.3 percent of the vote. This district has fielded two generations of Pheffers, Audrey and incumbent Stacey. Pfeffer Amato has sued the Board of Elections calling for a hand recount, according to my sources.

In an open seat in the lower Hudson Valley, former Orange County legislator Chris Eachus (D-New Windsor) has overtaken the 56-vote lead posted by opponent Kathryn Luciani (R-Highland Mills) on Election Day. Eachus is leading by a mere 50 votes. This seat, in the 99th Assembly District, was held by Republican Colin Schmitt, who made a failed bid for Congress against incumbent Democrat Pat Ryan.

Judy Griffin

In the Assembly, there could be as many as 20 members who identify as being Jewish, 17 Democrats and three Republicans. That’s 13 percent of the lower house. In the Senate, only five members identify as Jewish, all Democrats. That’s seven-tenths of one percent of the upper house. The Jewish members range from the observant to being Jewish in name only (JINO).

Two Jewish members in the state Senate lost their reelection bids, and in the Assembly all the Jewish members won reelection, with the Democrats seeing one new Jewish member after he defeated a non-Jewish incumbent, and a new member replacing a retiring non-Jewish member.

The results of the unresolved legislative races should be known by Thursday, December 8, at the latest, according to state law. Stay tuned.

 

Jeffries Heads Toward Minority Leadership

With every loss there appears to be a silver lining. The Democrats may have lost the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, but Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Prospect Heights, Brooklyn), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, wants to move up to a more senior position. He is the fifth highest ranking member of Congress and will begin his sixth term when the new session convenes in January. He also serves on the powerful House Judiciary and Budget committees.

There are three leadership posts he could be in line for: minority leader, Eemocratic whip or conference chair. With Nancy Pelosi, 82, (D-San Francisco, CA) and Steny Hoyer, 83, (D-Mechanicsville, Maryland) stepping down from their leadership posts, only Jim Clyburn, 82, (D-Rock Hill, SC) remains as a senior member as majority, soon to be minority, whip. Jeffries is jockeying for one of the three posts and would be the first black minority leader [not redundant] in the House of Representatives.

Jeffries, 52, who grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is a former Assemblyman who served as counsel in the litigation department of Viacom and CBS as well as several other corporate law firms, and as a judicial aide in a few positions.

 

What Is a Jewish Deli?

An exhibit about defunct Jewish delis is underway at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library on the Upper West Side of Manhattan titled “I’ll Have What She’s Having” got me wondering – What is a Jewish deli? I know what a kosher deli is. I know what an Italian deli is. I know about Russian delis. But Jewish delis? Isn’t that just a deli that mixes meat and cheese and doesn’t serve ham, shrimp or clam chowders but serves matzoh ball soup instead?

Are these delis merely stereotyping Jews and their gastronomic delicacies from kosher delis?

So, one day when I was in Manhattan on another assignment, I headed over to see the exhibit for myself. Here’s what I found out:

“A Jewish deli is a place that serves the traditional foods that were brought by Jews mainly at the tail end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries from their homelands, from their mother lands,” Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library told me. “When they came here, they recreated the kinds of meats, the types of preservatives they used on those meats and other kinds of foods that were native to them. They’re not necessarily kosher delis although originally, delis were in fact kosher because Jewish people tended, especially on the Lower East Side, to keep kosher. That would have characterized the Jewish deli of the period. Times have definitely changed. We’ve all evolved but for many people, the deli is a touchstone and it still keeps those memories of an ethnicity, a heritage and a food which we can be proud of.”

While many food options on a deli menu were not brought over from Europe, they are foods Americans brought into the realm of deli meats, like roast beef and turkey.

“The reason why we have pastrami and corned beef as traditional Jewish foods is because they were preserved so that they would stay throughout the long winter without refrigeration,” Mirrer said. “In the nineteenth century and earlier there was no refrigeration, certainly not in the places where Jews tended to live. Preserving the meat for the long winter months was extremely important and those types of brines did the trick.”

This exhibit originated in Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center, which focuses on Jewish themes.

“It was irresistible because of that association with the movie [when Harry Met Sally] scene had with Katz’s delicatessen,” Mirrer added. “That’s why the exhibition is home, here in New York. We’ve made many innovations to make this into a New York show. The exhibition is as much about food, delicatessens and its history, as it’s about immigration. It really tells the story about the people who were motivated to come to the United States, to New York initially, in order to practice their religion freely, which they were not able to do in places like Russia, Latvia, Romania and just as everyone does today for economic betterness. That’s the country we are and that exhibition tells its story via one ethnic group.”

 

More Notes from Kosherfest 2022

Due to space constraints in The Jewish Press last week, I was not able to relate all that needed to be written about Kosherfest.

Without providing specific details and hard numbers, the founder and co-producer of Kosherfest, Menachem Lubinsky, let me know that the low turnout I wrote about actually exceeded last year’s attendance.

“Show management also worked hard to upgrade the quality of the trade buyers by raising the price and targeting some major food executives from around the country who are involved in kosher, Lubinsky wrote. “From my perspective, Kosherfest ’22 was one of the better shows in its 33-year history. There were almost 90 new exhibitors, a record number of new products, and much business was conducted on the floor.”

From my perspective, I had a different take on the attendance and the number of vendors at the show. There might have been 90 new exhibitors but there were many vendors from last year who did not return. Also, from my observation, the show was not at pre-Covid attendance and vendor participation from several years ago. For many years, attendees were elbow-to-elbow and struggling to get through the aisles. This year and last year there was plenty of room to walk around and the pipe and drape were pulled in so far, the area behind the drapery was used as storage space.

I’m waiting to see if the Kosherfest management team at Diversified Communications in Portland, Maine, will release specific numbers about the gross amount taken in, the list of vendors from last year and this year, how many attendees were at the event last year and this year. I also noticed there were no cooking shows this year as had been the case previously, like when famed chef Jamie Geller appeared.

All I know is a half booth cost $2,500 and a full booth would set a company back $4,000 for the two-day event. There are no details about the square footage for a half booth or a full booth. I know this is a private company and they can divulge whatever they want to divulge publicly but I’m hoping for more transparency for the kosher business industry.

There were some business owners I interviewed at the trade show not included in last week’s article. Here are some quick quotes.

“People say they can’t get a good New York bagel out of New York, and we’re solving that problem by taking our bagels and shipping them nationwide,” said Andrew Hazan, CEO of Bagel Boss, based in Jericho, Nassau County. “That’s why we’re here because whether it’s caterers, restaurants, grocery shops, they are looking for a good premium product, something that we could deliver. We’re showing a rebirth of the sugar-free mini-bagels for the diabetic community.

“Pricing has gone up pretty dramatically. Online the baker’s dozen (13 bagels) sells for $59.95, which includes FedEx overnight shipping,” Hazan concluded.

For Joel Weinberger, president of Los Angeles-based PS Kosher Food Works, “We’re a consultancy. We do support for clients that are kosher for Star-K and other organizations. We basically help them use their kosher designation better to make sure they are happy with their service, happy with what kosher does for them in the international markets. We’re here every year to help support people who have kosher internationally that want to use it to sell better. We help them be here in a consolidated pavilion based upon the space that they need, based upon the B2B aspects that they need. Some of those countries include Guatemala, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh and Pakistan”

One of those companies is a kosher supervising agency based in Djerba, Tunis, Tunisia. It took Hanina Sayada, 27, a mashgiach, 26 hours to travel to the Kosherfest trade show in Secaucus, New Jersey. He is the kosher supervisor for Star-K and CRC and other agencies. In Djerba there are currently 14 synagogues, two yeshivot, and three kosher eateries.

“In Djerba, I ask the rabbi of the kehillah if this product is kosher. He reads the ingredients and tells me yes, it is kosher,” Sayada told The Jewish Press. “In Tunisia, we have very good olive oil and dates but also products such as harissa, a mix of spicy and tasty. We are marketing the Tunisian products for the U.S. market because we believe the customer also has to take a quality product not just price but quality and price – both of them.”

Sunnyhoneymiami.com display at Kosherfest.

For the owners of sunnyhoneymiami.com, the honey business is a sweet passion.

“We produce a gourmet cream honey. We start out with the highest quality white clover honey from Canada. We put it through a process of whipping it for four days, creating a texture. There’s no dairy in it even though it’s called cream honey. The cream comes from the texture we create,” co-owner George Gutman, told The Jewish Press. “This is a personal passion for my wife. She was born in Communist Romania. She had an uncle who was a beekeeper in the countryside outside Bucharest. She would visit her uncle all the time and when it was time for dessert, because it was Communist Romania, they didn’t have dessert, he would go to his beehive, rip out a chunk of hive and give her the honeycomb and that was dessert.

“If you cut yourself, just take a bit of the hive and rub it on the cut. It’s a natural antibiotic and she grew up her entire life living around bees. It’s important to her and I support my wife,” Gutman concluded.

Setton Farms display at Kosherfest.

Receiving one of the 34 Best New Product awards at Kosherfest was Setton Farms pistachios.

“We come to the shows because we’re meeting new customers and prior customers that pick up new products,” said Joseph Setton, executive vice president of Setton Farms. “Seasonings and flavorings need to be certified kosher. Pistachios actually go through a heat process. They are dry-roasted, and salted so there is a process in place. If you’re just taking the pistachio off the tree, you don’t need it to be kosher certified but there is a lot of processing and technically there’s what we call allergens. There’s a lot of cross-production happening so you have to be very careful that is why pistachios need to be certified.

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Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.