February 26, 2009

In Jewish Senior Homes, What We Eat And Who We Are

I’d like to correct and re-frame your February 5 story “Bowing to Market, Consumer Demand, Some Jewish Nursing Homes Go Treyf.”

Today, there is a sophistication, an education about Jewish practice and a spirit of religious choice that set us apart from the old dichotomies of black-vs.-white and kosher-vs.-treyf. Many Jews will make choices that might include eating vegetarian in a vegetarian, fish or regular restaurant and understand themselves to be “keeping kosher,” albeit not in the same ways their grandparents may have kept kosher.

Your article inaccurately stated that “NewBridge on the Charles will supplement its kosher offerings with a nonkosher restaurant.” The fact is that NewBridge on the Charles, the new Hebrew SeniorLife continuing care retirement community in Dedham, Mass., is not a kosher campus with all dining options overseen by a mashgiach. But it does offer an entirely kosher restaurant to serve NewBridge’s residents, patients, staff and families who choose to keep kosher. In addition, it is an environmental campus (responding to the eco-kashrut movement), and on the general menu there are always fish and vegetarian options that are by-ingredient kosher.

The Hebrew SeniorLife and NewBridge teams have gone to great lengths to ensure that residents in our facilities who choose to keep kosher are accommodated with fresh, well-prepared kosher fine dining that is easily integrated into the general fine dining, which also allows people to make healthy and kosher choices.

We don’t even know all the individual choices people are making, but we do know that we are responding to a diverse, sophisticated and educated Jewish population. Our priority at NewBridge on the Charles is to ensure the physical and spiritual well-being of every resident, which includes allowing for them to choose how they express their relationship to Judaism.

In your story “Bowing to Market, Consumer Demand, Some Jewish Nursing Homes Go Treyf,” I found a pair of inaccuracies about Martins Run Senior Living Community, and I would like to set the record straight.

First, Martins Run is not discontinuing kosher food service as indicated in your picture caption. To the contrary, we have just finished construction of a new, state-of-the-art kosher kitchen to provide residents with the finest kosher menus possible. We have also recently remodeled a separate kitchen and adjoining dining room that will accommodate residents who prefer non-kosher food.

Second, ours is not an “assisted living” facility, as reported in the article. Martins Run is a continuing care retirement community, offering residential apartment living, personal care and skilled nursing services.

As CEO of this vibrant community, I am proud to say that our mission is to enrich the lives of its residents through a focus on the whole person — mind, body and spirit. We are also proud of our 30-year commitment to Jewish values and traditions.

As chaplains working in Jewish long-term care facilities, we were both disappointed and alarmed after reading of the Jewish nursing homes that have decided to jettison kashrut.

Since the time of the Exodus, there has always been a tension between the Divine expectation that the community of Israel follow in the ways of holiness, and the members of the community wanting to do what is right in their own eyes. One might imagine a headline from those times: “Bowing to Market, Consumer Demand, Aaron Builds a Golden Calf.” Still, in our collective psyche, we have always known that communal expectations and practice, representing a collective affirmation of Torah values, must eclipse the whims and desires of individuals.

To be sure, both of us are all too aware of the challenges mentioned in the article. Working in long-term care settings under Jewish auspices, we see and hear about them every single day — the extra expense of kosher food, the added effort of providing for the separation of meat and dairy, the ignorance and apathy, and even the occasional ridiculing comments. Indeed, the question “why bother?” is ubiquitous.

But the answer is also ubiquitous: Even with the necessity of extra attention and resources that kashrut requires, it is a regimen that is a tangible and ever-present symbol of the kedushah, the sanctity, that Jewish long-term care facilities are mandated to nurture and maintain. It reflects the larger Jewish community’s covenantal mandate to promote sanctity in the world at large.

How Jewish long-term care facilities balance the individual needs of their residents with the collective needs and expectations of their respective communities may well determine whether they remain Jewish facilities, or just places where Jewish people live.

What Would David Ben-Gurion Do?

Philologos often makes good philological points, but his reading of my Boston Globe opinion article is false and mean-spirited (“Errors on a Global and Historical Scale,” January 22).

Contrary to what Philologos alleges, I know full well David Ben-Gurion’s first and last names (though it appears that someone at the Globe did not know this).

Philologos also wrongly claims that my article urged that “the Obama administration should threaten to let Iran go nuclear unless Israel agrees to abandon the settlements.” The idea that the United States should allow Iran to develop its nuclear capability is a complete distortion of my Boston Globe article.

My message was instead that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs a strong relationship with the White House so that President Obama will continue protecting Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity and not make that a bargaining chip in America’s strategy toward Iran. By cooperating with Obama on the issue of settlements and on peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu can help ensure that Obama remains responsive to Israel’s need to maintain its exceptional exclusion from the demands of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a status that has traditionally been protected by the United States.

David Ben-Gurion certainly did not shy from making relations with America a priority in formulating Israeli policy. Incidentally, he also saw settlement in the territories occupied in 1967 as a major mistake and wanted to trade the West Bank and Gaza for peace.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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February 26, 2009

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