Kosher Everywhere in World of Food

Masbia is a nonprofit soup kitchen. The words “soup kitchen,” can sound less appetizing than “airline food,” so Masbia decided to upgrade the experience. Founded 16 years ago by Hasidic Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, New York, their goal was to create an environment that respects human dignity. The food is Kosher and freshly prepared by a trained chef and countless volunteers. They serve farm-fresh products in a sit-down restaurant on cloth-covered tables with real china and flatware. The consumers receive menus with choices and are served by volunteer waiters. 

Since COVID-19, Masbia has also offered packaged foods to take out. Masbia has been featured in People Magazine, which aptly described the nonprofit as a “restaurant without a cash register”. After they expanded to three kitchens, Saturday Night Live reported the expansion on their weekend news segment.

‘The Chef’s Garden

Alexander Rapaport is the executive director of Masbia. Over the years, he has become close friends with Lee Jones, a farmer and supplier in Ohio. The two men could not be more different. 

Alexander Rapaport, left, and Lee Jones show off Jones’ book, “The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables – With Recipes.”

One is Jewish with a long beard and always wears a white shirt, black frock and black hat. The other is Christian and usually dresses in blue overalls, baseball cap and a red bowtie. 

They share a common belief that food can promote dignified experiences while advancing friendship and understanding.

Lee Jones, sometimes known as Farmer Lee Jones, operates a 350-acre family farm in Ohio near Lake Erie. The homestead also contains The Culinary and Vegetable Research Institute, which was awarded the James Beard Award for sustainable agriculture.

Farmer Lee Jones recently published his new book, “The Chef’s Garden: A Modern Guide to Common and Unusual Vegetables – With Recipes.” His friend Rapaport incorporated these recipes for Masbia to be part of the food choices included in the 2,000,000 meals served annually. All people who pass through the front door – regardless of race, creed or religion – will be served.

This book really is an encyclopedia of vegetables. All vegetables are inherently kosher. However, some of the meat- or shrimp-based sauces were reimagined for the kosher consumer.

Kosher Food Kitchen

With three locations, Masbia has been the primary kosher food kitchen for many religious poor who could not venture into non-kosher locations. Since the pandemic, large numbers of undocumented immigrants, who did not qualify for government aid or were fearful of deportation, were literally left out in the cold.  

“You wouldn’t know from our line that the place is kosher,” Rapaport said. “It’s overwhelmingly immigrant families, because they don’t get unemployment, they don’t get food stamps.”

Rapaport explained that the need to feed has soared, but thankfully, so have the donations. There are almost 30,000 small donors that have given to Masbia this year. Additionally, Masbia has major donors which include The Henry and Susie Orenstein Emergency Food Kitchen Network, UJA Federation of New York, United Way of NYC and the Food Bank for New York City.

The number of people that rely on Masbia has soared 500 percent.

“When you’re serving 7,500 people every week the way to do it is to find kosher protein that stretches our donations,” Rapaport said.

When the price of cheap chicken wings soared from $1 to $2.50 per pound in just two months, Rapaport had to act. 

Lack of Chicken Wings Becomes a Grind

The supplier, KJ Poultry, could no longer maintain a stream of kosher chicken wings, explaining that “it became a very hot item because people don’t have money.”

With the goal of stretching the food dollars of their valued donors, Rapaport worked with KJ Poultry to utilize mechanically separated chicken, known as chicken grind, which is the small amount of meat that remains from boneless chicken products.  

Masbia chef Jordan Herschel created a delicious and economical chicken meatloaf. He made it with all-natural ingredients consisting of chicken grind, eggs, matzah, onion and ketchup.

The shortage of chicken affected the tradition of munching on chicken wings during the Super Bowl. My local Florida team – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – won Super Bowl LV this year. Two days earlier, Masbia accepted nine pallets of chicken grind. On Super Bowl Sunday, they were already serving yummy chicken meatloaf to grateful families in New York.

Accommodating Airline Meals

The international airlines continue to impressively accommodate the needs of their customers by offering special meals.

The pre-ordered choices that can be include Indian Vegetarian Meal, Nonvegetarian Hindu Meal, Vegetarian Jain Meal, Kosher Meal, Gluten-Friendly Meal, Low-Salt Meal and Vegan Meal.

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