Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The New York Times Praising the Orthodox? How a Kosher Market Transformed Our Image

March 22, 2013 2:33 am 4 comments

Kosher for Passover food in the supermarket. Photo: wiki commons.

On Thursday, March 7th, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an op-ed column entitled “The Orthodox Surge” in which he shared his impressions of Pomegranate,  my landmark kosher marketplace in Brooklyn. He found in the store not just an impressive display of fine food, but a glimpse of the vibrancy of Orthodox Jewish life in New York.

Mr. Brooks, a secular Jew, considered to be a conservative pundit that liberals like, someone who engages with the liberal agenda, wrote:

“Pomegranate looks like any island of upscale consumerism, but deep down it is based on a countercultural understanding of how life should work. Those of us in secular America live in a culture that takes the supremacy of individual autonomy as a given. Life is a journey. You choose your own path. You can live in the city or the suburbs, be a Wiccan or a biker.

“For the people, who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with G-d is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.”

The article took me—the founder and owner of Pomegranate—by complete surprise. Pomegranate has done, thank G-d, very well and its reputation precedes it. It has set a new standard for the kosher food market. But I did not expect that a grocery store would generate so much press in the secular media.

I am naturally proud that one of the most followed columnists in the country found so much to like in Pomegranate, and that our store inspired a powerful Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name). Mr. Brooks gave millions of readers an authentic appreciation of the life of the Torah observant Jew. In an era when orthodox Jews are often vilified and portrayed as parasites, criminals, fanatic, and strange, David Brooks showed the world the vibrancy, the normalcy, and the stability of the observant Jewish community.

In his own words: “All of us navigate certain tensions, between community and mobility, autonomy and moral order. Mainstream Americans have gravitated toward one set of solutions. The families stuffing their groceries into their Honda Odyssey minivans in the Pomegranate parking lot represent a challenging counterculture. Mostly, I notice how incredibly self-confident they are. Once dismissed as relics, they now feel that they are the future.”

What is it that impressed David Brooks about Pomegranate as to inspire him to write an article celebrating Orthodox Jewry, not a common phenomenon on the pages of the New York Times? The answer is important, because living in times when bashing Orthodox Jews is popular, in Israel and abroad, we must know how we can alter the impression; each of us must learn how he or she can make a similar Kiddush Hashem.

“In Midwood, Brooklyn, there’s a luxury kosher grocery store called Pomegranate serving the modern Orthodox and Hasidic communities. It looks like a really nice Whole Foods. There’s a wide selection of kosher cheeses from Italy and France, wasabi herring, gluten-free ritual foods and nicely toned wood flooring.”

What Mr. Brooks enjoyed was that “Pomegranate looks like any island of upscale consumerism, but deep down it is based on a countercultural understanding of how life should work.” What he saw was a Yiddishkeit (Jewishness) that is majestic, beautiful, endearing, clean, high-class, and yet it is filled with spiritual meaning. He observed that the religious Jew cherishes professionalism, fine cuisine and a refined ambiance, yet sees it all as serving a deeper purpose—the purpose of serving a Divine Creator. There is a depth that pervades the material life of the Jew who sees the entire world as a harp to express the music of G-d’s oneness.

This, in my opinion, is the primary ingredient for Kiddush Hashem. When they look at us and see the opposite of cleanliness, dignity, respect and social etiquette, it gives them a good excuse to dismiss us as extremist fanatics. But when they enter into a Pomegranate, or a similar institution, and they see how “normal” the orthodox Jew lives; when they observe beauty, integrity and wholesomeness in the life of the Torah Jew, and it is all pervaded by the underlying commitment to Hashem (G-d), they are forced to ask themselves what’s the price paid by modern man for dismissing G-d from his/her life?

The unique power of the Jewish people is that we are empowered to integrate Gashmeus—material beauty and comfort—with Ruchneyos—Divine meaning. In Judaism, matter and energy are one. A life of holiness does not mean a life of destitution and small-mindedness. On the contrary, we want our Shabbos (Sabbath) tables decorated with the most beautiful and delicious delicacies, because the most appealing foods have all one purpose: To serve Hashem and to bring His light into the physical world, transforming the landscape of planet earth into a Divine abode.

For too long has the schism in our lives between the material and the spiritual crippled the ability of the outside world to be inspired by Torah and its value system. The future of the world depends on orthodox Jewry showing the way how gashmeyus and ruchneyos can become one—how our material being can and must become a channel for our spiritual essence. I hope that Pomegranate is in some small measure contributing to this cause, the ultimate purpose of all creation.

Abraham Banda is the proprietor of Pomegranate, on 1507 Coney Island Ave in Brooklyn, New York.

4 Comments

  • Rabbi Moshe Pesach Geller

    Forgot to say: What a self-serving, self-aggrandizing article.

    • Rav Geller has obviously forgotten, or perhaps never learned, that KOL Israel Arayvim , even chutzniks. Just because someone is not zocheh to live in Eretz Yisrael… yet, does not give him the right to be so dismissive. There are children off the derech everywhere, even, I am sure among his Chevra. For someone who, no doubt, considers himself a talmid chacham, I think that a review of Pirkei Avot is in order, unless he feels that that is beneath him.

  • Rabbi Moshe Pesach Geller

    What utter nonsense! An upscale kosher supermarket in Brooklyn or wherever in America is the height of accomplishment? WHat klipot exists in America. They grow worse all the time! How about the mesirat nefesh of being mevatel to “Le’Maan Yirbu Yemachem…Al Ha’adama Asher Nisba Lachem…” Try living in the only place where you can be blessed by Kohanim EVERYDAY! and fulfill Shmitta! Try fulfilling the Shemone Esrei, “Ve’Kabetz Nidacheinu.” Oy! we might as well start saying Kddish for American frum Yidden with all their Off the Derech kids, well, I could go and ona and on. But if they can finesse HaKadosh Baruch Hu, they can certainly finesse anything I could say.

  • Nancy Kobrin, PhD

    This is a wonderful essay with profound insight. My daughter shops at Pomegranate and lives on the UPW. We also need your insights here in Israel. While I am thrilled Rav Dov Lipman was elected to the Knesset. We need voices like yours to step up to the plate (no pun intended, strictly in the sense of baseball) to help in places like Beit Shemesh, Yerushalayim, and Bnai Brak but not only there throughout all of Israel. Rami Levi does a good job to be sure but his stores are no where near Pomegranate. Think about it. This is your first piece of hasbara and I look forward to reading and hearing about many more. Col hacavod.

    Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin, Ph.D.
    Psychoanalyst, Arabist and Counter terrorist expert
    St. Paul MN/Tel Aviv

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Food Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    A Chabad rabbi from Rhinebeck, NY, will face off a priest, a pastor and a nun-in-training in an upcoming episode of the Food Network‘s reality show, “Chopped,” Lubavitch.com reported. Rabbi Hanoch Hecht – who teaches up-and-coming chefs about the intricacies of kosher dietary laws at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) — was nominated for the show by a professional chef, and went through a rigorous interview process at the Food Network’s studios in Chelsea, NY. Months later, he was informed he had been accepted as a contestant in the popular TV cooking competition. “I thought […]

    Read more →