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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Robert Gates’ Memoir is a Jaw-Dropping Read (REVIEW)

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates’s memoir follows the classic form, telling the story of his years at the Pentagon during the Bush and Obama administrations. He focuses on what he did and experienced personally as secretary, neither writing a broad policy treatise nor recounting the entire history of the administrations in which he served. In so doing, Gates provides penetrating insights about the inner workings of US national security decision-making. Had I been George W. Bush, I would [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    The Media, Israel, and Anti-Semitism (REVIEW)

    Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z by Lee Bender and Jerome Verlin (Pavilion Press, Philadelphia, Pa. 2013) Sophocles said, “What people believe prevails over truth,” Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed from A-Z is ideal for the arm chair reader who would like a basic grasp of the terms used in the mainstream media’s presentation of the Arab-Israeli situation as is reported today. This is a book whose time has come. This is a book where the reader gains a [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    William Shatner’s One Man Show Keeps Him in the Limelight (INTERVIEW)

    JNS.org – On Thursday, audiences around the country can feel what it is like to be William Shatner, the Jewish actor best known for his portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk on “Star Trek.” Shatner’s one-man show “Shatner’s World”—which was on Broadway and toured Canada, Australia, and the United States—will be presented in nearly 700 movie theaters nationwide for one night only on April 24. Sponsored by Fathom Events and Priceline.com (for whom Shatner has famously served as a pitchman), [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    The Origins of Palestinian Refugee Relief Efforts (REVIEW)

    Romirowsky and Joffe’s book Religion, Politics and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief is an important volume for those interested in truly understanding the origins of the Palestinian refugee issue. Utilizing a treasure trove of newly released documents, the authors link UNRWA’s (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine) origins to the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). For those readers who thought they knew most of the Middle East story, Romirowsky and Joffe’s version provides another twist. The authors meticulously [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    Israeli Soccer Team Faces Prospect of International Ban

    The Israel National soccer team could be facing a World Cup ban, and other soccer sanctions, unless it alleviates travel restrictions and increases field access for Palestinian players and coaches. The head of the Palestinian Football Association is pushing for international soccer’s governing body, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), to issue a ban on Israel competing internationally, claiming Israel’s restrictive travel for Palestinians is equivalent to a form of oppression. “It’s not only the athletes,” Jibril Rajoub explains. [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    Jewish Author of ‘Eat to Live’ Dishes on Health Care, Nutrition, Disease Prevention

    JNS.org – While the national debate on “Obamacare” rages on past the recent March 31 sign-up deadline, bestselling Jewish author Dr. Joel Fuhrman says the “current disease care model of what we call ‘health care’ cannot possibly be sustained.” “There is simply not enough money available to support a system in which the lion’s share of expenditures is devoted to acute care, with virtually nothing being spent on preventive medicine, i.e. health care,” Fuhrman says in an interview. “To make [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    ‘Tears of Color’ Art Exhibit Shows Struggles of Israelis With Eating Disorders

    JNS.org – “This is how I want to be—without fear. Independent. I want to be like a bird. I want to spread my wings.” So reads part of the description beneath one of the 30 paintings on display until the end of May at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv. The collection represents the first-ever art exhibit of its kind: an exhibit created entirely by Israelis in treatment for eating disorders. Dubbed “Tears of Color,” based on one of the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Book Reviews Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    Overprotective or Loving? Daughters Reflect on Jewish Mothers in New Anthology

    JNS.org – Rachel Ament noticed that she and her friends often shared humorous anecdotes that were typically variations on a theme: overprotective, worrying Jewish moms who smothered them with love. That included Ament’s own mother. “My mom is probably every Jewish stereotype scrunched into one,” the Washington, DC, resident tells JNS.org. “At the root of all these stereotypical, worrying, overprotective moms, is love.” A social media writer for Capital One, as well as a freelance writer, Ament decided about three years [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.