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.


  • 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 *


  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Has Shia LaBeouf Reached the End of the Line?

    Was Shia LaBeouf’s performance art piece at Manhattan’s Angelica Film Center (where he spent three days watching his own films) a sign of madness or genius? Judging from the lines and the fans, it was the latter. Shortly before 6 a.m. on Thursday, approximately 140 people were on line for the last day of the live-streamed event at Angelica Film Center. Fans who waited were happy to give their opinions. “I don’t think he’s crazy,” said Elliot Quartz, an 18-year-old student at the New School, who waited […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Jewish Artists From New York Release New Rap Album in English, Hebrew, Aramaic

    Eden Pearlstein freely admits that he has an addiction. But his brings people up instead of bringing them down. “I am a chronic collaborator,” says Pearlstein, a 35-year-old rapper who goes by the moniker of Eprhyme, and has released several solo albums. “Deeper and Higher” — his new album — is a collaboration with Shir Yakov Feit, who co-writes the songs and music. The friends and fellow artists both explore the relationship between man and God, and the benefit and emotional weight of introspection. With lyrics in English, Hebrew, and Aramaic, the artists stress […]

    Read more →