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January 11, 2013 2:11 pm

Food Banks See Growing Number of Jews in Need of Kosher Food

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Met Council food distributions on Passover. Photo.

Directors of Jewish food pantries are reporting a growing need for food assistance among American Jewish families.

Although there is no current data, a survey of New York Jews conducted in 2011 showed that one in five of the 1.7 million Jews in the New York area live in poverty or near poverty, particularly Orthodox Jews who must send their children to Jewish schools and keep a strict kosher diet.

The most recent National Jewish Population survey also showed that 21 percent of kosher-keeping Jews in America overall are facing scant meal options in the hard-hit economy, particularly since the rules behind the production of kosher food make it more expensive than regular food. As a result, kosher food banks are seeing an upsurge of need all over the nation.

“If you don’t need kosher meat or juice, you can go to any public food pantry. If you’re kosher, you need a kosher chicken,” Bonnie Schwartzbaum, coordinator of the Jewish Community Services Kosher Food Bank in North Miami Beach, told Religion News Service.

Schwartzbaum estimates a 20-percent increase in the number of people her food bank has served in the last three years. Out of 1,000 people a month she feeds, 119 are Holocaust survivors.

Some normally kosher-keeping families have resorted to eating non-kosher food to survive due to the Jewish view that rules can suspended when there is a danger to human life. “If you’re starving you can eat all the shrimp and bacon you want,” said Don Meissner, community outreach coordinator at the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry in St. Louis.

Meissner also says that many people do not believe that Jews are struggling in this country. “There’s this misconception that Jews are uniformly successful,” he said, “and that’s never been the case.”

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