Posts Tagged Sydney

How the ‘Kashrut Racket’ drives Jews away from practicing Judaism

Olive Oil

Olive Oil (Photo credit: desegura89)

Note for my non-Jewish readers: please refer to the glossary at the end if you don’t understand any of the Hebrew/Yiddish terms.

I would say it’s time to blow the whistle on this, but what I am about to write about is such an ‘open secret’ in Australia at least that the whistle has been well and truly blown by now. What has not really been considered enough are the ramifications of what has been going on.

I’ll begin with a personal story.

A few years ago, I was organising an overnight event for young Jews in NSW. As a matter of practice, all such events should be kosher-catered – clearly, not to do so would exclude all of the more practicing members of the community, which is not something that Jewish organisations should be in the business of doing.

For some background: the extremely stringent standard of kashrut kept by Judaism’s current brand of Orthodoxy (which is not the same as has always been practiced) mandates that people like the leadership of Jewish communal organisations cannot be trusted to make sure that the cooking is done correctly. Instead, all food preparation must be officially certified by, in this case, Sydney’s Kashrut Authority (‘KA’).

This meant that in organising the camp, I had the extreme displeasure of having to gain approval from the KA. Fortunately for me, a friend of mine at the time was a certified moshgiach with the KA and he had agreed to supervise the camp’s kitchen on a pro bono basis.

Of course, having a certified moshgiach is still not sufficient for Orthodoxy Inc., which requires the KA’s actual stamp of approval.

That left me with the task of calling the KA and asking for approval to call the camp ‘kosher’. Naturally, the woman on the other end of the line was *shocked* that we were contemplating having a kosher event with a moshgiach and not paying the KA. It wouldn’t stand, she quote a figure of several hundred dollars and hung up the phone.

The organisation that I was working for is not particularly wealthy. Those several hundred dollars were much more than we could afford if we hoped to charge a cover fee that our members would actually pay. I had to call back and practically beg for an exception to be made, given the service we were doing for the community and the fact that we were doing this in order that Orthodox Jews not be excluded etc. etc. I think we got away with it in the end, but I left the affair with a very sour taste in my mouth.

This story was far from unique. It is, in fact, just a tiny example of the extortion racket that the KAs in Sydney and elsewhere have become.

There is a vegan restaurant that I know of in Bondi, which pays thousands of dollars each year to the Melbourne KA in order to be kosher certified and so appeal to the large Jewish clientele in the area (the Sydney KA were outside their budget). Now, kosher laws only really govern meat/seafood. If there is a restaurant that is completely vegetarian, you can be more or less certain that all of the food it serves is kosher. Vegan, even more so.

Anything that is vegan necessarily complies with every single law of kashrut bar one. What one would that be? The one requiring large cash payoffs to the KA. This is how there are such arbitrary differences between what different KAs will and will not accept as kosher.

For example, for those following the Melbourne KA, here are the Australian oils you can buy this Pesach:

ADELPHIA (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
BANABAN (www.naturepacific.com)
*Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, *Virgin Coconut Oil
BENEVITA (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
CECCONI’S CANTINA
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COBRAM ESTATE
+Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Rich & Robust Extra Virgin Olive
Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Pictual Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Premiere Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COCKATOO GROVE (www.cockatoogrove.com.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COLES
+Australian Extra Virgin Olive oil
COORONG
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DIANA
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil
DISSEGNA (dissegna@activ8.net.au)
*Extra Virgin Olive Oil
FRATTALI (umberto@frattali.com.au)
*Extra VirginOlive Oil
OLIVE GROVE
+Extra Virgin Olive Oil
OLLO
+Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Fresh & Fruity, +Mild & Mellow
OZOLIO
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PROCHEF
+Extra Virgin Coconut Oil Spray, +Extra VirginOliveOil Spray
PUREHARVEST
+Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
THE BIG OLIVE (thebigolive.com)
*100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil, +Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray

As for Sydney, you can pick from this list:

ALTO OLIVES
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Delicate
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Lemon Infused
P Premium Australian Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Robust
BENEVITA
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
COORONG
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
MACADAMIA OILS OF AUSTRALIA
P Macadamia Oil
OLLO
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Fresh and Fruity
P Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Mild and Mellow
OZOLIO
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil
PRESSED PURITY BY PROTECO
P Cold Pressed Almond Oil
P Cold Pressed Apricot Oil
P Cold Pressed Avocado Oil
P Cold Pressed Macadamia Oil
P Cold Pressed Olive Oil
P Cold Pressed Walnut Oil
PROCHEF
P Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spray
R SOLOMON & CO
P Cottonseed Oil ONLY when bearing a Diamond KA – Kosher for Pesach Logo
THE BIG OLIVE
P 100% Natural Extra Virgin Olive Oil

So why exactly are, for example, Adelphia and Banaban oils kosher in Melbourne but not in Sydney? This is conjecture, but my bet would be that, similar to the vegan restaurant in Bondi, they could afford the Melbourne KA’s fees, but not those of the Sydney KA. I don’t believe for one second that it’s about ‘higher standards’ and not higher fees.

Why does this matter?

I’m glad you asked.

Essentially, keeping kosher these days is not an easy thing to do. If you live any distance away from the Jewish population centres in the major cities, you had better get used to eating plain chips and the tiny selection of chocolates and other goods with the official KA stamp. If you want to eat anything that can vaguely be described as ‘interesting’ – especially any meat products – you need to be prepared to spend 2-3 times what you would pay for the same item without the kosher stamp.

More to the point, if you want to go out for a meal, you are essentially restricted to four overpriced restaurants in Bondi. When you are at functions or parties, you have to either bring your own food or make sure that the host has ordered you a ready-to-microwave meal from Lewis’ Kosher Kitchen. For this reason, most of my friends who intend to keep kosher will still go out and eat a vegetarian meal at a non-kosher restaurant. Also for this reason, most of my other friends do not keep kosher.

The exorbitant costs of being kosher-certified ensure that there is little competition in the kosher catering industry. In order to remain officially kosher, new restaurants or caterers have to increase their prices and push-down their profit margins so that they remain competitive in an already difficult market.

Further, the arbitrary way in which products are designated ‘kosher’ or ‘non-kosher’ – not much to do with the preparation of the food, but everything to do with who the company has paid-off – makes the whole kosher enterprise lose credibility in many eyes.

In essence, thanks to the KAs, being kosher in Australia is both expensive and unappetising. The KA extortion racket is reducing the culinary choices for practicing Jews in Australia and, in doing so, ensuring that fewer Jews in Australia could be described as ‘practicing.’

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Kashrut: refers to Jewish dietary laws. You probably know the word ‘kosher’ – same kind of idea.

Moshgiach: a person who is employed to supervise the preparation of the food in order to ensure that it is being done in accordance with kashrut.

 

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Sydney by-election: what’s strange about this picture?

Browsing through the candidate profiles for the upcoming election, I noticed that the Greens are running an old, rich, white guy who studied commerce/law at UNSW, is a small business owner, used to work for the Reserve Bank, and is married with children. Meanwhile the Libs are running a young, public school-educated white guy who studied arts, worked in marketing, has ‘strong civil liberty, equality and environmental credentials’, and lives with his male, Danish partner, whom he plans to marry in Denmark.

Way to buck the stereotype there…

2012 Sydney by-election – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Chris HARRIS – The Greens

Harris completed Law and Commerce degrees at the University of New South Wales and has been self-employed most of his working life. He had a brief stint as a researcher with the Reserve Bank before starting his business in 1979. Harris was the first Greens Councillor elected to the City of Sydney in 2004, served as Deputy Lord Mayor in 2006/07, and retired at the 2012 election after completing two terms. Harris is married with two adult daughters and lives in Kings Cross.

Shayne MALLARD – Liberal

48 year-old Mallard was born and raised in Penrith where he attended local public schools. He has a degree in Australian History and Politics from Macquarie University and has had a career in marketing and public affairs roles and also working as a small business owner in the inner city. Mallard’s political career started as the NSW State President of the Young Liberal in 1993 and in 2000 he became the first Liberal elected to the former South Sydney Council. He was subsequently elected to the City of Sydney Council in 2004 and 2008, increasing the vote on each occasion. Mallard also contested Bligh against Clover Moore at the 2003 state election. Mallard stepped down as the Liberal candidate for Lord Mayor in 2012 to contest the anticipated Sydney by-election. Mallard describes himself as a progressive Liberal with strong civil liberty, equality and environmental credentials. He lives with his Danish-born same sex partner Jesper, and the two intend to marry under Danish law next year.

*UPDATE*

It gets better. On the Greens website:

Chris Harris.

Chris was also responsible for the City’s Affordable Housing Policy and lobbied the then Labor Minister Borger & the Federal member for Sydney to deliver a 100 apartment complex on the old South Sydney Hospital site at Zetland.

So he is also pro-development and lobbying against Labor NIMBY-ism. I think this is my favourite ever Greens candidate…

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NSW govt announces new transport plan

Eyebrows across the state were raised today as the NSW government announced its new plan to repair the state’s ailing transport ‘system’.

The Liberal government has come under criticism recently, with numerous claims that no real progress on transport has been made since they won power in last year’s landslide election. Government officials are heralding today’s announcement as the answer to these doubts.

“We are very proud of this announcement, and rightly so,” said Premier Barry O’Farrell. “How can anyone say that this government is doing nothing now?”

Mr O’Farrell observed that this is the third new plan announced this year, noting that the previous Labor government had generally waited at least nine months between transport plans.

Former Premier Nick Greiner, the head of Infrastructure NSW, pointed out the progress that the government has made since the previous plan.

“We are completely tearing-up Parrammatta Road now.” Mr Greiner said. “This is much more radical than the tunnel under Parrammatta road that we had planned before.”

“We have also decided to focus on expediting construction of the North-West rail link.”

Some residents of Sydney were not so sanguine.

“This all sounds wonderful, but who cares if they turn Parrammatta Road into a bloody super-highway?” asked Liverpool resident Cid Ne Seider. “It’s too bloody expensive to park my f**kin’ car anyway! This lot is just as bad as the last lot!”

Coogee resident and ADF Sergeant Neve Seth Welchman agreed, saying, “you know it’s a bad sign when you go on a tour of Afghanistan and find yourself admiring the efficiency of the public transport system in Kandahar.”

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson also condemned the report, saying that Tony Abbott is a horrible misogynist and is not fit to be Prime Minister. Meanwhile, Greens leader David Shoebridge condemned the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and called for a complete ban on commercial fishing in the Tasman.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian rejected these criticisms, telling Major Karnage that, “this plan is so good, the people of Sydney will not know what hit them. In fact, they may not even realise that they have been hit!”

According to Mr Greiner, Infrastructure NSW is not taking its responsibility to the people of NSW lightly.

“We have just used the windfall from cutting the education budget to launch a whole new inquiry into our planning process,” he said. “We aim to have a new plan every two months by 2015.”

Mr Greiner also said that the government are due to begin construction on the new transport system by 2020, although he stressed that this is subject to the next transport plan, due to be released in December.

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No real politicians were interviewed in the writing of this blog post.

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Thank Government for that!

English: Barry O'Farrell in 2010.

Barry O’Farrell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: en:Nicola Roxon, federal ALP Member f...

Nicola Roxon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always great to see Australian domestic issues making headlines around the world. This morning, it is yesterday’s High Court decision on plain packaging of cigarettes that is doing the rounds.

The judgment upheld the benevolent decision by my Government to not allow me to look at all of those cigarette packages that were already hidden away in a cupboard behind the counter of any store.

Thank Government, I say. The temptation from that multicoloured packaging underneath the pictures of cancer and gangrene was so strong sometimes, it was all I could do to pull myself away. Now I guess I will be able to overcome the overwhelming desire of buying a little blue and white box with a huge picture of a diseased eye.

I particularly liked this report from the Jerusalem Post:

Australian court orders drab cigarett… JPost – Health & Science.

Several major tobacco companies challenged Australia’s legislation. But the industry’s attempt to derail this effective tobacco control measure failed.

Plain packaging is a highly effective way to counter industry’s ruthless marketing tactics, Chan said.

It is also fully in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which was ratified by 170 countries including Israel – but not the US, due to its strong tobacco lobby, and went into effect in 2005. “The Australian lawsuits filed by Big Tobacco look like the death throes of a desperate industry.

Sounds horrifying. Ruthless marketing tactics, Big Tobacco, strong tobacco lobby. Lucky Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek are here to protect us from this evil!

… as they were very keen to point out.

Australian Court Strikes Down Tobacco Challenge – NYTimes.com.

“This is a victory for all those families who have lost someone to a tobacco-related illness,” Nicola Roxon, the attorney general, and Tanya Plibersek, the health minister, said in a joint statement. “No longer when a smoker pulls out a packet of cigarettes will that packet be a mobile billboard.”

Mobile billboard?? Quick! Ban them! We can’t have mobile billboards with cigarette company logos under all those pictures of gangrenous feet and rotten teeth!

Even better was Roxon in Question Time:

 I do indeed have some good news for the House: today the highest court in the country has confirmed legislation that was passed by this parliament. That means that Australians will no longer be subjected to tobacco being sold in packaging which is attractive to young people and which entices them to take up what is a deadly and addictive habit. This decision is good news for every parent who worries about their child taking up this habit.

Attractive to young people? Government forbid! Thanks Nanny Nicola for protecting us from that. As a ‘young person’ myself, it’s nice to know that I am in good hands.

But it’s not just the ALP that is looking out for my best interests. See, a few weeks ago a young man was tragically killed in Sydney’s Kings Cross by a random attack. Fortunately, the perpetrator was found and imprisoned. It seems as though he was on some kind of a rampage at the time.

Luckily, the NSW Liberals know exactly how to respond to such random acts of violence: regulate!

Kings Cross owners plan crisis talks amid crackdown on violence.

The Premier, Barry O’Farrell, has announced the government will introduce a ban on shots, doubles, ready-to-drink beverages and glassware after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays for the area’s 58 venues.

No more than four drinks may be purchased at a time after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays under the changes and from 11pm two responsible service of alcohol ”marshalls” must patrol all venues and alcohol sales must cease one hour before closing.

Clearly there is a problem with alcohol-fuelled violence in Kings Cross after 11pm.

Yes, you could say “well the boy was killed just after 10pm”, or “there’s no evidence that the attacker had been drinking heavily”, or “this was a random attack and is not really evidence of an ingrained culture”. And you would technically be completely right on all counts:

Thomas Kelly Kings Cross killing: Kieran Loveridge charged.

The man accused of murdering Sydney teenager Thomas Kelly, 18, in Kings Cross this month went on a crime spree lasting more than an hour, punching four people in total, police said.

According to police documents, Kieran Loveridge, also 18, allegedly began his crime spree at 10.03pm on Saturday, July 7, assaulting an 18-year-old boy on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Victoria Street.

But why let a little thing like the truth get in the way of some good regulation? Clearly if I am no longer allowed to keep ordering drinks at night before I wonder out onto poorly-policed streets with no way of getting home, I am much less likely to go around punching random people in the head!

It must be all that alcohol that’s the problem, not the fact that the 3am enforced closing time happens to coincide with cab changeover and comes two hours after all public transport has ended, which actually leaves no way of getting home for hundreds of people.

That couldn’t be it.

This is actually one of those rare occasions where I agree with NSW Labor.

The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, said the measures ”will not put a single extra police officer on the streets and they do nothing to address one of the biggest problems in Kings Cross – and that is getting revellers home on Friday and Saturday nights”.

I know, someone pinch me.

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Outdated industrial relations dampening Sydney’s “life”

Ross Gittins thinks it’s a horrible idea to give up our penalty rates and allow for more flexible working hours because those nasty “bosses” will stop workers from seeing their families and because having access to goods and services during “non-business” hours is bad for us because it stops us from doing things like kicking a football.

Thanks Ross, I love when people tell me that I shouldn’t be doing what I want to do because that would be “commercialising leisure”, which is bad, because “commercial” means bad and anything that doesn’t involve commerce must be good. Right?

Workers pay the penalty for one-way flexibility.

It’s not hard to see why there’s been so little public questioning of this push towards a 24/7 economy. It’s highly convenient to be able to shop whenever we have the time. The more two-income families we have, the more we value the ability to shop throughout the weekend.

It also fits with the trend towards leisure being commercialised – becoming something we buy (a meal out, a show) rather than something we do (kick a football in the park with our kids).

But this belief that life would be better if shops, restaurants and places of entertainment were open all hours rests on the assumption you and I won’t be among those required to work unsociable hours to make it happen. An even less obvious assumption is that the push for a 24/7 economy will stop when it has captured shopping and entertainment; it won’t continue and reach those of us who work in factories and offices.

As usual, the ”flexibility” being sought is one-sided. Employers gain the ability to require people to work – or not work – at times that suit their firm’s efforts to maximise its profits.

If those times don’t fit with your family responsibilities – or just with your desire to enjoy your life (you selfish person, you) – or if the boss’s requirements keep changing in unpredictable ways, that’s just too bad.

Gittins is a columnist, which is not necessarily a 9-5 job. I am willing to bet he has the chance to sleep in some days and that he can get things done during the week.

I can’t.

Like most people, I have a job that goes 9-5, Monday-Friday and more often than not, this ends up being 8:30-6:30. With the current industrial relations regime in Australia, as soon as 5pm hits shops and restaurants need to start paying their staff more, which means it becomes less viable for them to be open and the city all but dies after 6. That means all of the shops and cafes that I would go to in the evenings are closed, as are other service I’d access like doctors etc — meaning that I don’t ever go to them.

Ironically, one by-product is that, since I never have time to shop (except on Thursday nights, when everything is so busy that it’s unpleasant anyway), I have even more reason to buy things online, from overseas and hence help kill Australia’s retail sector, putting the people working until 6pm out of their jobs. Of course, there are other factors at play (hint: protectionist trade barriers, high wages and high property prices), but this is definitely significant.

Similarly, the fact that cafes can’t afford to open on Sundays mean that the people who would otherwise be working on Sundays and enjoying my patronage are instead not working. Rather than having a job, the penalty rates are giving them no job. That’s great for workers!

It also puts Australia at odds with the rest of the world. I love being in places like New York or Tel Aviv where you can get access to anything at any time and the city feels alive at all hours. Sydney and Melbourne will never feel like this so long as penalty rates turn the cities into ghost towns after 6pm.  I think this has a very negative effect on the social aspects of the cities in general.

Finally, as always, it’s really about choice. Mr Gittins can go to the park and kick a football on weekends if he wants to, as can I, but why should I not be allowed to also go shopping after dark? Especially if there are uni students willing to work a 1pm-9pm shift and serve me because they get to sleep in? Why should that be banned?

Oh, that’s right, because if it’s “commercial” it’s not really leisure.

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