Faced with the prospect of a non-kosher Passover for more than 1,000 elderly people, leaders of the Jewish community agreed this week to restore a kosher meal program that was suspended seven weeks ago.
The agreement was worked out Monday during a 90-minute meeting chaired by City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who brought together Orthodox rabbis and officials of the Jewish Federation Council at his district office on Robertson Boulevard.
The rabbis were critical of the decision to substitute non-kosher food when Jewish Family Service lost its caterer in mid-February, a move that forced several hundred elderly people to drop out rather than violate the dictates of religious law and tradition. The meals, for many, supplied a good part of their daily nutrition and a chance to meet with friends.
But religious and secular leaders alike were cheered by the results of Monday's meeting, where the federation agreed to increase its financial support for the kosher meals program. The federation, a fund-raising and policy-making organization, represents more than 500 Jewish groups in the Los Angeles area.
"Barukh hashem (Bless the Lord), it was beautiful. The Shekhina (Holy Spirit) was definitely present at the meeting," said Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, local leader of the Chabad movement of Hasidic Jews.
There was no agreement on specific numbers, but participants said funds would be available to guarantee about 1,300 hot kosher meals daily during the weeklong Passover holiday, which begins Monday night.
"Jewish Family Service is now in the process of making the long-term arrangements, and until those arrangements are completed there is no way we can give a dollar amount. But we are committed to an ongoing program," a spokeswoman for the Federation said.
The meals will be offered at eight locations on the Westside and one in the San Fernando Valley, and to about 350 shut-ins through the Meals on Wheels program.
As before, patrons will be asked to pay $1.25 toward the cost of the meals, which are also subsidized by federal aid amounting to slightly more than $1 per meal.
The federation's contribution, previously set at 28 cents a meal, or about $120,000 a year, goes to cover the higher cost of kosher meat, which requires special slaughtering.
An additional $200,000 a year or more may be required to provide an adequate profit for any future caterer, organizers said. The program has gone through nine catering firms in 11 years.
"For the longer term, we're trying to get a kosher caterer so that meals can be provided through the end of the fiscal year (which ends in June), and come July, the community is looking to buy a kosher kitchen," Yaroslavsky said.
The previous caterer was dismissed when he could not complete a required expansion of his kitchen, city officials said.
But Yaroslavsky said that the city's Department of Aging has agreed to stretch its regulations so that the relatively small kitchens of synagogues can be used to prepare the food for Passover.
"As long as the requirements of health and safety are met 100%, we won't quibble about the size of the kitchens for the next eight days," he said.