Rabbis Gershon Albert and Yonatan Cohen and Maharat Victoria Sutton announced this week that they are joining forces to form East Bay Kosher, their own kosher certifying agency.
Albert, of Oakland’s Beth Jacob Congregation, and Cohen and Sutton, of Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel, will offer their service to restaurants only, free of charge.
“The rabbinic leadership sees this as part of our mission as community rabbis, to see kosher establishments are available for our congregants,” said Cohen. The lack of kosher restaurants in the Bay Area has made it difficult for Torah-observant individuals to dine out, he said. “We realized that investing our own time and effort in offering this service [was] a worthwhile endeavor, because in some cases, the cost factor [in getting certified] is significant, and we wanted to remove that barrier.”
Flying Falafel, a vegan restaurant in downtown Berkeley, is the first local restaurant to be certified by the new organization. Since the announcement was made, at least 15 community members from Beth Israel and Beth Jacob have eaten there, using its new hand-washing station.
Cohen said Sunrise Kosher, otherwise known as the Vaad of Northern California, is aware of the new agency.
“We love the Vaad, and so many mashgichim [kosher certifiers] come from our community and come from there,” said Cohen.
Because Flying Falafel is open on Shabbat, East Bay Kosher specifies that “all food and drink products purchased at this location are certified as kosher, except for food that is produced during Shabbat and Chagim. This means that only food purchased more than 30 minutes after the end of Shabbat or a Jewish holiday should be consumed, and no food from this establishment should be purchased on Pesach eve after 10:00 AM until one hour after Pesach.”
“We really see this as part of our services as rabbis to the community,” Cohen said. “We’re not a business. This is just an extension of our pulpits.”