Agencies Unite to Provide ‘Kosher on Wheels’

By STEVE ARNOLD

Getting kosher food in Hamilton has always been a challenge for some people, but now, three local agencies are hoping to ease that problem.

With a $60,000 federal grant funneled through the local United Way, Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS), the Hamilton Jewish Federation, and Adas Israel Synagogue have launched Kosher on Wheels to deliver up to 30 free meals a week to needy residents.

The project was conceived by local chef Max Bida as a way of returning some of the kindness shown to him when he arrived in Canada from Israel in 2015.

“When I came here, people helped me, so now I help others,” Bida told the CJR. “It’s not about money, it’s not about making a name for myself but to give back,” he said.

Bida said he brings “whatever tools I’ve got to the table. I have a lot of experience in the kitchen and in managing projects like this. I volunteered in Israel…so I figured I could do the same here.”

With his culinary consulting business sidelined by the COVID crisis, Bida took his idea of kosher food on wheels to the Hamilton Jewish Federation and Adas Israel Rabbi Daniel Green.

The Federation provided money and Adas Israel provided the kosher kitchen. Hamilton Jewish Family Services also provided money, as well as the link to clients, arranged the distribution system and was the lead agency on the United Way grant application.

Menu options include soups, chicken, a side of root vegetables, Italian meatballs and rice or pasta, whole fish, with salad, a pickle or coleslaw, among others.

Bida prepares all the food himself in the Adas Israel kitchen and packages it for delivery. As much as 70 per cent of the food has been donated.

Rabbi Green said Bida has been a volunteer on several Adas Israel projects. Based on that experience, the rabbi said he was happy to support the meals-on-wheels idea.

“There is a real spirit of giving and volunteering with Max,” Rabbi Green said. “He runs the whole food side of the operation.

“I think we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg in terms of the need,” he added. “The more outreach we can do, the more need we are going to see.”

Coming together as Food4U, the organizations have already been able to provide 210 free kosher meals to families in need and more than 210 meals at-cost to others by delivery or curbside pick-up.

HJFS executive director Alexis Wenzowski said getting kosher food to local residents in need “has been on our radar for a while.”

COVID, however, brought a new urgency by making it unsafe for the elderly and vulnerable people to leave their homes.

“We are targeting a population that is marginalized in the community or feeling hidden in this community,” she said. “Now they are feeling supported and that means a lot.”

The United Way grant, she said, will give the program financial stability until March, allowing Bida to be paid a small wage and help with the cost of kosher products, which can be up to 50 per cent higher than non-kosher items.

Federation executive director Gustavo Rymberg said the program will get support from the Jewish appeal next year because it fills a real need in the community.

“We have always seen a need in the community for more kosher options for those who need it. With this program, we are not only responding to a crisis, we are transforming a crisis into an opportunity,” he said.

Federal support for the project was provided through the Emergency Community Relief Fund, a $350 million initiative to help charities and non-profit organizations serving vulnerable populations affected by COVID.

Struggling Hamilton Synagogues Look to Share a Building

June 29, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Sagging membership and rising debt are forcing two synagogues in Hamilton into formal talks about moving into a single building.

In letters to members released Wednesday (June 24), leaders of Temple Anshe Sholom, which is Reform, and the Conservative Beth Jacob Synagogue said member dues, cost-cutting and fundraising drives simply aren’t keeping with up the demands of two aging buildings.

Those problems, the leaders add, have been made worse by the COVID pandemic, which has cut deeply into revenues and hobbled fundraising efforts.

“Prior to the pandemic, TAS [Temple Anshe Sholom] was already in a difficult financial situation,” temple co-president Mark Levine wrote in a letter to members. “Contributing factors include a substantial decrease in membership over the past 10 years, and a shift in the demographics of our membership to mostly congregants over 65 years with few young people joining today.”

Beth Jacob’s five-member executive committee echoed those feelings.

Irv Osterer
Illustration by Irv Osterer

“Prior to this pandemic, we were already in a troubling financial situation, but we had hopes that expense reductions, a strong focus on budgeting, and revised energy in fundraising would find a solution,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 has moved all of our efforts to finding creative ways to maintain engagement and provide programming and meaningful services, while fundraising events have been cancelled or postponed …”

Beth Jacob leaders said they face the same demographic problem as the Temple: More than 60 percent of current members are 65 and over, and “many of our new younger family members are unable to contribute at levels like our founding member families have.”

Both institutions said they have struggled to access government programs to help, and all forecasts point to problems getting worse.

In March, those shared problems brought leaders of both congregations together in “high level meetings…to determine whether there was interest in collaborating in some fashion to address the challenges,” said the letter from Temple Anshe Sholom.


What emerged from those talks is a proposal for Beth Jacob to sell its edifice and move into the Temple’s building.

“The idea is to have the two congregations in one building, in order to find efficiencies by sharing some of the common operating and programmatic costs,” said Levine in the Temple’s letter.

The boards of both synagogues have approved the proposal, Beth Jacob on June 10 and the Temple on June 18. Both have said approval by the congregations is required before a final deal is struck.

And both say many questions remain to be ironed out, a process that could take up to 18 months.

Beth Jacob, on Aberdeen Avenue, was built in 1955 and extensively remodeled in 2011 at a cost of more than $1 million. Temple Anshe Sholom’s current home on Cline Avenue North was opened in 1952 and expanded in 1965. Both synagogues have active memberships of about 250 families.

Hamilton has a Jewish population of about 5,000.

Before committing to examine a shared facility, Beth Jacob’s leadership studied a partial sale of its building, but concluded “the net financial gain would not meet our needs or provide for a sustainable future. Beth Jacob is in severe indebtedness beyond our capability of servicing such debt in the future…The math just doesn’t seem to pencil out as a viable solution.”