By The Berkshire Eagle, and The Associated Press
BOSTON – While thousands of Stop & Shop workers are still striking in New England, some Jewish families are preparing for Easter without the largest supermarket chain in the region, which has deep roots in the local Jewish community.
In the Berkshires, as well as in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, the rabbis have been advising their congregations not to cross the picket lines to buy essential goods for Jewish holidays in the store that, according to one analyst, has Higher sales of kosher products among New England grocery stores. Easter begins at nightfall on Friday.
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, of the Beth Israel Congregation in North Adams, is confident that food purchased when crossing a picket line is not kosher under Jewish law. Easter celebrates the Jewish liberation from slavery, or from a "tight squeeze," he said.
"As we prepare to celebrate our liberation from this narrow place, it would not be kosher, it would not be right or proper or just to do it in a way that exploits others," he said. "It is very timely to think about labor rights and fair labor practices as we prepare to celebrate our freedom."
More than 30,000 Stop & Shop workers stopped working on April 11 for what they say is an unfair contract offer, a claim the company disputes. There are three local Stop & Shop locations; two in Pittsfield and one in North Adams.
Rabbi David Weiner, of the Israel Knesset Congregation, said he was also asked by people concerned about crossing the pickets.
"It just seems wrong for a vacation about liberation, slavery to freedom and all that," Weiner said. "People have talked to me and asked me what to do, they do not want to cross a picket line for Easter food, and I think it's a good instinct."
This decision does not come without a cost, he said.
During Easter, special care is taken to ensure that not only food is kosher, but that it never comes in contact with yeast products, he said. Stop & Shop, particularly that of Dan Fox Drive in Pittsfield, generally has a significant kosher selection, which includes dairy products such as cottage cheese and yogurt, he said.
This year, some Berkshire Jewish families will be left without some of these products because the selections in other markets "are not large enough" for Easter observers, he said.
"I will not buy from Stop & Shop until the workers' demands are properly resolved," he said, adding that he has already made trips to Albany, New York and Hartford, Connecticut.
Barenblat said he heard that Market 32 in Pittsfield has a good selection of kosher food, as does Wild Oats Market in Williamstown.
Further east, Rabbi Barbara Penzner of Temple Hillel B & # 39; nai Torah in Boston also feels that "it is not kosher" to buy "oppressed labor products" when Jews mark the escape of their ancestors from slavery. in Egypt.
"The food you're buying is a product of oppressed labor, and that's not kosher," said Penzner. "Especially during Easter, when we celebrate the freedom of slavery, that is particularly serious."
Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen of the Beth El-Keser Israel congregation, a conservative synagogue in New Haven, Connecticut, cited the ancient Jewish law that prohibits artisans from earning the lives of their fellow artisans.
Tilsen said the ban is similar to the use of replacement workers by companies during labor strikes, which Stop & Shop has employed.
"I am not making any judgment about the current strike," he said. "I am declaring that we, the local Jews, must respect the action of the workers."
But at Shalom Temple, a reform synagogue in Boston's suburb of Newton, Rabbis Allison Berry and Laura Abrasley said it's ultimately a personal decision, though they suggest it should be framed within the long history of the Jewish community American to support organized work.
"Jewish law is interpreted in different ways," they said by email. "We encourage our members to celebrate the upcoming holidays in a way that honors both the Jewish value of freedom and the dignity of workers."
Penzner and other rabbis recognize that their call to avoid the grocery store everywhere can be a challenge for some, especially in more remote communities where Stop & Shop is the most affordable food provider and, at some point, the only kosher in miles
Rachel Bashevkin, a resident of New Haven, said she had stocked up on the essential elements of Easter before the strike. And for anything else, you will not turn to Stop & Shop, which says it stores more difficult-to-find items that make the Passover Seder special, such as pastries, desserts, sweets and teas.
"The message of Easter is, for me, totally. [that] "You do not celebrate your vacation at the expense of other people," he told the New Haven Register this week.
The dilemma is not exclusive to the Jews either.
Reverend Laura Goodwin, of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Sutton, said she had ordered the church's Easter flower arrangements at nearby Stop and Shop stores weeks ago. But when it became clear that the strike was not going to end before the holidays, she rushed to buy enough tulips, hyacinths and daffodils from other stores.
"Personally, I did not feel comfortable crossing the picket line," said Goodwin. "The flowers are beautiful, but they are not as important as the livelihood of people."
The religious protests could have significant consequences for the end result of the Quincy-based chain, said Burt Flickinger, a food industry analyst at Strategic Research Group, a New York-based retail consulting firm.
Stop & Shop, which operates nearly 400 stores in New England, New York and New Jersey, is owned by Dutch supermarket operator Ahold Delhaize, but was founded in the 20th century by a Jewish family in Boston whose descendants remain important philanthropists and civic leaders in New England. .
Flickinger estimates that the company has been losing about $ 2 million per day since the strike began, a financial blow that will only increase in the coming days. Easter and the Easter holiday typically represent around 3% of the company's annual sales.
"They will see large inventory losses, especially in profitable products such as products, flowers, meat and seafood that will not be sold," he said, and projected that losses to the company could reach $ 20 million for the period.
Flickinger said competitors are already reaping the windfall, as can be seen in the crowded parking lots and long lines at many of Stop & Shop's rivals, including Big Y and Price Chopper in the Berkshires. He estimates that competitors could see up to 20% increase in sales during the holiday season with the market leader largely on the sidelines.
Stop & Shop declined to comment on Flickinger's projections, but apologized to customers for the inconvenience. The company has kept most of its 240 stores open in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, but the bakery, deli and seafood counters have been closed. The company's locations in New York and New Jersey are not affected by the strikes.
"We are grateful for the members of the Jewish community who rely on our stores for Kosher and Passover products," the company said in a statement sent by email. "We are doing everything possible to minimize interruptions before the holidays."
The editor of Eagle, Haven Orecchio-Egresitz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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