JAA to offer non-kosher meal option at Weinberg Terrace, AHAVA Memory Care
Changing tastesWeinberg Terrace will no longer be a kosher-only facility

JAA to offer non-kosher meal option at Weinberg Terrace, AHAVA Memory Care

The organization’s Jewish identity and faith-based values are still at the heart of JAA’s mission, its board chair said.

Residents at Weinberg Terrace (Photo by Jim Busis)
Residents at Weinberg Terrace (Photo by Jim Busis)

The Jewish Association on Aging has announced plans to offer a non-kosher meal option at Weinberg Terrace and AHAVA Memory Care.

Weinberg Terrace is a personal care community on Bartlett Street. AHAVA is located on JAA’s main campus on JHF Drive.

The changes were first revealed in an Aug. 7 letter sent to residents and their families signed by JAA’s President and CEO Mary Anne Foley, and Board Chair Lou Plung. The pair met with residents at both locations on Aug. 15 to discuss the dietary modifications.

“Change is hard,” Plung told the Chronicle after meeting with residents of Weinberg Terrace, “particularly when you’re living in a residential facility.”

He said the driving force behind the change is cost, and acknowledged the tension of trying to strike a balance between the organization’s mission and being fiduciarily responsible.

Foley said that a May survey of residents indicated that 80% of JAA residents favor a non-kosher meal option.

“We asked individuals to indicate what level of kashrut was important to them,” she said. Those concerned with the dietary laws responded that “strict” kashrut was important, meaning that all food must be kosher and certified by the Vaad Harabonim.

Kosher meals will no longer be prepared at Weinberg Terrace. Instead, they will be made at the JAA’s main campus under the supervision of the Vaad five days a week.

The kosher meals will be double-sealed and labeled as Vaad-certified. Residents will still be served in Weinberg Terrace’s dining room, but there will now be a designated area for those who wish to eat kosher meals separately from those eating non-kosher meals.

Pork products and shellfish will not be served at any of the JAA’s facilities. Meals will not mix dairy products and meat.

The change, Plung said, will offer options and choice.

The organization’s Jewish identity and faith-based values are still at the heart of JAA’s mission, Plung said. And while some might argue that the JAA is watering down the organization’s Jewish character by changing the culinary options to include non-kosher offerings, Plung disagrees.

“Kosher is an important Jewish value, but so is chesed; so is taking care of our loved ones. So is honoring your mother and father, so is not abandoning people when they simply can’t afford to pay anymore,” he said.

Not everyone agrees with the JAA’s plan. Many took to social media to express their outrage at the proposed changes. Community members posted their opinions on the Facebook group “Jewish Pittsburgh.” Anger was directed at both the JAA and Vaad. Some questioned whether the cost-cutting measures squared with Judaism; others questioned whether residents could easily open a double-sealed meal, and whether food served in prepackaged containers would remain fresh.

Karen Gusky offered to organize a group to discuss what could be done to protest the planned changes.

A nurse at UPMC Shadyside Hospital and longtime community member, Gusky said she prefers to stay behind the scenes, helping where she can, but was motivated to act after speaking to an acquaintance who urged her to do something.

She posted in the Facebook group because she felt it was important to be an advocate.

“When you say you’re a kosher Jewish place, then you should be Jewish for everybody,” she said. “There are a lot of people that don’t eat kosher but respect it.”

Gusky said that her concerns don’t stop at the JAA. She worries that, in light of other changes at various Jewish institutions, the community is losing its “Yiddishkeit.”

In the end, she said, she fears a loss of shared identity.

“You are taking everything Jewish out,” she said. “How are we supposed to be a Jewish community? We’re already down to just one [kosher grocery] store. What’s going to bring people in to have a nice community?”

Plung stressed that the JAA is infused with Yiddishkeit.

“There are a lot of values that are important,” he said. “What we’re trying to do — and it’s imperfect at best — is trying to balance all of our Jewish values with economic considerations.”

Weinberg Terrace resident Arthur Weinrach said the discussion should go beyond the number of residents who keep kosher.

“What’s enough?” he asked. “Is 20% enough? Is 50% enough? It’s not a vote. If it was zero, it doesn’t change the fact that if it’s going to be — in my opinion — the JAA, then it has to be kosher. That’s an integral part of Judaism, regardless of what your personal practices might be.”

Weinrach and his wife sold their home in Lehigh County and moved to Pittsburgh in 2022 to be near some of their family. He said at the time they were told that Weinberg Terrace was a kosher facility.

The Weinberg Terrace page on the JAA website, he said, continues to state that three kosher meals are served a day.

“A kosher option,” he said, “is not the same as kosher for a plethora of reasons.”

Meal quality is a concern for Weinrach, as well. He noted that the dining service now includes china and silverware, something that won’t continue when the culinary options change.

“They’re going to be packed in what I call ‘a TV dinner format.’ It’s more like a hospital,” he said.

Weinrach said that residents were given a few samples of the food and he admitted that some options, like salmon and vegetables, reheated well and tasted fine. Others, like pizza, left something to be desired. The availability of fresh fruit and vegetables and creative menu options also worries him.

Foley said that JAA leaders are still working on the food, and acknowledged that some of the recipes have turned out better than others. She said the JAA is committed to getting it right, including fresh fruit and vegetable options.

“I know for some residents it’s really important,” she said, “We’re going to figure out how we are going to be able to continue to provide those things. If that means a salad every day, we have to figure out how to make that happen.”

Weinrach sees the changes as “an invasion of privacy,” he said, and that serving some residents kosher meals and other residents non-kosher meals segregates them and relegates those keeping kosher to “second-class” dining.

He said he hopes the JAA will reverse course.

That won’t happen, Plung said, but added that the organization will meet with residents one-on-one to address their concerns. The JAA also will be working with the Vaad, making changes to its kitchen at the main campus to ensure the highest level of kashrut is observed.

Foley said that residents have expressed concern about the changes but she believes the Aug. 15 meeting helped.

“I think overall they say we are respecting the fact that this is an important issue and that we have to get it right on Day 1,” Foley said. “I said, ‘We’re not going to get it right 100%, but we’re going to continue to try and it is truly that partnership that we need to strive for.’”

The new culinary policy won’t take place for at least 30 days.

A statement from the Vaad was unavailable at press time. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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