500 turn out to support kosher-intense supermarket

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When she decided the Peninsula needed a Jewish day school, Jacqueline Bocian did not rest until South Peninsula Hebrew Day School was built.

And when she set her sights on a Jewish high school, that became her mission. Kehillah Jewish High School of Silicon Valley opened last fall.

Now that the educational needs of Jewish families are taken care of, Bocian is concerned about their diet. She’s decided the Peninsula needs a supermarket with an extensive kosher section, one with a kosher butcher, bakery and whole array of the latest kosher products. And her campaign to bring one has begun.

Such stores exist in heavily Jewish enclaves like the New York metropolitan area, Miami, Chicago and Los Angeles. However, on the Peninsula, as elsewhere in the Bay Area, the kosher sections in most supermarkets are extremely limited, and most residents who follow kashrut must shop at specialty stores, where prices can be high.

Bocian first contacted Albertsons about two months ago, asking the supermarket chain to send its corporate kosher category manager here.

Yakov Yarmove, who holds that position, told Bocian to get a group of 30 Peninsula people together, to serve as a focus group, and then she went to work.

And she did her job well — a few more than the 30 needed for a focus group turned out. In fact, there were almost 500 who gathered in the multipurpose room of the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School in Sunnyvale.

Palo Alto’s Conservative Congregation Kol Emeth canceled its board meeting that night, so members could attend the meeting with Albertsons. And the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose moved its board meeting to the school, so its members could also be there.

Bocian of Los Altos, a mother of four, says keeping her household stocked with kosher food can be a challenge, not to mention costly.

Her Safeway and Trader Joe’s carry some kosher products, but not a lot. “There’s no one place that serves everyone’s needs,” she said.

So what do the Peninsula’s kosher families do? Many shop at Mollie Stone’s. In addition, “a lot of us order through Chabad,” Bocian said, noting that when she traveled to Los Angeles recently for a wedding, she brought along an empty suitcase to fill with kosher products to bring home. “It’s a total pain.”

Yarmove, the Albertsons corporate kosher category manager in the Boise, Idaho, corporate offices, and other supermarket executives explained the process by which Albertsons decides whether to build a supermarket to serve the kosher community or upgrade an existing one.

“There’s a lot of criteria that go into making a decision, especially when a large investment is involved,” he said in a telephone interview with j.

Both Bocian and Rabbi Avi Shochet, head of the South Peninsula Hebrew Day School, said they were impressed by the number of people who turned out who do not keep kosher homes but would still like to buy kosher products.

“This is not an Orthodox issue,” said Shochet. “This is all Jews from all walks of life, from all denominations, who feel strongly they would like to have kosher food.”

Yarmove said that as an observant Jew, he was touched to see so many non-observant Jews come out to support such a store.

However, he expressed some reservations that an area like the Peninsula would have enough people to support an Albertsons with a large kosher section.

“You have to ask why is there nothing here already,” Yarmove said, “with the boon of Silicon Valley at its peak several years ago, especially.”

Nevertheless, Bocian said that meeting with Yarmove just further whet her appetite, so to speak, for a greater selection of kosher products in the area.

“We’re not into the gefilte fish thing anymore,” she said. “We want foods the rest of the world is eating. We don’t want kashrut to hold us back.”

While Bocian said the show of support was tremendous, she was less happy with what Yarmove said. Even if the community can support an Albertsons with a comprehensive kosher section, it will take at least two years before it will happen, they said.

“I’m thrilled at the turnout, the show of support and the momentum, but I’m greatly disappointed by the timetable. I will do my best to reduce it by 100 percent, meaning by one year,” she said.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."