Rabbi Yisroel Labkowski (right), director of Chabad of Lamorinda, with Rabbi Avrohom Chayempour, program and youth director.
Rabbi Yisroel Labkowski (right), director of Chabad of Lamorinda, with Rabbi Avrohom Chayempour, program and youth director.

This East Bay Chabad is selling discount kosher meat

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

When Jean Graubart made a kosher meat purchase a few months ago and was told the total, she thought she had misheard the seller.

The amount she was buying would cost around $200 at a typical kosher butcher, she estimated, but in Lafayette, she was being charged $86, which included a toy for her granddaughter.

“If you keep kosher in the Bay Area, it’s not easy. We have Trader Joe’s, which is a big help, and we have Oakland Kosher,” but that’s about it, said Graubart.

The new vendor selling kosher meat in the East Bay is Chabad of Lamorinda (serving Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda), but it’s not really a store at all.

Rabbi Yisroel Labkowski imports kosher meat from the New York area and keeps it in a freezer — except for the deli meat, which arrives fresh — in the back of his Chabad center. Customers choose from a list that he keeps out front. He gets two shipments per month; a recent one was about 2,000 pounds — that’s one ton. The menu includes brisket, sausages, lamb, steaks and more.

“Basically we saw there was a big shortage of accessibility,” said Labkowski, who has been serving Lamorinda since 2015 with his wife, Tzipora, and opened the Chabad Center on Mount Diablo Boulevard last September. “There was no kosher meat being sold anywhere in Contra Costa County, except for Trader Joe’s.”

Because Labkowski doesn’t see his operation as a for-profit store, he is selling it at a very slight markup.

“Chabad is all about spreading Jewish identity, and traditionally, what do people need to be Jewish?” he asked. “They need kosher food.”

Labkowski already has seen evidence that Jews in the area who aren’t necessarily strictly kosher will buy kosher meat when given the option. So far, he’s been using Facebook and Google to get the word out. The Chabad center’s website (chabadoflamorinda.com) soon will allow people to put in advance orders.

On March 22 at 6:30 p.m., he’ll be putting on a New York deli night to showcase his cold cuts, and he’s thinking of doing a pop-up restaurant in the future that features his meat.

While the practice of selling kosher meat out of Chabad centers isn’t very common in the U.S., it is more so “in places where kosher isn’t so much of an option,” said Labkowski. “This makes it a lot easier for people.”

Graubart agrees. The Alameda resident is in the Lafayette area regularly because her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren live nearby, and now she always stops in to buy her meat at Chabad.

“That he’s doing it as a service to the community, that really struck me,” she said. “In these times when so many families can’t afford to join a synagogue, or it’s less of a priority, and kosher meat costs a fortune, that you’d have an organization doing this to encourage people to do what they think is important — what a nice thing for people who are thinking they would like to keep kosher.”

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."