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Kosher Senior Living: A Deeper Connection to Tradition

Jeff Anderson
By Jeff AndersonFebruary 19, 2014

Kosher assisted living communities are available across the U.S. in areas with a sizable Jewish population. They not only allow observant Jews to maintain their dietary lawsin the second half of life – they also foster a reconnection to Jewish traditions among seniors who may not be strictly observant. 

Kosher Senior Living: A Deeper Connection to Tradition

Keeping kosher, means following kashrut, a set of dietary and food preparation laws and customs that date back to the time of Moses. While only .3% of the American Jewish population fully keep kosher, many more abstain from non-kosher foods, especially pork and shell fish.

This is particularly true among the older Jewish population, who tend to have more traditional preferences. Accordingly, there are a significant number of senior communities that offer kosher dining to their residents.

Levels of Kosher Adherence

Senior living communities serving Jewish residents will fit into one of three general levels of adherence. Communities that are most strictly kosher have a dedicated mashkiach who is responsible for maintaining and overseeing kosher observance at the community. Other communities will have a separate meat and dairy kitchen but without Rabbinical supervision.

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  1. Kosher with Outside Mashkiach: A Rabbi is paid by an outside organization and enforces the organization’s standards
  2. In-house Mashkiach: The facility manages their own kosher observances
  3. Kosher Style: Avoiding pork, shell fish and other forbidden foods but may not have separate meat and dairy kitchens

Rules of Kosher Living

We spoke with Devi Datla who owns and operates Atrium Kosher Home, an eight person residential care home in in Potomac, Maryland. She explained while a dedicated mashkiach would be expensive for a small community like her home, her community is kosher in every other regard. In addition to adhering to prohibitions against certain foods such as pork and shellfish, she must maintain two kitchens – one for dairy and one for meat.

We asked Datla what’s most difficult about maintaining a kosher senior living environment. She said that one challenge is having to decline when relatives of residents bring in any food that is not certified kosher.  That said, she said that loved ones of non-Jewish residents are always respectful and understanding.

Reconnecting to Faith

We spoke with Rabbi Greenhaus, mashkiach of Gurwin Jewish – Fay J. Lindner  Residences in Commack, NY, which operates an assisted living community that he estimates is about 95% Jewish residents. Greenhaus explained how, while not all residents realize they are looking for a kosher senior community, many come to deeply appreciate it.

He says the kosher dining helps many Jewish seniors to reconnect to their faith: “A lot of people come in and don’t think they are really looking for an orthodox environment. They just want a Jewish environment. In their minds kosher is not a major part of what they are initially looking for. But kosher is part of what creates the Jewish environment.” For example, he explains that (in keeping with Jewish tradition), many of the women who move-in begin to light Shabbat candles Friday evening, the night before the Jewish Sabbath, a ritual that may not have been part of their lives before moving to the community. Greenhaus says that the kosher dining helps facilitate Shabbat experience.

The Evolution of Kosher Dining

Rabbi Greenhaus also told us that kosher doesn’t always mean traditional food, explaining that he has been at the community for 13 years and has seen traditional Jewish fare such as kasha varnishkas become somewhat less popular. Of course kosher observance is always maintained, and traditional Jewish dishes continue to be served, but fusion dishes and modern cuisine created with kosher ingredients are growing in popularity. He said that the trend is towards lighter foods such as salads.

We also got in touch with Debbie Weisberg who is of the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, an assisted living and memory care provider in Chelsea, Massachusetts that is about 65% Jewish and is also fully kosher. She echoed Greenhaus’ sentiments about the evolution of palates at Jewish oriented senior communities. Healthy, light dishes made from fresh seasonal ingredients (which often come from Chelsea’s well-known produce market) are the rule at the community.

As COO of the Chelsea Jewish Foundation, Adam Berman explained to the Jewish Journal recently, “A misconception is that kosher means Jewish dishes… We do Italian, French and all kinds of cuisine. We want to serve people the food they grew up with, whether or not they’re Jewish.”

Allied Jewish Apartments in Denver is another kosher community in A Place for Mom’s referral network. Samantha Raizen Walsh explained that the community is slightly less than 50% Jewish, so, while not all food served is kosher, there are kosher options for every meal. Traditional Jewish food is sometimes served, but there is always a variety. The community has a significant Russian population, so traditional Russian fare is also often available. She said sometimes they will even have a night dedicated to specialty cuisines such as Chinese food.

Delicious Lamb Recipe from a Kosher Senior Community

Weisberg provided this lamb recipe, which is popular at the Chelsea Jewish Foundation:

“Best-Ever Chelsea Jewish Lamb Stew”

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. boned kosher lamb, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 lbs. peeled baby carrots
  • 8 red new potatoes, washed and quartered
  • 2 T. red currant jelly
  • 2 cups reduced sodium beef broth
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1½ cups red wine
  • 2 T. fresh rosemary
  • kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Prep:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Heat oil in a heavy skillet.
  3. Brown lamb over medium heat, a few pieces at a time.
  4. Transfer meat with a slotted spoon to an ovenproof casserole.
  5. Add the chopped onions to the skillet, adding more oil if necessary, and saute over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
  6. Transfer onions to casserole with lamb.
  7. Add wine to the skillet and simmer over medium high heat for about five minutes, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom.
  8. Add tomato paste, jelly, beef stock, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste, and cook over medium heat for five minutes.
  9. Pour mixture over lamb and onions in casserole dish. Add carrots and potatoes, stir well and cover.
  10. Bake for 1½ to 2 hours, or until lamb is fork tender.
  11. Recipe can be made 1-2 days ahead.

Reheat in oven for 45 minutes or until steaming hot before serving. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

Finding Kosher Assisted Living

A Place for Mom has a number of senior communities in our network which provide kosher food. Contact us for assistance in finding a Jewish assisted living community in your area.

Jeff Anderson
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Jeff Anderson
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