Now that it seems that Gourmet Glatt has been sold, I thought it appropriate to write on last post trying to summarize some of the facts that I do know. This will be my last Post on this subject unless I find out something new to bring to the table. This story has brought a lot of interest from outside the Five Towns. Even when I wasn’t writing about it I would still get around 20 hits a day on old stories in this saga. When I posted the story of the sale at around 9pm , I got approximately 300 hits on that story before midnight at least 200 of them from outside the five towns. Why I am I telling you this? To give you an idea of the scope of the story and the interest. This is a story of Rabbinical abuse and bad decisions by store owners who were fighting to maintain a business that had been serving a community for the better part of 40 plus years.
What Came first the Chickengate or the Egg?
On one side was the five towns VAAD (mainly Rabbi Eisen who rules the Vaad roost with an Iron fist). The Orthodox Rabbinate of the Five Towns had total confidence in Rabbi Eisen, as they should since they also constitute the board of the Vaad and they hired Rabbi Eisen. The entire chicken incident was only an excuse, from almost the beginning Rabbi Eisen saw one of the GG owners, Mark Bolender, as arrogant because he had the nerve to question some of the new rules that Eisen put in place when he was brought on to run the Vaad. At the very least— all sides will admit that Mr Bolender is not great at being political. In the end it became a battle between the two, Rabbi Eisen did not want Mark Bolender in “HIS” town and Bolender like a wounded bull at a bullfight striking at everything he can to avoid the inevitable. Following behind were the Orthodox Rabbis of the community who did not want to have the embarrassment of publicly breaking with their hand picked Rabbi (Eisen) and the Orthodox community, while many disagreed with what was going on they followed their rabbis’ call for a boycott and posted anonymously on blogs so they could disagree in secret.
When the “chicken incident” happened it gave Eisen his opportunity for revenge, GG was given four months to sell before the Hecksher would be removed. Keep in mind there was no real investigation of “chickengate” The offending chickens/tags were never looked at etc. In fact according to sources the VAAD mashgiach working at GG was never asked about the incident and Not even one of the VAAD Rabbis ever saw the chickens for themselves, they were supposedly placed in a locked freezer. No word on whether this is true or where this mysterious freezer is.
Some Vaad apologists tell me that the Bolengers were not forced to sell, the were simply threatened with a loss of the Hechsher. Folks its semantics, in an Orthodox community it is th same thing.
Also keep in mind that throughout the entire process Gourmet Glatts Kashrut was not in question. This was not a matter of Kashrut it was a matter of pride, The pride of Rabbi Eisen, the pride of the rabbis who hired, him and the pride of a community who loves their rabbis so much that they followed them like sheep, destroying a family business.
Gourmet Glatt Hires a second Mashgiach
The opening salvo in the public part of this story was an ad in the local Jewish papers by GG. This infuriated Rabbi Eisen even further and made him adamant that there would be no compromise. The next mistake by the Bolender family was to listen to the advice of one of the local Five Town Rabbis who advised him to hire a second Hechser organization to help him deal with the first..take Mark out of the picture and let them talk Rabbi to Rabbi (additionally as a safeguard in case the Hecksher was withdrawn.
Rabbi Kravitz was brought in at the suggestion of some of the VAAD Rabbis to show that they were seriously following super kashrus rules and that the new mashgiach would be the liason between the store and Rabbi Eisen. They did not announce the new supervision until the VAAD protest the hiring of Rabbi Kravitz. Eisen demanded that Bolender remove Rabbi Kravitz because it was against the contract. Since they were forcing him to sell anyway he ignored the demand and announced Rabbi Kravitz’s credentials to the public. One of the major hipocracies of the story is that it was one of the VAAD rabbis who brokered the meeting of the Bolenders and Rabbi Kravitz. The same VAAD Rabbi also signed in support of removing the Hechser.
Of course Rabbi Eisen too this as a major affront to his authority(it was). Bolenger didn’t understand what the big deal was—he was following the advice of one of the Vaad Rabbis. But in the end the Vaad (Rabbi Eisen) immediately withdrew the Hecksher(about an hour and a half before Shabbos) . GG’s owners were not told but the workers in the store were given the message for their bosses.
The Vaad released a letter talking about GG’s Heckser being removed because of the second Hechsher..and an off hand mention of “multiple violations” by Gourmet Glatt. That shabbos most of the Orthodox rabbis in the community called for a boycott of Gourmet Glatt, they were told that they could use the food from the store that was already in their house, but couldn’t purchase any more (another proof that Kashrut wasn’t an issue if it was they would have been told to throw everything out immediately).
The Loshen Hora Campaign
The Vaad went on attack, they began to tell reporters that they had thick files of violations made by GG. Some papers like the Star or the 5tjw reported this “inside information” others like the NY Jewish Week refused to because the Vaad offered no proof. Remember no one ever spoke to the actual mashgiach placed by the vaad into GG. If so Then the truth would have been out there instead of slanderous comments. The Boleders, level of observance, primarily Shabbos observance, was called into question and rumors spread that the Boldenders were not Shomer Shabbos (not confirmed either way). In fact Eisen called on the Bolenders to prove that they were Shomers Shabbos.
It was clear that Rabbi Eisen wanted to make sure that the Boycott held. In most part it did. Local Orthodox rabbis kept quiet no, because they realized that their initial call for a boycott left them open to litigation and they needed Rabbi Eisen to come out ahead. After all they brought him in–if his authority could be questioned, so could theirs.
The other supermarkets in town expanded their flayshic offerings and of course took advantage by jacking up their prices. Many of the locals were upset but refused to go beyond anonymous emails or postings on the internet, they were afraid of retribution by the Vaad and their supporters or being ostracized by the community for speaking their mind.
To this date, Rabbi Eisen has not told anyone what he meant when the Vaad talked about the “file of violations” We are a people who do everything out in the open. We are the only people that can say G-d spoke to us directly…all of us at Sinai. Our sacred teachings, the Torah is a public document, in fact with Hagbah we hold it up for all to see, “This is the Torah That G-d gave to Moshe.” Yet Rabbi Eisen took someones business away with a “secret” file.
Orthomom a major blogger and five towns resident..disagrees with me. She responded to one of my comments with “But for reasons they have chosen not to disclose in full (and I don’t know why you think that Halacha mandates that they must), the Vaad decided that a certain owner [Mark Bolender] was an insurmountable obstacle to proper supervision.” I respond with G-d does three times a week with hagbah.
The Meat Compromise is rejected.
In early November I asked a Long Island friend to go shop at GG on a Friday afternoon when the store should be packed with Shabbos shoppers. It was empty..except for one woman behind a cash register crying at the “death” of the store.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving a deal was in the works, The Bolenders had a buyer for the meat department. It seemed like a fair deal brokered behind the scenes by many of the community Rabbis. But once again, the iron fist of Eisen smashed this deal as he rejected any deal that would leave Mark Bolender in HIS community.
In the end the Family could not wait for the anonymous blog commenter to start shopping. The store was sold to a man from Boro Park. There was much protest, I got emails saying that they will never shop at GG with the new owner. I say to those people, if you shopped at GG over the last two months it wouldn’t have been sold. And it is not the fault of the new owner that the Boldenders were forced to sell their family business.
I covered this story for much of the past two months. It is the classic Shakespearian tragedy only this time pride and arrogance won out. Mark Bolenger was thought to be arrogant by one Rabbi (he might very well be I have never met him). That Rabbi’s [Eisen] arrogance did not allow any questioning of his authority. The community Rabbis needed to support Eisen because they picked him. In the end everyone lost..the community, the Bolenders, the local Rabbinate. Everyone except Rabbi Eisen who continues to rule the Vaad with an iron fist.
Why is this story so important? Because if a Rabbi Eisen can do this to the Five Towns..a Rabbi Eisen can spring up anywhere. A bully can rule a town and if people don’t speak up publicly..the bully wins. Thats what happened here, the community was willing to speak out but only anonymously. So I guess they are the biggest losers, they lost a vendor with a long term commitment to the community, they lost their ability to speak out as individuals, and gained the resentment that builds when you hold your tongue…what a shame.
One Last Note
Feel free to agree or disagree with what I wrote..but please remember…I will not approve any posts on this subject if it is not accompanied by a VALID Email adress