Monday, January 27, 2020 -
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Shalom Park underestimates its credibility

We must confess, we have watched with wonderment the debate and seeming denouement on the policy of Shalom Cares to provide kosher food. We wondered whether Shalom Cares understood just how much it was admired for what it does. We wondered whether it really appreciated just how powerful its brand had become. We saw funding difficulties cloud vision and thereby distract the institution from a shift in marketing strategy, building on all of its strengths.

Shalom Cares, it seemed to us, did not grasp the really widespread credibility it commanded throughout our community.

It is a beautiful facility. It has many parts. It serves many populations. It has diversified its services. It has been a stellar provider of charitable care. It has been all this as a crown jewel of the Jewish community, with kashrut integral to its brand. In this sense, it brought together many parts of this community that do not necessarily come together in other contexts. The fact that this was not shouted from the rooftops by these different parts of the community seems to have been mistaken to mean that it really was insignificant.

The bottom line, of course, is a major responsibility and, one could argue, a first priority. The irony here is that the traditional segment of our community that would be most sensitive to the cost of kashrut in the bottom line equation has blossomed financially over the period of Shalom Park’s existence. That segment of our community has grown in numbers, in institutions, in resources, in foundations, in activism. Perhaps we missed it, but it seems clear to us that this segment of the community has not been actively marketed to in a comprehensive and sophisticated way for many years.

Saying the same thing differently, we do not see a zero sum game here: Either we cut the quality of the medical care, or we cut the cost of the kashrut. Rather, we see missed marketing opportunities for kashrut to sustain both the care and the kashrut.

When Ilan Ramon went up in space, only to be tragically killed on the Discovery, he understood that he represented the Jewish people worldwide, whatever his personal spiritual preferences and practices might have been. So he insisted on taking up into space kosher food exclusively, even though he himself did not practice all the kosher laws. And he took a Torah scroll, which, in its teachings, including kashrut, really symbolizes the grandeur of the Jewish people. Shalom Park has represented that grandeur in our community.

We hope that Shalom Park, going forward, finds a way not so much to honor its predecessors in Beth Israel or even its founders some three decades ago, but to honor its brand in the present and its apparently underappreciated credibility — which the recent vote has, if we read the tea leaves correctly, undermined. Frankly, because Shalom Park saw no way forward on the financial front other than to refuse to meet with and market to some of the elements in the community that have prospered, we can only conclude that Shalom Cares rejected kashrut on principle, not just on pragmatism. Based on the long-term demographic trends in our community as we track them, that rejection could be a pivotal mistake.

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