Fallout continues from Postville raid


Since federal agents conducted an immigration raid on the AgriProcessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, this past May, the Jewish community has been reeling regarding various allegations over labor issues at the plant. Late last month, hundreds attended a rally at the plant sponsored by an interfaith coalition of liberal groups. Last week, the National Council of Young Israel coordinated a mission of Orthodox community and rabbinic

leaders to Postville, including Rabbi Zvi Zuravin, executive director of St. Louis’s Vaad Hoeir.


In St. Louis, many have reacted to news of the Postville raid and allegations with dismay.

“It’s sad and it’s shocking,” said Rabbi Mordecai Miller of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel. “When it’s a religiously grounded issue, we all feel humiliated and angry about it.”

“AgriProcessors is not the only company doing this kind of thing,” continued Miller. “That doesn’t make it right, but it means that we all need to be conscious and try to take a more proactive stand about not supporting companies that engage in these sorts of practices.”

Mike Kahn, speaking on behalf of Jews United for Justice, believes that Jewish values play an integral part in how Jews process and comprehend the allegations.

“We are never allowed to take advantage of those who work for us, whether they are Jews or non-Jews, whether we know them personally or not,” Kahn said. “The lives of our employees, in a very real way, are in our hands. We have a sacred responsibility to deal with them honestly, justly, and with respect,” he said.

“The Torah goes out of its way to tell us to be extra careful as to how one treats a stranger more so than how one treats somebody who lives with you,” stated Congregation Bais Abraham’s Rabbi Hyim Shafner. “Maybe there’s even an argument to go out of one’s way to treat illegal aliens better than natives. Obviously how we treat people is of paramount importance,” said Shafner.

“We must also remember that the Jewish laws governing the kosher processing of animals should not be separated from Jewish ethical principals governing the treatment of the workers who perform that processing,” said Kahn.

Kahn also said that the implications are far broader than the kosher processing of animals.

“This is an opportunity for each of our Jewish institutions — from our synagogues to community organizations — to take an honest look at how we are treating our workers,” he said. “Are we paying our janitors and security guards a living wage? Are we providing our secretaries with affordable health care and retirement plans? Judaism teaches that whenever we are made aware that workers are being exploited, we have a religious, ethical, and moral obligation to fight for what is fair,” said Kahn.

Despite the allegations, many in the community hesitate to make any judgments just yet.

“I believe that people are innocent until proven guilty,” said Shafner. “I would be cautious about making conclusions about fellow Jews before we know anything.”

“These kinds of charges are very easily made,” said David Rubin, a congregant at Young Israel. “The more inflammatory, the more attention they get. We have to be very careful to give everybody the benefit of the doubt until the allegations have been proven,” he said.

“I don’t want to judge the situation because it’s a tough industry,” said Irv Diamant, owner of Diamant’s Kosher Meat Market. “The chicken and cattle industry has always suffered with labor. They always turn to cheap labor and they always get in trouble with it.”

Anthea Richmond, vice president of St. Louis-based Star Packing Company, supplier of kosher beef for Kohn’s Kosher Market and Diamant’s, questions the validity some of the allegations. “Some of the stories that came out of there I find hard to believe. I would have to see it with my own eyes,” she said.

Others question if the actions of AgriProcessors have brought shame upon the entire Jewish community.

“We all wince when a member of our community behaves in a shameful way,” said Kahn. “Their actions underscore the importance of making sure our own house is in order before we start pointing the finger at others.”

“In the eyes of America, these events are shining very brightly,” offered Shafner. “Whether AgriProcessors is technically innocent or guilty, it’s an episode that’s making people look askant at the Jews,” he said.

Even with the emotionally-charged reactions of local Jews, the demand for kosher meats has remained unaffected across the region. However, decreased supply has been felt by the local kosher markets.

“My supply is light because they’re not manufacturing everything right now,” said owner Lenny Kohn of Kohn’s Kosher Market.

“We haven’t had enough hot dogs and they haven’t had their salami,” Kohn reported. “But there are certainly people that don’t want to use AgriProcessors’ products anymore. Regardless of that, I’ve seen no change in business,” he said.

Diamant has experienced similar issues. “It’s been topsy-turvy with them,” he said. His orders are often not complete and don’t arrive when promised.

“There are people that come in and buy the chicken, but tell me they don’t feel comfortable buying it. My customers say that if they had a choice, they would buy something else,” he said.

Diamant’s, like Kohn, relies on AgriProcessors for their chicken and packaged items like hot dogs, cocktail franks, and salami. However, they both use a St. Louis slaughterhouse, Star Packing Company, for their beef.

On the other hand, larger supermarkets like Dierbergs and Schnucks haven’t felt the pinch. Lori Willis, director of communications at Schnucks, says that the sale of kosher meats have been holding steady.

Trader Joe’s carries only Empire brand kosher beef and chicken. According to a Trader Joe’s employee, the chain decided to suspend ties with AgriProcessors products about six months ago, unrelated to the recent events.

Rabbi Shafner remains positive about AgriProcessors and its founder, Aaron Rubashkin. “Rubashkin innovated the kosher beef and chicken industry by bringing the butcher to the livestock instead of bringing the livestock all the way to the city butcher,” he said. “They made kosher meat affordable in a way that it never was before.”

“The Talmud says to be very careful of being burdens on the community. I hope they take to heart the teachings of repentance and that they can make it work,” he said.