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Jamaica nursing center kitchen goes completely kosher

A cook puts away food in Margaret Tietz's completely kosher kitchen. Photo by Karen Frantz
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The Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, a facility that originally started to accommodate Holocaust survivors, has recently opened a completely kosher kitchen.

“We try to put every single thing possible in place so that anybody living in Queens that is religious, that is observant in any way, would feel incredibly comfortable here,” said Linda Spiegel, Margaret Tietz’s public affairs director.

She said converting the kitchen, which took place on Aug. 27, was the last step in a years-long mission to make the facility fully kosher, a process that involved adding a Shabbos elevator that operates on its own and a Shabbos hospitality apartment.

Although Margaret Tietz, on 164-11 Chapin Parkway in Jamaica, had a kosher kitchen in addition to a non-kosher kitchen, the decision was made to completely convert in order to provide a greater sense of confidence for those people who were observant but might have worried they would mistakenly be served non-kosher food.

“It was a comfort level for those who wanted kosher food and we felt that it would not be to the detriment of those who didn’t need it,” said Zavel Pearlman, Tietz’s on-site rabbi.

He said kosher food, rather than being exotic, is actually mostly familiar to people on a non-kosher diet.

“The quality of the food, if anything, it would be higher,” he said.

A kitchen is kosher if it meets two important specifications. First, non-kosher food, such as pork, cannot be prepared in the kitchen. Second, meat and dairy must be prepared in two separate work areas and no cross-contamination can be allowed.

At Margaret Tietz, there are two completely separate kitchen areas, one for meat and one for dairy, and incredible pains are taken to make sure they stay separate. All kitchen supplies, plates and serving utensils that touch the meat are decorated in red and anything that touches dairy is denoted with blue.

The process of “koshering” the kitchen, as Pearlman put it, was also extensive. The rabbinic organization, the Va-ad Harabonim of Queens, which certifies kosher kitchens in Queens, oversaw the process, which involved exposing cookware to very high temperatures.

Spiegel said the effort has been worth it.

“All these different things that we have in place, many other facilities do not,” she said. “We just really put so many things together to make [observant Jews] feel comfortable here. And the kitchen I think is going to make the biggest difference for a lot of these people.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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