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Ithaca restaurants remain off-limits for residents keeping kosher

Yossi Cohen and his wife Leah open their door to residents and students alike for a Shabbat dinner nearly every Friday. They begin preparing the food Thursday evening and well into Friday. As practicing Jews with two young children and jobs within the community, the Cohen’s have their hands full, but because this family abides by the strict laws of kashrut, they must prepare their meals every night; there are no kosher restaurants in the Ithaca area, nor are there any kosher meat markets, which forces the Cohen’s to travel monthly to Brooklyn for their meats and poultry.

“There’s a common misconception that if it’s not pork and it’s not milk and meat together that it’s kosher,” Yossi said. “That’s not quite the case. There’s other rules for things like vegetables…not every [restaurant] kitchen is so careful.” So in other words, unless it is advertised as a kosher restaurant specifically, most vegan and vegetarian menus are off limits.

Hal’s Deli is a kosher-style deli, which is not to be confused with traditional kosher. They serve kosher products and make traditional Jewish dishes, but do not follow many of the rules of kashrut. “The reason we’re not strictly kosher is we have bacon, we have ham,” Jackie Schaaf, Kuntz’s daughter, said. “This is going to be the closest you’re going to get to a Jewish deli.”

Hal’s Delicatessen and Sandwich Shoppe is the only restaurant in Ithaca that offers a kosher for Passover menu. “There’s some people that won’t eat bread, so that’s the significance of it. It used to be more popular; it’s not as popular anymore. A lot of people cook at home,” Sandy Kuntz, wife of the late Hal Kuntz, owner of Hal’s Delicatessen, said. “People who are strictly kosher, orthodox, eat at home.”

In order to eat kosher in Ithaca, the Cohen’s make a trip down to Brooklyn about once a month to visit family and stock up on meats at several of Brooklyn’s kosher supermarkets, but they don’t complain about what Ithaca can offer. “In Wegman’s, you can pretty much get everything Kosher,” Leah said.

“A lot of regular products have kosher certification,” Yossi said. “Even if they’re not in the kosher aisle, about 50 percent of what’s on the shelves will have some kosher.” Leah has also noticed some improvements in gluten free products, which have made Passover’s eight-day observation period a little easier as well.

The Cohen’s led Seders on Ithaca College’s campus for Passover last year, but because it falls on Shabbat this year, there are restrictions that will not allow them to do so; however they will be hosting meals at their house and always welcome anyone who wants to join.

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