Temple Israel Caterer Sued Over Kosher Violations

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JONATHAN WALTER

Standard Staff Reporter

 

Employees of Morrell Caterers, the catering company used by Temple Israel of Lawrence, have filed a lawsuit against their employer Scott Morrell, accusing him of storing and cooking non-kosher foods such as pork and shrimp in the same pots used for kosher foods, as well as distributing the kosher food in the same truck used to distribute non-kosher food.

“Everything was tainted,” Tom Cataldo, General Manager for Morrell Catering told Newsday in regard to the events held by the company.  “Next to kosher meat, you would have a bucket of raw shrimp.”

Morrell Catering issued a statement regarding the lawsuit, filed by Cataldo as well as Chef Michael Savitsky, on Wednesday, saying that the allegations are false and a Howard Fensterman, in retaliation over a bad investment, is using the plaintiffs.

“His motive is simple,” Morrell said.  “Mr. Howard Fensterman is the defendant in a massive $19 million fraud case that poured millions of dollars into a Dubai insurance scam. Many are suing him but I am the only one who is not a powerful figure in the investment community. As a result he is going after someone he views as vulnerable. He has discovered that I will not allow myself to be victimized twice — once by a fraudulent investment and then by acceding to his demand that I withdraw from the lawsuit or face his vindictive wrath.”

He went on to point out his record in the kosher food service industry.

“Those of you who have worked with me over the decades know of my family’s commitment to observing the strictest instructions of Kashrut,” Morrell said.  “You also know that I take my responsibility to the Jewish community as a solemn promise to deliver excellence with every meal. There is no price that can be attached to that trust and I will not allow my family’s heritage to be tarnished by a terror attack on my company.”

James Rotenberg, president of Temple Israel in Lawrence, was surprised to hear the news.

“All we know is that we read about the litigation in the newspaper the same as anyone else,” Rotenberg said.  “We have a contract that requires the kitchen and food to be kosher.  We know he’s under the supervision of VAAD of Flatbush and we were certainly surprised by it.”

“In this litigious society, anyone can say anything,” Rotenberg went on to say.  “We have no reason to believe that those claims are true.  The affairs and functions are run at our temple are either kosher or Glatt kosher. They have a VAAD certificate.  Anybody can claim anything.  We’ve known Mr. Morrell for a while and we have faith and trust in him.  Unless proven otherwise, I don’t see why we’d make any change.”

Rotenberg did say that if Morrell Catering was found to have served non-kosher food at Temple Israel, they would be in violation of their contract with the temple, and that they would re-evaluate the situation then.

In conjunction with Morrell’s statement, Rabbi Abraham Alper, from VAAD of Flatbush, the kosher supervisor tried to defend Morrell’s integrity.

“I won’t speak to any of the legal issues that have been raised,” Alper said.  “It would be inappropriate to offer an opinion one way or another and the courts will ultimately provide a verdict.  I can, and will, however, speak to the personal integrity of the Morrells. I have known them and respected them for decades and have personally witnessed them apply the highest standards of Jewish law to food preparation.  My confidence in their personal integrity and honesty is unwavering.”

While the lawsuit is in progress a restraining order has been placed on Morrell catering, preventing them from destroying their own records.

The owner of a Five Towns caterer who did not wish to be named described how his own company maintains their high kosher standards.

“What we do to ensure that this doesn’t happen, is have our kitchens under constant video surveillance by the KOF-K office which is in Teaneck New Jersey,” the catering company’s owner said.

In addition, the owner, while Jewish, is a non-Sabbath observer and is not even permitted to have keys to his own kitchen.  So if the kosher supervisor is not present, he is allowed to run his business, but not permitted into the kitchen.”

“It’s hard to ensure kosher standards when it’s both glatt kosher and non-glatt kosher, like Morrell is,” the owner said.  “When you’re not glatt kosher, you’re really supervising yourself.  So being one or the other makes it easier.”

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