Local | Religion & Jewish Life

As city’s only kosher market closes, Tucsonans get creative in search for products

Kosher for Passover dairy products are displayed at a Tucson Albertsons supermarket on April 5. (Facebook)

Six months ago, Jesse Davis and his wife, Melissa, began keeping a kosher home.

They were prompted by their two oldest daughters, pupils at Tucson Hebrew Academy, who took the school’s kosher cooking class and came home with “a million and one questions,” says Davis, a teacher at Temple Emanu-El’s preschool and Tucson Hebrew High. “I wanted to do anything that I could that made my daughters feel more engaged with being Jewish.”

When Tucson’s only kosher market, 5th Street Deli and Kitchen, closed its doors last month, just weeks before Passover, Davis and other members of the “Kosher in Tucson” Facebook page stepped up to coordinate deliveries of kosher meat and other products from Western Kosher, a market in Los Angeles. Many Jews who don’t keep kosher year-round nevertheless seek kosher for Passover products.

Avi Erbst, a realtor and co-administrator of the “Kosher in Tucson” Facebook page, explains that quite a few kosher consumers in Tucson were already ordering online from the KC Kosher Co-op in Kansas. But KC Kosher Co-op only deals in bulk orders, while Western Kosher allows people to order as little as a single package of chicken. Erbst learned that Western Kosher was already delivering to Chandler, Arizona, so at first the plan was that someone would drive there to pick up Tucson’s orders. But with nine or 10 local families placing orders, Tucson was able to get its own delivery. The first delivery, with kosher for Passover goods, was made earlier this month, says Davis, and the plan is to continue placing orders with Western Kosher about every six weeks.

The deli on Fifth Street, which was known as Feig’s for decades, has had a succession of owners since 2008, when longtime owner Jack Strauss retired. The most recent owner, Mordechai “Kfir” Ohana, who owns a local brick paving business, bought the deli not because he had a passion for food, says Rabbi Yehuda Ceitlin, outreach director of Chabad Tucson, but more as “a caring community effort to do something about kosher.” Ceitlin and his wife, Feigie, also serve as administrators on the “Kosher in Tucson” Facebook page.

Many on the “Kosher in Tucson” page are hoping someone will step in to re-open the deli. Ceitlin says he would like to see a strictly kosher dining option open in Tucson, whether it is meat or dairy, acknowledging that any such venture would have to attract “even the non-Jewish crowd” to be viable. 

Fusionz, the kosher café at the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation, which was run by Handmaker Enterprises under Conservative supervision, also closed last month. The Café at the J, inside the Tucson Jewish Community Center, remains open, serving a dairy menu. It will be open Monday-Thursday during the week of Passover. Nadine’s Bakery, the city’s only local kosher bakery, also remains open, but will not be kosher for Passover.

“We’re very thankful for the previous owners of the deli and their service to the community,” says Erbst, who owned a catering company in New York for about five years before moving to Tucson.

The AJP reached out to Ohana for a comment; he did not respond.

While Ohana wasn’t able to keep the deli/market open, Ceitlin told the AJP, kosher consumers in Tucson still have plenty of shopping options — way more than when his in-laws, Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Shemtov, arrived in Tucson in 1983. In addition to ordering from Western Kosher, KC Kosher Co-op, and other online vendors, Ceitlin points out that  a majority of common grocery items in any supermarket are kosher. Most local supermarkets carry some kosher for Passover staples, and several local markets carry at least some kosher meat.

“Albertsons and Trader Joe’s fill an amazing gap,” says Erbst. The Costco on Grant Road also has carried some cuts of pre-packaged kosher meat, notes Davis.

Jason Stark, store director at the Albertsons at 2854 N. Campbell Ave., has been posting updates on the “Kosher in Tucson” Facebook page of kosher for Passover foods, including meat, available at his store, complete with photos.

Irene Stern Friedman, a retired medical office manager who is another “Kosher in Tucson” Facebook member, says that if Albertsons doesn’t continue to carry kosher meat throughout the year, she’ll order from Western Kosher.

Friedman says she has brought meat from Los Angeles “both by car and by plane when visiting our daughter, but that is not the best solution.” Tucsonans also have traveled to the Phoenix area to shop in kosher markets, such as Imperial Market & Deli.

On Facebook, Erbst notes that he’s reached out to friends on occasion to ask for kosher meat from their freezers, or given meat when others needed it.

“That’s the beauty of a community,” he says. 

Chabad Tucson steps into breach with kosher for Passover catering

Chabad Tucson opened a pop-up catering service for Passover 2019. Feigie Ceitlin and staff prepared food at COM Kitchen, a commissary coworking space on the south side of Tucson. Rabbi Yossie Shemtov provided kosher certification. Chabad announced the venture April 11 with an April 14 order deadline, and catered for 92 people in addition to those attending its community seder.

Tucsonans immediately asked if Chabad will branch out to provide Shabbat catering after the holiday.

Feigie’s response? “Let’s get through Pesach.”