UPDATE JUNE 22, 2018 12:15 P.M.: The new owner of the Cold Stone Creamery in College Park said it was purely financial considerations that led to the decision not to keep the store's kosher certification. It hasn't been a great year for the business, he said, and faced with the choice between lay-offs or not paying $1,000 per year for certification, the decision was to go with the latter. He said he values the Jewish community's patronage, and when the store's financial situation improves he definitely intends to reach out to the Vaad about resuming kosher certification.
The Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington’s recent kashrut alert and the community’s response offer an interesting case study: How do you maintain transparency as a community institution while protecting business owners’ privacy, refraining from loshon harah (forbidden negative speech), and avoiding any legal pitfalls?
On June 15, the agency (commonly known as the Vaad of Greater Washington, or just “the Vaad”) put out the following statement via email alert: “Please be aware that the Cold Stone Creamery located on 7314 Baltimore Avenue in College Park, MD is no longer under the supervision of the Capitol-K, (Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington).”
The establishment came under Vaad supervision in February 2015, and new owners took over in May 2017, according to the Vaad’s executive director Rabbi Mosher Walter. The new ownership wasn’t interested in staying kosher, he said.
“They stopped paying us and never returned calls or e-mails, so unfortunately we had to make this move. We tried as hard as we could to have them stay on, but they were totally uninterested and unresponsive,” said Rabbi Walter.
Some members of the local Jewish community took to social media to grumble about the lack of information in the Vaad’s announcement, a recurrent source of frustration when these statements are released. The Vaad’s “Kashrus Alerts” announce when an establishment has lost its certification, but does not generally include an explanation of why.
“This is how kashrus alerts are done nationally for the most part,” said Rabbi Walter. “There are issues of confidentiality that are contractually binding that do not allow for public revelation and explanation.”
“The Vaad welcomes questions and comments and regularly fields them. Anyone is welcome to contact myself or Rabbi Holland for more specifics. We are thankful to have a community that cares much about kashrus, and give our all to maintain the trust that the kosher community has placed in our hands,” he said.
“There’s no downside to clear and complete communication,” said Silver Spring, Maryland, resident Daniel Moshinsky via Facebook. “I believe kashrut organizations should educate the public on how their policies are grounded in halacha [Jewish law], including stringencies and leniencies. Transparency creates trust. Secrecy breeds distrust and hearsay.”
“For every person happy to trust whatever the Vaad decides, there’s another who writes off the Vaad’s choices as driven by money/politics. Give people clear information and empower them to make their own choices.”
Kol HaBirah was able to successfully connect with the ice cream shop owner via email on June 19. The individual said the shop is no longer kosher starting June 19, 2018, but did not respond to a follow-up request for confirmation of the Vaad’s repeated attempts at outreach. No answer was given regarding the decision not to pursue certification, nor whether the shop might seek certification from the Vaad or another kashrut agency in the future.
“If you wanted to go out anywhere to get food off campus or have a cute place to go out other than Starbucks, [this Cold Stone] was your only option,” said former Terp Ilana Falick. Falick graduated in 2017 and lives in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC. “Cold Stone is open late and it was an activity to do that was also kosher, same as in most jewish communities where the Saturday night activity is often just going to get food somewhere.”
DC resident Erin Piateski graduated from UMD in 2003 and said kids don’t know how good they have it these days. “In my day we never had anything kosher on campus other than the meal plan, nor did we have an eruv,” she said.
Other former Terps said that the ice cream itself is still kosher, even if the establishment does not have the certification that comes with agency supervision. A quick trip to Cold Stone’s website confirmed that the ice cream mix Cold Stone uses is certified kosher.
“The ice cream mix used to make our ice cream is certified kosher, meaning animal-based (beef, pork, etc.) ingredients are not used,” the website said. “The mono- and diglycerides we use are also not from animal sources. Additionally, many of our ice cream flavors are made with kosher ingredients, although agency certifications for the ingredients will vary depending on the product.” There is no mention of the kosher status of toppings, baked goods, or other products.
This information will not be sufficient for all kosher-keeping customers to continue shopping at this Cold Stone, but it will likely be sufficient for some.
Still, Falick said the loss of a kosher-certified Cold Stone in College Park is a loss for the community. “It’s not about appreciating what we have, or the dairy ice cream being kosher,” she said. “It’s more about feeling like we have a normal campus experience that doesn’t deprive us of anything.”
By Rachel Kohn
Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.