Thursday evening, Robert Frank, a New York mashgiach, emailed me: "Dear Mr. Ford, I would like to help to expose a big consumer fraud that is going on. I am employed at a hospital in New York City that claims to be kosher, but is not. Non-kosher products come into the hospital kitchen, because they order it on purpose, and are prepared and served to the patrons of the hospital cafeteria and hospital patients. I have contacted the rabbis who are in charge of the kosher supervision of the hospital but they do nothing to repair the problem. The hospital management and the rabbis have been trying to silence me through job termination. The rabbis and hospital management expect me to lie to anyone who inquires about the kosher status of the hospital. This consumer fraud and cover up by the rabbis must be exposed. Please help me expose this."
A few minutes later, I got Mr. Frank on the phone.
Robert: "I have a big problem. These people are cheating people left and right. My brother told me about your site. A friend of his he’s staying with reads your stuff all the time. The regular media doesn’t want to get involved with this type of story. They’re afraid of these organizations."
Luke: "So tell me about this hospital."
Robert: "It’s a hospital in the Bronx, which is north of Manhattan. It is supposed to be kosher. It’s certified by the Orthodox Union, the largest kosher-certifying agency in the country. Non-kosher products come in there all the time, get cooked, get served, and they tell us to shut up. If we say anything, they write us up. I don’t want to lie to people. They’re expecting a certain product and I tell people the truth and they’re trying to fire me. They’ve been doing it for years.
"I’ve already filed civil rights lawsuits against the hospital because I have a disability and they’re trying to fire me for the disability. We’ve settled with them twice. They weren’t supposed to harass me anymore and they’re trying to do it again. They want me to lie to people and I don’t want to lie to people. It’s not right."
Luke: "Which hospital is this?"
Robert: "It’s called Montefiore Hospital."
Luke: "And how do you know this?"
Robert: "I’m the mashgiach there. I’m in charge of certifying this. I’m the only one who finds the non-kosher food and reports it to people. When you report it to them, they write you up for it. They say shut up and keep quiet.
"I went to the Orthodox Union last year. I made a personal visit to them. I’ve got them on tape telling me to keep quiet. I spoke to the head rabbi who’s in charge of the hospital and the vice president of the Orthodox Union. They were both in the room with my brother and me. My brother had a hidden tape recorder. They told us, ‘You can’t tell people that this place is not kosher. You’ve got to let us fix it. Don’t tell people.’
"They wanted us to sign a confidentiality agreement. I wouldn’t sign one because then I’d have to shut my mouth up."
Luke: "How long have you been working at the hospital?"
Robert: "Almost five years."
Luke: "Has there always been this problem?"
Robert: "Ever since I’ve been there, there’s been this problem. I’ve been trying to fix it for years and they’ve been trying to fire me for years. The first years I was there, I tried fixing things by reporting it. They got really upset about it and they started writing me up. Disciplinary write-ups. So many times they were ready to terminate me and then the union stepped in and had them remove all the write-ups. Now they’re doing it again. This is the third time they’ve tried it."
Luke: "So the hospital is your employer?"
Robert: "I work for the hospital, but they get their kosher certification from the Orthodox Union. There’s a certificate from the at the entrance to the cafeteria stating that it is under their supervision. That all the food prepared in the hospital, in the kitchen, is under their supervision. They only come once or twice a year, walk around, everything’s OK, give me my check and go. They don’t care what goes on."
Luke: "What is your working relationship with the Orthodox Union?"
Robert: "Oh, they want to fire me too because I want to expose everything."
Luke: "Do they employ you as well?"
Robert: "I was hired with their permission. I had to go and interview with them before I got hired. Originally I worked for them. When I first started there and was on a training basis. For the first two or three months. And then the hospital took me on because the Orthodox Union don’t pay their workers any benefits. They get a straight $17 or $18 an hour. No health benefits. No pension benefits. They don’t take taxes off. They pay you with a 1099. When it comes tax time, you get screwed. You have to pay all the taxes. But the hospital takes out the normal deductions. The union gives you a health plan. Full hospitalization. Unlimited prescriptions. That’s why I switched over. Everybody does."
Luke: "How does the non-kosher food get into the?"
Robert interrupts: "It’s either purposefully delivered or it comes in by mistake sometimes. It comes in on big deliveries and you can’t check them. All you can do is look through the invoice when they drop them off. A lot of the time when stuff came in, I took videos of it to prove that it came in."
Luke: "Is this your 40-hour a week job?"
Robert: "It’s about 30-40 hours a week. It depends on how they schedule me. Sometimes 50 hours a week."
Luke: "Are you the only mashgiach?"
Robert: "There are three of us. The other two are corrupt and just want to get paid off and keep their mouths shut. They’re afraid of retaliation."
Luke: "Retaliation from who?"
Robert: "The hospital and the Orthodox Union. The hospital wants us to keep our mouth shut and let things go the way they are. The Orthodox Union is backing them up. When you complain… I’ve got correspondence from them telling me that they don’t want me to interfere in company business.
"What are you talking about? You give the certification. How can you not interfere?"
Luke: "From your experience, the Orthodox Union is only looking at this as a money-maker?"
Robert: "Right. They have two hospitals. One in the Bronx that is not kosher-certified and this one which used to be part of Yeshiva University. And when they bought it out about 18 years ago, they had an agreement with Yeshiva University to keep it so-called kosher. It’s a 99-year contract, I’ve been told. This has been going on for years."
Luke: "How long have you been working in kashrut?"
Robert: "Before the hospital, I worked for six months in so-called kosher milk. It was the same problem on the farm. The people on the farm don’t care either. The rabbis who certify you on the farm don’t care either. They just come by. They don’t even pay you half the time."
"This was with CRC — the Central Rabbinical Council of Brooklyn. It was a chasidisha company. Rabbi Glick.
"The farm owner was very eccentric and he didn’t like people on his farm. Eventually he dropped the contract with them."
"Before this, I was working for a Jewish school. Fundraising for them. All the people I knew while I was fundraising, don’t want to get involved. Everybody is afraid of the Orthodox Union because they have a lot of power."
Luke: "This is fascinating."
Robert: "It is a fascinating story. I know. I’ve tried to contact all the newspapers in New York but they’re all afraid to do the story. I’m still working on the New York Post. They’re still debating whether to do the story. The Jewish newspapers don’t want the story. I’ve tried the other newspapers as well."
Luke: "Why are Jewish newspapers not interested in the story?"
Robert: "Because they get advertising from the Orthodox Union. They’re afraid to lose the business. There’s a Rabbi Winkler who has a magazine called Kashrus magazine. I went to him last year. He’s afraid to run the story. You’d think a magazine like that would kill to run the story. All he did was contact the Orthodox Union to save my job. The Orthodox Union and the hospital at that time just told me to keep quiet. I stayed quiet for six months but it’s gotten worse and worse. You can’t keep quiet when it’s not getting better.
"I have a lawyer. We’re filing a civil rights lawsuit within another week or two against my supervisor for harassment. They’re harassing me for fighting back against them. I already have complaints in with the New York state department of Civil Rights because of my disability. I have a herniated disc. They were supposed to give me light duty."
Luke: "I don’t understand why the Orthodox Union is not concerned."
Robert: "They just want to collect their paycheck. The rabbi who’s in charge of kosher supervision, Rabbi Schreier, is just a figurehead. He comes and collects his paycheck. He was there a couple of weeks ago. I went to him and said, ‘We had a whole bunch of cheese that came in that wasn’t kosher. And they made pizza with it. I didn’t discover it until after they had made the pizza. I tried to throw the pizza out. They wouldn’t let me. All he said was, this can’t happen. It’s not right.
"He didn’t do anything to stop it. They didn’t go in there to try to repair the kitchen. Now the kitchen is not kosher.
"My lawyer sent the Orthodox Union letters, threatening to file lawsuits last year based on the low-level of kashrut. They didn’t seem concerned about a lawsuit.
"They just told my boss Barry Kwiatkovsky (the assistant director of the nutrition department in my Weiler division, the one that is supposed to be kosher), who’s supposed to be an Orthodox Jew and a rabbi… He’s letting people buy non-kosher food. He eats there himself, which tells me he doesn’t care."
Luke: "None of the rabbis you’ve talked to about this have wanted to do anything about it?"
Robert: "No. I’ve spoken to Rabbi Yaakov Luban, he’s Rabbi Schreier’s boss. I’ve sent him emails. They’ve written me off. In one of the write-offs, it says I am not to interfere with the kosher production. The head of the kashrut department at the Orthodox Union is Rabbi Menachem Genach. He doesn’t want to do anything either. Rabbi Winkler of Kashrus Magazine wrote to all these guys. He even asked to come down but they didn’t want to let him in the kitchen because they knew there would be problems.
"As soon as my lawyer threatened a lawsuit, the Orthodox Union didn’t want to do anything. Let’s send Mr. Frank out to the dogs. Let him get fired.
"Rabbi Luban made some sort of deal where they are not supposed to write me up anymore. They wrote me up last week. All the rabbis got written up for letting in non-kosher food. The write-ups state that we have to be diligent on inspections.
"I’m getting another discipline notice for doing something else. I’m meeting with them on Wednesday."
Luke: "What is your union?"
Robert: "It’s 1199 Hospital Workers Union. The worst piece of garbage I’ve ever seen. They don’t want to do a thing. I have the union rep on tape telling me not to do anything with kashrut.
"After we made the deal last year, she said, ‘You see, the rabbis don’t want to help you. You should keep your mouth shut and not tell anything about what is going on.’ I have her on tape doing that."
Luke: "Why does the union want you to keep your mouth shut?"
Robert: "Because it moves the status quo. The status quo is that people come in and buy the food and nobody knows that there’s a problem. And I’m rocking the boat.
"They wrote me up four times last year and this will be my sixth one when I get it Wednesday.
"Right now I have a problem with one of the managers. She doesn’t want to let me pray in the morning. They won’t let me go to synagogue in the morning. I go into a little closet and pray for half an hour. I’m coming back from my praying and the manager goes, ‘Where were you? I needed you in the kitchen.’
"I said, I was praying. She said, ‘Pray on your time.’ I said, you can’t do that. You have to pray at a certain time. She said, ‘I don’t care.’"
Luke: "Who owns the hospital?"
Robert: "The Montefiore Hospital Corporation."
Luke: "Is it Jewish?"
Robert: "It’s a secular corporation."
"A couple of months ago, I wrote to the president of Yeshiva University, Richard Joel, telling him all about this story. He didn’t even return my email. I have copies of the emails I sent to a whole bunch of the newspapers. They never even wrote me back."
"The Orthodox Union is collecting money for nothing. They’re not even doing what they’re supposed to be doing… They have us as mashgiachs delivering food to patients, putting place mats on trays, serving food, but they don’t let us do kashrut. They just want us walking around so people can point and say, ‘There’s the mashgiach. Everything’s OK.’ To be a figurehead."
Luke: "Which Jewish newspapers did you contact with this story?"
Robert: "I contacted The Jewish Press, Hamodia, Yated and Kashrus Magazine. None of them would run the story because they are afraid of the Orthodox Union."
Another mashgiach emails me: "Luke- This story is HUGE. As a part-time mashgiach myself, I can attest to the horrors of Pesach hotel Kashrus. If you would like, we can talk and I can let you know about some of the violations committed with the implicit knowledge of the Rav HaMachshir in a number of five-star hotels in Miami. For years, I have wanted to help expose the kashrus business as fraudulent, but, like Mr. Frank, have had no outlet for doing so."
He tells me over the phone: "The caterer didn’t care about the mixing of milk and meat dishes. They were washed together in the dishwasher, making trafe (non-kosher) all the dishes washed.
"The caterer wore a leather yarmulke and presented himself as a Modern Orthodox Jew but he really didn’t care about kashrut. The rabbi in charge told me to separate the milk dishes from the meat dishes on a yom tov. You’re not allowed to separate out the bad from the good on a yom tov. That’s borer.
"In the kosher for Passover hotel next door, a friend of mine was the mashgiach. The staff was caught warming up a pepperoni pizza in the meat oven. It was abysmal.
"There’s intimidation going on right and left. There’s intimidation by the caterer of the mashgiach. The caterer wants to serve his food and get the mashgiachim off his back. There’s intimidation of the mashgiachim by the kitchen staff who view the mashgiach as an interloper. There’s intimidation by the head of the program.
"A buddy of mine, a Chabad baal teshuva, got this cool job as a Passover mashgiach at a hotel in Cancun. He told me that the kashrus was so terrible. They were being run over by the kitchen staff. He went to the manager of the program and said, I’m going to make a public announcement that the food is trafe unless this stops right now.
"The manager had hotel security remove him and he took a flight home on chol hamoed (intermediate days of a Jewish festival)."
Robert Frank emails me: "DEAR MR FORD ENCLOSED IS A LETTER THAT I WROTE TO RABBI LUBAN AT THE ORTHODOX UNION TO TRY TO RESOLVE THE KOSHER PROBLEMS AT MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL, I SO NOT THINK THAT ANYTHING WILL HAPPEN TO CORRECT THE PROBLEM, BUT THE ORTHODOX UNION WILL CONTINUE TO CONDONE THE THE NON KOSHER CONDITIONS AT MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL, AND RABBI BARRY KWIAKOVAKYS PERSONAL VENDETTA TO HARASS AND TERMINATE ME."
Robert Frank emails:
DEAR RABBI LUBAN, WE SPOKE BRIEFLY THIS PAST FRIDAY, ABOUT THE KOSHER PROBLEMS AT MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL, ENCLOSED IS A LIST OF THE PROBLEMS.
NON KOSHER FOOD COMES IN ALL THE TIME AND IS PREPARED BY THE COOKS AND SERVED TO UNSUSPECTING HOSPITAL PATIENTS AND PATRONS OF THE HOSPITAL CAFETERIA. WHEN I TRY TO INTEFERE IN ANY WAY OR REPORT THE SITUATION TO RABBI SCHRIER , I AM GIVEN BOGUS DISCIPLINE NOTICES AS PUNISHMENT FOR MY DISCOVERING THE NON KOSHER FOOD AND REPORTING IT.
I AM UNDER ORDERS FROM RABBI BARRY KWIATKOVSKY AND THE 1199 UNION REP NOT TO REPORT ANY KOSHER VIOLATIONS TO THE ORTHODOX UNION. ABOUT 2 WEEKS AGO WHEN RABBI SCHRIER CAME TO VISIT THE HOSPITAL , HE ASK ME IF EVERYTHING WAS OK, I DID NOT WANT TO LIE TO HIM , SO I TOLD HIM THAT I HAD FOUND NON KOSHER FOOD QUITE A FEW TIMES OVER THE PAST SEVERAL MONTHS.
BY TELLING HIM IT RESULTED IN ALL OF THE MASHGIAGHS BEING GIVEN DISCIPLINE NOTICES, FOR LETTING IN NON KOSHER FOOD. I HAVE BEEN TOLD SEVERAL TIMES BY RABBI KWIATKOVAKY TO LIE TO ANYONE WHO ASKED ME ABOUT THE KOSHER STATUS OF THE HOSPITAL, AND RABBI BAERRY KWIATKOVSKY HAS MADE SEVER THREATS IN THE PAST TO ME THAT HE WILL MAKE MY LIFE A LIVING HELL IF I DO NOT DO AS HE WANTS.
WHEN I COME BACK TO WORK AFTER MY DAYS OFF I USUALLY FIND SOME SORT OF NON KOSHER PRODUCTS, WHICH MEANS THAT SOMEONE ELSE IS NOT DOING THEIR JOB, RABBI BARRY KWIATKOVSKY IS PLANING ON WRITTING ME UP AGAIN THIS COMING WEDNESDAY ON SOME TRUMPED UP CHARGE.
RABBI BARRY KUIAKOVSKY HAS A PERSONAL AGENDA TO SHUT ME UP BY WRITTING ME UP ENOUGH TIMES TO BE ABLE TO TERMINATE ME. ONE OF THE SUPERVISORS SANDE PEPAJ HAS BEEN HARASSING ME BY GIVING ME A HARD TIME WHEN I GO TO PRAY IN THE MORNING, SHE SPEAKS TO ME IN A VERY SARCASTIC TONE OF VOICE, AND TELLS ME I CAN NOT PRAY WHEN I AM AT THE HOSPITAL AND I MUST, IN HER OWN WORDS WAIT UNTIL I GET HOME, SHE HAS TOLD ME THAT SHE IS UNDER ORDERS BY RABBI BARRY KWIATKOVSKY TO HARASS ME AND GET ME TO QUIT.
I NEED YOUR HELP TO GET RABBI BARRY KWIATKOVSKY TO STOP HARASSING ME, AN LET ME DO MY JOB, I NEED YOU TO CALL HIM AND STOP THE BOGUS WRITE -UP THAT I AM TO RECEIVE ON WENSDAY FROM BEING ISSUED TO ME, AND HAVE HIM REMOVE THE WRITE-UP THAT I RECEIVED 2 WEEKS AGO, FROM MY PERSONNEL FILE, IF I GET 5 WRITE- UPS I WILL BE FIRED.
I WILL CALL YOU IN YOUR OFFICE ON MONDAY TO DISCUESS THIS SITUATION, AND HOW ALL THESE PROBLEMS CAN BE RESOLVED, IF NECESSARY I WOULD LIKE TO MEET WITH YOU AND RABBI GENACH AT THE ORTHODOX UNION HEADQUARTERS TO WORK OUT A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM.
"DEAR MR FORD: ENCLOSED IS A LETTER THAT MY ATTORNEY WROTE TO THE ORTHODOX UNION, THEY NEVER ANSWERED HIM, AND ENCLOSED IS ONE OF MY WRITEUPS WHERE IT STATES THAT I AM NOT TO INTERFERE WITH ANY EMPLOYEE AT MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL WHEN THEY VIOLATE ANY KOSHER RULES."
"DEAR MR FORD THIS IS THE STATEMENT THAT I MADE ON MY COMPLIANT TO NEW YORK STATE DIV OF HUMAN RIGHTS."
1. I am Employed By Montefiore Hospital Nutrition Department Located at 1825 Eastchester RD Bronx,N.Y. 10461 .
2. My position is Mashgisch: my job is to keep the kitchen kosher. My function is to insure that Jewish patients receive meals as per the dietary guidelines set forth for strictly Kosher meals.
3. I am ordered various times a day to perform numerous tasks outside my scope of normal duties , which take me away from my Kosher Certification Duties they include taking heavy food carts to hospital patients,serving food and soup and dishing out food and cutting up 50 pound bags of potatoes and preparing salads for patients and taking food down to the food stand in the lobby.
4. By my doing the tasks in paragraph 3 I am taken away from my duty which is to make sure that the food is Kosher for the Jewish patients. During these times of distraction, it is when infractions occur which would make the items served the patients not Kosher.
5. Also by having me doing these tasks which was not the reason I was hired is a violation of the ADA because of my disability with my back. They are making me do these tasks to force me to resign.
6. Several times they asked me to resign and if I do not, they would make things even more difficult for me.
7. When I am on duty in the Jewish Sabbath and holidays I am made fun of by my supervisors because I cannot do regular weekday work because on these days I cannot ride elevators, write, etc. as per my following the Jewish laws.
Robert emails me: "DEAR MR FORD, I MET RABBI YAKOV LUBAN OF THE ORTHODOX UNION AT A BRIS THIS MORNING AND SPOKE TO HIM ABOUT THE PROBLEMS AT MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL, I OFFERED TO SHOW HIM VIDEOS OF THE NON KOSHER FOOD THAT CAME INTO THE HOSPITAL, I AM OFFERING TO TAKE A LYE DETECTOR TEST TO PROVE THAT I AM TELLING THE TRUTH , IS MY SUPERVISOR RABBI BARRY KWIATKOVSKY READY TO TAKE A LYE DETECTOR TEST I DO NOT THINK SO. RABBI LUBAN MENTIONED THAT HE HEARD ABOUT THE ARTICLE THAT YOU WROTE ON 11-26-09 ABOUT THE KOSHER CONDITIONS AT MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL. ENCLOSED IS A COPY OF AN E-MAIL I SENT RABBI LUBAN AFTER OUR MEETING."
Here is that email: "DEAR RABBI, LUBAN, THANK YOU FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK TO ME WHEN YOU WERE AT THE BRIS THIS MORNING. I AM ENCLOSING A FEW VIDEOS OF THE NON KOSHER FOOD THAT CAME INTO MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL, I WILL TAKE A LIE DETECTOR TEST AT YOUR EXPENSE TO PROVE THAT I AM NOT LYING ABOUT THE KOSHER PROBLEMS AT MONTEFIORE HOSPITAL. IS RABBI BARRY KWIATKOVSKY READY TO TAKE A LIE DETECTOR TEST. LETS GET THIS DONE AND THEN WE WILL SEE WHO IS LYING. PLEASE SPEAK TO RABBI BARRY TO GET HIM NOT TO WRITE ME UP ON WEDNESDAY AND REMOVE THE OTHER WRITE-UP THAT I RECEIVED 2 WEEKS AGO, AND FOR HIM TO STOP HARASSING ME AND TO TELL HIS MANAGER SANDE PEPAJ TO STOP HARASSING ME AND LET ME DO MY JOB. DO YOU KNOW THAT NO EMPLOYEE OF KITCHEN OR CAFETERIA RECEIVES ANY KOSHER FOOD PREPARATION TRAINING I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF ANY KOSHER KITCHEN HAVING EMPLOYEES THAT ARE NOT TRAINED IN THE KOSHER DIETARY LAWS, THE MASHGIACHS CAN NOT BE ALL OVER. LETS WORK TOGETHER TO FIX THE PROBLEM."