Birmingham’s Orthodox community has been unable to agree a common plan to supply kosher food after the city’s only kosher butcher closed a few weeks ago.
As a result, two new outlets for supervised food are due to open this month, prompting questions about their long-term viability.
From next Thursday, The Grocer at Edgbaston will operate a kosher section selling meat, bread and other produce under the supervision of Singers Hill minister Rabbi Yossi Jacobs.
But Birmingham’s Central Synagogue is also planning to run a kosher shop on its renovated premises, barely a mile away, from August 22.
Ruth Jacobs, chair of the Representative Council of Birmingham and West Midlands Jewry, said that “while some kosher food is available through a number of supermarkets in the city, re-establishing a more secure and comprehensive provision for the community is seen as essential. However, the council shares the concerns it has received from many members of the community about the need for and viability of two such facilities.”
Shul leaders had met to discuss kosher food provision following the closure of Gees butchers, which had served the community for more than 40 years.
Central chair Michael Abrams could not understand the logic of two shops.“Ultimately, we think offering a fully kosher shop will be the best option,” he said. “Only time will tell.”
The Central shop will be managed by Helen Gee, wife of Gees owner Mark, and will sell meat provided by Lewco Pak from London.
Singers Hill president Keith Rowe said of the Central venture: “They will do what they feel is right for their congregation. We wanted to do something that was right for the whole community.”
The Grocer at Edgbaston had the advantage of being an established, commercially viable business as well as being “non-partisan. We don’t believe everybody would feel comfortable going into a shul to buy produce.” It could sell kosher wines as, unlike the Central shop, it had a drinks licence.
For Keith Drapkin — a former Singers Hill president who is now a Central member — the separate arrangements were “ridiculous. There is not room for two shops. It’s doomed to failure.”