With the growth of kosher supervision worldwide, consumers have many choices when shopping for kosher food.
With the growth of kosher supervision worldwide, consumers have many choices when shopping for kosher food.

When one thinks of the Poconos, the word "kosher" doesn't exactly spring to mind.

But for Rabbi Mendel Bendet, the co-director of the Stroudsbourg, Pa.-based Chabad-Lubavitch of the Poconos who just concluded his second-annual Kosher Awareness Week, that's the whole point. A person can keep kosher anywhere, whether in New York City, the Poconos, or the backcountry of Wyoming, for that matter.

"We wanted to devote a week where we educate the Jewish residents and tourists here about keeping kosher," explained Bendet, who each day this week set up a table at a different Weis supermarket and taught shoppers about the basics of kashrut observance, from separating meat and milk to buying products certified as kosher. "The next step is for them to do their own research with us, and by going online to Web sites like Chabad.org, for them to make the switch in their own kitchens."

For those who were interested, the rabbi and Shterni Bendet, his wife and fellow co-director, even accompanied them through the aisles to help them navigate the sea of kosher symbols on packages today.

"There was such a tremendous excitement from the community when we did this last year," she stated. "This year, it was even greater."

On Sunday, more than a dozen students from the Bendets' Hebrew school hosted a scavenger hunt for different kosher labels. The couple also introduced a new feature this year, with the cooperation of the supermarket: Given that kosher meat is still hard to come by, they passed out questionnaires to shoppers to gauge the market for such products.

The Bendets, who are fond of saying that 80 percent of the area supermarkets are kosher – in the case of the United States, pretty much all vegetables and other produce except for dairy are kosher – are two of the latest Jewish community leaders to pick up on a program that started in 1974, when the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, pushed for a global campaign to encourage Jews to keep kosher.

"It's incredibly important for a Jewish person to be aware of the concept and to realize that in today's world, it actually is quite easy to keep kosher," said Tsippy Simpson, a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., who runs a kosher week there and helps coordinate the kosher awareness campaign, most notably through issuing explanatory literature. "We try to keep our pamphlets current and exciting for the consumers."

In his conversations with shoppers, Bendet likes to stress that keeping kosher promotes one's spiritual health.

"It tunes your mind and your body, clears your spiritual arteries and puts you in touch with your creative source," he explained.

A kosher diet also leads some people to fulfilling other Torah commands, he asserted: "Through the mitzvah of kosher, we hope it will lead to many more mitzvahs."