Kosher caterer seeks millions in damages

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Diners at Hilton Washington DC/Rockville Hotel and Executive Meeting Center in 2017 enjoy kosher food prepared by
Potomac 18 Catering. File photo

Updated: July 27, 3:40 p.m.

A long simmering labor dispute in the Orthodox community flared this month when Rabbi Israel David Bacharach filed a lawsuit against the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, council member Rabbi Levi Shemtov and the Baltimore-based kosher certification agency Star-K.


Bacharach is the Gaitherburg-based CEO and president of Potomac 18 Caterers.  Bacharach’s lawyer, David Kaminow, provided a copy to WJW of the complaint filed July 2 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Bacharach is alleging that after the rabbinical council, also known as the Vaad, rescinded its kosher certification of Potomac 18 in November 2017 “without just cause or reason,” Vaad members went on to interfere with Bacharach’s business relationships with existing and potential clients. Bacharach also claims that the Vaad cost him his job as a mashgiach (kosher compliance supervisor) at Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, a position he held for some 20 years.

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In a letter provided by Kaminow and dated Nov. 30, 2017, the Vaad’s president, Rabbi Yosef Singer, addressed the vice president of human resources at Charles H. Smith Life Communities, which runs Hebrew Home. Singer wrote that he was following up on a Nov. 14 conversation to affirm in writing that since the Vaad rescinded the kosher certification of Bacharach’s catering business, he could no longer represent the Vaad as a mashgiach at Hebrew Home.

Singer wrote: “On October 26, 2017, the VAAD informed Rabbi Bacharach that it was withdrawing its Capitol K Kashruth Certification from Potomac 18. This action was necessitated by Potomac 18’s systemic noncompliance with VAAD kashruth polities and regulations dating back to before the fall of 2016. Under these circumstances, it is untenable that Rabbi Bacharach continue to represent the VAAD as a mashgiach, whose primary function is to enforce kashruth compliance.”


Singer added: “Please know that the VAAD has no objection to Rabbi Bacharach’s continued employment at the Hebrew Home as long as he is no longer involved with its kashruth certification operations.”

Kaminow told WJW this week that within days of the letter’s receipt, Bacharach was fired.

Star-K is named in the lawsuit because of its partnership with the Vaad, dating back to 2015. Rabbi Tzvi Holland, director of special projects and a kashrut administrator for Star-K, assists the Vaad in certifying and supporting mashgiachs across the Washington area. In 2018, the Vaad’s executive director, Rabbi Moshe Walter, said Holland “added a new level of professionalism and responsiveness to the Vaad’s kashrut operation,” according to Kol HaBirah.

Shemtov is member of the Vaad, the executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) and the founder and spiritual leader of TheSHUL in Kalorama. Bacharach “had a contract with the White House to do their Chanukah meals, and Rabbi Shemtov was involved personally in him losing that contract,” said Kaminow.

Updated July 27, 3:40 p.m.

Singer declined to comment on the case until the Vaad is served with a copy of the complaint and summons from the court.

Shemtov said: “I guess no good deed goes unpunished. Like others, I worked to help Rabbi Bacharach on numerous occasions to bid and get, not lose, business, and I helped him settle disputes with people on several occasions,” Shemtov said.

“I am unaware of any contract with the White House,” he continued. “I have overseen the kosher aspects of their events. As far as I am concerned, they can choose whoever they wish to provide whatever support as long as the kosher standards aren’t compromised, and they have changed providers more than once.”

“As for the Vaad, they bent over backwards to ensure the sunset of supervision would not leave him unable to operate.”

“I really can’t understand the suit,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll know more after I receive the complaint.”

The original story continues here:

Bacharach is seeking a total of $1.1.million in damages from the three parties for the alleged loss of the business relationship with the White House. The three other counts in the lawsuit — interference with other business relationships, interference with the Hebrew Home contract, and interference with a one-time event contract in Potomac — are leveled at the Vaad and Star-K only. For these, Bacharach is seeking $8.2 million.

According to bankruptcy court records, Bacharach filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on behalf of his company in July 2018. The 20 largest unsecured claims (i.e. debts without collateral) amounted to over $4 million, and he indicated that he had more than 50 creditors. The bankruptcy was terminated in October 2019 due to failure to meet court-mandated milestones, including creating a plan to pay his creditors, according to the court’s order of dismissal. The current status of these debts is not publicly available.

Bacharach’s Chapter 11 filing was a result of the defendants’ efforts against his business, said Kaminow.

This is a developing story and additional information will be published as it becomes available.

 

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Which Beth Din did Rabbi Bacharach go to before filing in civil court? I had assumed that contract mashgichim would have in the contract an arbitration clause of some sort, so would be required by civil (and Jewish) law to seek a remedy before filing in civil court. Please consider refraining from reporting on this matter until after it is clear that the parties are following Jewish practice.

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