From The Heart
Kosher caterer provides hearty food— and tzedakah.
Caterer Avi Rubin has a strong drive to be charitable, but modestly calls it “nothing special.”
As he sees it, “it’s our responsibility as Jews to help and do as much as we can for one another.”
After nearly six years in the area, he’s made an impact on the local Jewish scene through his kosher catering business and by leading several tzedakah projects.
Rubin, 35, grew up in New York but moved his family to the Metro Detroit home of his wife, Chaya Shaindel (formerly Handler), after Southfield-based Partners in Torah hired him as its program director. The couple met in Israel, married in Detroit and have five children.
After Rubin completed rabbinic studies in Jerusalem, he led Jewish outreach and educational activities for six years in Ukraine and Belarus. In Pinsk, he worked at summer camps and served as director of an orphanage.
After settling in Oak Park, Rubin helped start the Detroit Jewish Business Network. The Southfield-based nonprofit offers a forum for referrals among local Jewish-owned businesses.
Rubin became proprietor of Jewel Kosher Catering in October 2013, purchasing the well-respected business from the family of its late founder, Phillip Tewel. Jewel operates at Dovid Ben Nuchim synagogue in Oak Park, with a commissary on West Eight Mile in Southfield.
Jewel’s staff has grown, with head chef Monique Stacy and sous chef Gerald Bernhardt as mainstays. The upgraded menus offer trendier items, such as sushi and authentic Israeli shwarma, while retaining its traditional Jewish specialties. Jewel is a full-service catering company involved with party and event planning.
“We cater all over Metro Detroit and even out of town. Ninety percent of our business is offsite,” Rubin said. He meets personally with clients to create an event tailored to their interests — “to make it different, something special and memorable.”
Depending on the occasion, Rubin could employ as many as 75, including trucking and equipment staff. Jewel’s vast collection of plating and dishware came in handy at the caterer’s largest-ever event last year: more than 2,200 attending the annual Yeshiva Beth Yehuda dinner, featuring former President George W. Bush, at Detroit’s Renaissance Center.
“We adhere to the highest standard of kashrut,” Rubin said. “We bring everything with us, including the ovens.”
Since January 2014, Jewel has been providing ready-made Shabbat meals for those in need. Meal recipients could be dealing with ongoing financial pressures or have a temporary crisis due to economic or health reasons.
Local rabbis, lay leaders and Jewish Family Service help determine who might be in need of meals through the Tomchai Shabbos Project.
Respecting people’s privacy remains a foremost concern.
Every week, Rabbi M.Z. Greenfield of Southfield sends Rubin a list of people to be assisted, designated by letters rather than their names, and giving the size of each family unit.
“We create the boxes of food, accordingly,” Rubin said. “The rabbi picks up the boxes and distributes them throughout the community. In this way, the utmost respect for privacy is shown.”
On a recent Friday, 144 meals were prepared for distribution.
Rubin also uses his company as a conduit for kindness by arranging affordable wedding packages. Toward the end of last summer, he began working with vendors to “put on a wedding that’s nice and respectable [even] if the couple and their families can’t afford it.”
All aspects of a typical wedding are covered for less than half of what they would normally cost. Participating vendors include Denton Photography, Royalty House in Warren (hall), Capture the Moment (videographer), Koleinu Orchestra (music), Garden of Eden (flowers) and Jewel Kosher Catering (dinner).
Detroit Chessed Project
Another helping hand is extended by the Detroit Chessed Project. The organization provides assistance to members of the Detroit Jewish community, including partnering on the Shabbat meal project.
Rubin and the other four founders “first came together to help the Jewish community after the big flood hit last August,” he said. “We connected with a lot of organizations in New York that provided assistance during Hurricane Sandy and got some help to cope with needs in our local community.”
Detroit Chessed found several large corporations and Jewish agencies willing to replace residents’ destroyed items, such as mattresses and box springs, hot water tanks, washers and dryers, carpeting, bookshelves, toys and clothing. Local organizations assisted with flood mitigation, restoration and insurance claims.
Self-described as “a place to turn for help,” Detroit Chessed has opened a gemach, a distribution center with a store-like environment. Items given away at no charge may include clothing, bedding, kitchenware, towels and vacuum cleaners.
For information about his catering company and tzedakah projects, contact Avi Rubin at firstname.lastname@example.org or (248) 497-9016.
By: Esther Allweiss Ingber, Contributing Writer