Supermarket chain sued after chef’s Jewish status called into doubt

The Jewish status of a chef born in Ukraine and working in the ready food department of the Yochananof supermarket chain was challenged by the store’s kashrut supervisor due to his origin.

People waiting in line outside Yochananof supermarket in Jerusalem on April 7, 2020. The government ordered on a partial lockdown, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
People waiting in line outside Yochananof supermarket in Jerusalem on April 7, 2020. The government ordered on a partial lockdown, in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
A lawsuit for damages amounting to NIS 350,000 has been filed against the Yochananof supermarket chain for demoting and ultimately firing a chef in the ready food department of a Rehovot branch whose Jewish status was called into question by a kashrut supervisor.
According to the chef Yuri Logvanenko who was four days into his new job, the kashrut supervisor in the branch approached him and demanded in front of other employees that he prove he is Jewish purely because of his name identifying as a citizen from the former Soviet Union.
Despite repeated assertions by management of the supermarket and the kashrut supervisor that a Jewish status clarification process was underway, no such process was every requested according to information gleaned by Logvanenko himself from freedom of information requests he made to the Chief Rabbinate, the Religious Services Ministry, the Rabbinical Courts Administration and the Rehovot Religious Council.
Legal representatives for Yochananof insist however that it is not responsible for the situation and that it was required to accede to the demands of the kashrut supervisor or face having its kashrut certification revoked.
According to the lawsuit filed by Logvanenko’s legal representatives in the S. Horowitz & Co. law firm, after working for seven months as a chef in a Yochananof branch in Jerusalem he transferred to a Rehovot branch because he moved to live in the city.
At the beginning of January this year, four days after he began work, the kashrut supervisor, employed by Yochananof via a contractor company used by the Rehovot Religious Council, demanded that he prove he is Jewish.
According to Jewish law and the regulations of the Chief Rabbinate, a Jew must be the one to turn on ovens and stove tops when the cooking process begins in order for food to be deemed kosher.
When Yuri was not able to immediately provide evidence of his Jewish status on the spot, the supervisor demanded that he leave the kitchen, and the director of the ready food department asked him to leave the branch.
On the same day, Yuri provided the birth certificate from the former Soviet Union of his mother to the ready food department director. Such documents bear the “national identity” of citizens from the former Soviet Union, including whether a citizen was Jewish.
The director said he would pass the certificate on to the kashrut supervisor for the purposes of a Jewish status clarification process but Logvanenko never received a response to the submission of this document, the lawsuit alleges.
Three days after the incident, the supermarket management told Yuri, a chef with 14 years experience and a graduate of numerous professional courses, that he could work chopping vegetables instead of his original position.
According to the lawsuit, Logvanenko asked the supermarket management on repeated occasions when he might be able to return to his position as chef but was told each time that the issue was being dealt with and that he needed to wait patiently for an answer, but was never given any indication when that might come.
Logvanenko himself sought to establish when he might receive an answer and filed requests for information under the freedom of information laws to the Chief Rabbinate, the Religious Services Ministry, the Rabbinical Courts Administration and the Rehovot Religious Council to ask if any Jewish status clarification process had been requested from them.
All replied that no such request had been made and that no such service or process is available.
At the end of January, Logvanenko was told he can return to his position as chef but was prohibited from turning on the oven or stoves since his Jewish status had not been confirmed.
He then obtained the services of legal counsel and demanded damages for the treatment he had been subjected to and the allegations that he was not Jewish.
According to the lawsuit, at this point Yochananof’s lawyers sent Logvanenko’s lawyer a complaint that he was not fulfilling his duties as chef although these duties included tasks he was prohibited from carrying out due to the doubt cast over his Jewish status.
At the end of March, Logvanenko was summoned to a disciplinary hearing for turning on the stove and oven that same day, although he claims that at this point his managers had quietly allowed him to carry out such tasks.
Two weeks after the hearing, he was dismissed by Yochananof.
“People have said to me ‘you won’t be able to find other work,’ and I am looking for other work, and I’m prepared to change professions, but I am not prepared to be silent,” said Logvanenko.  
“The struggle I am fighting is for the sake of my daughters and the next generation so that it won’t be subjected to this racism.”
Attorney Ran Feldman of S. Horowitz who has been representing Logvanenko on a pro bono basis said that the firm is continuing to support him and will continue to do so “until he gets the justice he deserves.”
Said Feldman “As we described in the lawsuit, Yuri has been abused and harmed in his work place due to where he was born. Me and my partners in the firm are fully committed to assisting him bring justice to light and will not let this abuse pass without answer.”
Director of the Israel Be Free religious freedom organization Uri Keidar which has campaigned strongly for Logvanenko said “We expect the court to do justice for Yuri and protect a worker who has been harmed due to his origin.”
A lawyer for Yochananof said in response to the lawsuit that the day the kashrut supervisor had removed its kashrut license on the day that he first demanded proof of his Jewish status, and that the supermarket’s management needed to comply with the supervisor’s demands in order to retain its kashrut certification.
The lawyer also noted that Logvanenko was kept on in the food department on the same pay as a chef despite being moved to the “cold kitchen” and noted that Logvanenko was brought back to work as a chef, albeit while being banned from turning on the ovens and stoves.
He added that the Yochananof Rechovot branch refused the kashrut supervisor’s demand that it investigate Logvanenko’s Jewish status and said it was unwilling to violate his privacy, adding that the company employs workers from across Israel’s religious and ethnic spectrum.
The lawyer also noted that Israel Be Free has carried out an aggressive campaign on social media accusing the Yochananof chain of being racist, and that Yochananof has filed a libel suit against the organization.
“This lawsuit is without any foundation. This is an attempt at silencing, designed to be a counterweight against the justified libel suit the [Yochananof] chain has submitted against the organization. We are saddened that the Israel Be Free movement continues to libel the company and does so cynically through former company employees without any proof or justification. We trust the justice system to reject this behavior.”
The Rehovot Religious Council did not respond to a request for comment regarding what basis the kashrut supervisor suspected Logvanenko was not Jewish, whether the kashrut supervisor had requested a Jewish status clarification, and why it appears that no other legal body has been requested to carry out such a clarification.
Attorney Elad Caplan, managing director of the religious services organization ITIM said that there is no legal basis for rabbinate investigations into the Jewish identity of employees in restaurants or supermarkets.
“These investigations violate fundamental rights and undermine the relationship between the citizen and the state. Moreover, Judaism is based on a system of trust and inclusion. That is the traditional halachic [Jewish-law] position. Replacing this with a policy based on suspicion and exclusion undermines the unity of the Jewish people."