Masbia is a humanitarian organization located in the Borough Park neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, whose stated mission is to feed the hungry in a respectful and dignified manner. Masbia is the only full service free soup kitchen serving kosher food in New York City. Amidst rising hunger among Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn and what the Food Bank for New York City refers to a "stigma" about poverty among this population, the Orthodox soup kitchen Masbia serves a large number of Brooklyn Jews. Masbia currently serves kosher food to many people on weekdays. Unlike traditional free soup kitchens, in keeping with the Jewish principle of doing charity without making the recipient feel as though they are getting a hand out, Masbia has the look and feel of a restaurant with waiter service in a nice dining hall. Masbia is the Hebrew word for satiate.
The problems in Borough Park are part of a larger Brooklyn phenomena. Not a week goes by when Alexander Rapaport, who co-founded Masbia with Mordechai Mandelbaum, doesn't see a member of his community searching through the garbage bins. The number of Brooklynites who experienced difficulty affording needed food increased by 75% between 2003 and 2006. About 84% of the households receiving food stamps used them up within three weeks and had to turn to soup kitchens or food pantries for the last part of the month, according to recent studies. And during the last year, 52% of Brooklyn's emergency food providers have run out of food at one time or another. And all of the agencies are appealing for help.
MASBIA is unique in its commitment; anybody who comes in gets a hot supper. If we run out of food, we quickly reorder mid-shift to replenish the food supply.
Our strong commitment to feeding the hungry with dignity makes us take an approach that IS NOT “we’ll give them whatever food we can put our hands on”. It is “we’ll give them what a human being deserves”. That’s why we are committed to our menu. We serve everyone soup, chicken, starch, and a vegetable.
Most emergency food distribution centers are more flexible in what they give out to their clients. They make use of different commodity surpluses that are made available through various agencies and corporate overstock. We don't.
We are committed to providing a freshly cooked meal for everyone that walks through our door. Additionally, the kosher factor makes us directly dependent on monetary aid. For these reasons it is unfeasible for us to depend on commodity donations.
Part of Masbia's success is a result of its enterprising spirit. Always on the prowl for new ideas, with new and creative ways to get the community involved. At the heart of this is the belief that spreading the word of this one-of-a-kind organization is the key to public support. MASBIA uses every opportunity he gets to inform people through the media of the growing poverty in Brooklyn. Just this past winter Masbia was featured in articles in the New York Daily News (three times), News12 TV, The Jewish Week and The Jerusalem Post and local Jewish media including Hamodia and Der Yid. Recently Rapaport outdid himself with a video—live actors and all- that documents a new trend in the community intimately connected to the soup kitchen.
Today, much of Masbia's funding comes from an unlikely source. Unlikely, that is, by modern standards. These days, brides and grooms on the verge of getting married make sure to pay a visit to Masbia before they tie the knot. The founders have found a way to resurrect an "old world" ritual and at the same time ensure that supply at Masbia never stops. Today, most of their $500 thousand annual budget comes from newlyweds and their parents, who thank God by sponsoring a meal at the soup kitchen in the days before the wedding celebration.
"The most appropriate thing to do before my wedding was to pay for a hot meal," said Mr. Neuman, a Borough Park resident, less than a week after he got married. "This is the way to give gratitude to God and let the poor join in my simcha." To sponsor an entire night costs $960, which comes out to $6 a meal.
The tradition dates back to the "old world" where the custom was to sponsor a "poor man's meal" in the days before the wedding. The Talmud and Midrash relate stories where giving to the poor at the time of the wedding saved the couple from potential harm. What evolved from that was a tradition of giving to the less fortunate as part of the pre-wedding ritual.
When Europe was still a bustling Jewish center, everyone made a poor man's wedding for poor people to have good meal. In America that tradition largely faded. But Masbia has found a way to bring it back in style.
MASBIA & Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner of Kerestir
A soup kitchen that serves steak might sound rather luxurious, but steak night comes only once a year at Masbia, in honor of Grand Rabbi Yeshayah Steiner of Kerestir, Hungary, who died in 1925 and who was known for feeding the hungry and other acts of charity.
Address, Hours & Contact information
4114 14th Ave Brooklyn NY 11219
Mailing Address: PO Box 191181 Brooklyn NY 11219
Hours: Sun-Thur 4:00PM - 9:00 PM
- ↑ Kilgannon, Corey. "A Kosher Soup Kitchen Offers a Dignified Place to Eat, and Steak for One Day", The New York Times, May 12, 2008. Accessed October 5, 2008.
- Official Masbia Website
- New York Times story on MASBIA
- CityRoomBlog Video Clip
- Masbia in the media
- Video posted on Tsofar of Grand Rabbi of Kosov Visiting Masbia
- Poverty in Boro Park on BCAT TV