L.I. Synagogue, Catererb Reach Settlement

Morrell Caterers and Woodbury Jewish Center will drop all claims in long-running dispute.

06/25/13
Staff Writer
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Morrell Caterers, which was accused by former employees of numerous kosher law violations, has signed a settlement with the Woodbury (L.I.) Jewish Center that calls for it to end its business there Aug. 31 and for both sides to drop all claims against one another.

“It was appropriate given the fact that it was a dispute between a temple and a caterer and that all sides should explore sholom bayit [peace at home],” said Howard Fensterman, Morrell’s attorney.

“Enough animus had occurred and it was time to put it behind them,” he added. “Fortunately, they were able to do that and reach a settlement that is acceptable to both parties.”

Both sides signed a settlement agreement last month that is now awaiting the approval of State Supreme Court Justice Vito Destefano.

The settlement calls for Morrell Caterers to drop its $10 million defamation suit against the Conservative synagogue, its president and rabbi, Raphael Adler. Rabbi Adler had recommended to the synagogue board that Morrell’s contract be terminated because of a “loss of trust in Mr. Morrell’s integrity.”

Although he said the charges leveled by Morrell’s former general manager and former executive chef that Morrell were unproven, Rabbi Adler wrote that the “severity of these charges has created a crisis point where my congregation and I have become the objects of ridicule and scorn through actions not of our making.”

The allegation was that Scott Morrell, the principal co-owner of the business that bears his name, had ordered that non-kosher food including shrimp and pork be prepared in the kosher kitchen of a Reform synagogue in which he worked, Temple Beth Torah in Dix Hills.

Scott Morrell denied the charge and sued both men; the case is still pending.

“In the greater community, the distinction between the Woodbury Jewish Center and a separately supervised caterer are muddled and confused to the point where wrongdoing is seen as a reflection on both the congregation and me,” Rabbi Adler wrote. “This is an intolerable violation of halachic [Jewish law] principles.”

The synagogue, in turn, claimed that Morrell owed it at least $600,000 in fees since December 2009. The synagogue said Morrell had refused to pay by claiming the building was in such bad condition that potential customers had shied away.

Paul Woldar, treasurer of the Woodbury Jewish Center, said the synagogue leadership is “optimistic that we have a deal … [and] both sides expect it to be adhered to.”

What the synagogue will do for a caterer after Aug. 31 is undecided. A committee has been appointed to consider alternatives. But Cindy Matte, the congregation’s president, pointed out that “from the beginning we have represented that we would do our best not to leave anybody in the lurch. The synagogue has never intended to hurt anybody and we will not do the wrong thing.”

Fensterman said Morrell has about 10 affairs at the Woodbury Jewish Center between now and Aug. 31 and only a few thereafter.

“Anyone in contract with Morrell after that date can go to Temple Beth Torah or Temple Israel in Lawrence [where he also works],” Fensterman said. “They would also be free to have their deposit refunded and to select another caterer.” 

stewart@jewishweek.org

Last Update:

06/25/2013 - 15:25

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