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SHOPPERS GET KOSHER GUIDE; RABBI LEADS MARKET TOUR.

Byline: Paul O'Donoghue Staff Writer

For former Catholic Maureen O'Neill, eating kosher foods is another major component in her increasingly devout practice of the Jewish faith.

That's why O'Neill, an Agoura Hills resident who converted to Judaism 16 years ago, joined an aisle-by-aisle tour Sunday at Bristol Farms market in Westlake Village, where a rabbi from Chabad of Conejo explained what is and is not kosher.

``I want to get more knowledgeable and learn more and try to keep a kosher kitchen at home,'' O'Neill said.

``I want to get closer to God. As I grow older, I seem to have become more spiritual.''

O'Neill, whose children are grown and practice other religions, converted to Judaism because for her it is the most spiritually satisfying religion.

The store tour was part of a fourth annual Kosher Week series of lectures, workshops and tours, including some of people's homes, to show how to adhere to the kosher dietary laws.

Led by Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky, the tour of about 20 people, ranging from children to Holocaust survivors, began at a table laden with scores of kosher goods, including peanut butter, macaroni and oatmeal.

``What we are attempting to do here is to show people what they have to do to keep kosher,'' Bistritzky said. ``We're trying to keep Jewish traditions alive.''

Kosher food already generates about $30 billion in sales annually in the United States, and business is growing, Bistritzky said. He said more and more food suppliers want to get their products certified as kosher by panels of rabbis.

Most manufactured kosher foods are marked with special symbols that vary from the letter K, surrounded by a heart logo, to the letter U within a circle.

Bistritzky said increased interest in kosher foods is part of a widespread search by people for meaning in their lives, often after their immigrant parents sacrificed religious practices in pursuit of wealth.

``And it's not just the Jews, but all religions,'' he said. ``People are searching for meaning.''

Several of the tour participants said their interest in kosher foods was prompted by age, the advent of children and an interest in spirituality.

``I was raised in the Orthodox Jewish background, so this is a rejuvenation,'' said Zoltan Bodnar, 74. ``I am a Holocaust survivor, and after the war I lost my faith in God because how could he let that happen?''

Bodnar, who survived the Dachau concentration camp that killed his relatives, agreed with his wife, Piri, 74, a survivor Auschwitz, said they started caring more about religion when they were bringing up their two children.

Their daughter Katarine Bodnar accompanied them on the tour.

``It's very interesting,'' she said.

Kosher in Hebrew means fit, right or proper. And eating kosher is commanded of Jews in the Torah.

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether some foods are kosher or not, said Agoura Hills resident Michael Langberg, showing one product that was marked with the letter K but not encircled.

``It may be kosher, and then again it may not be,'' Langberg said. ``You just don't know.''

Bistritzky said that many foods contain hidden additives, flavorings or ingredients that make them nonkosher.

For information on kosher products, including advice by e-mail, a special site has been set up on the Internet at www.kosherquest.org.

For more information on Kosher Week, contact Rabbi Yisroel Levine at (818) 991-0991.

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo: (1 -- 2 -- color -- ran in Conejo edition only) Market shelves offer an array of kosher foods at left and below, where Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky examines a label during a tour Sunday in Westlake Village for those interested in adhering to Jewish dietary laws.

(3 -- color in Conejo edition only) Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky makes a point in a Westlake Village tour Sunday on shopping for kosher food.

Lilly Barrett/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 25, 1999
Words:640
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