Return from exile: Banished Co-op members back

Park Slope Food Co-op suspends four members over Israel boycott spat
Photo by Jason Speakman

They have returned to the promised land after spending 40 days and 40 nights in a food desert!

A group of pro-Israel Park Slope Food Co-op members who were banished from the Union Street supermarket for pulling the plug on a presentation condemning an Israeli soda company are back after a yearlong suspension, a little older, a little wiser, and with a lot less money in their pockets.

“It was fun, and it was nice, and it was expensive,” said 40-year member Rhudi Andreolli who, along with 26-year member Alan Ettlinger and 20-year member Millie Rutner were suspended for their antics during a presentation given by liberal co-op members seeking to boycott Soda Stream and other Israeli-made products.

The group wasn’t fined for its discretion, but once outside the socialist food utopia the castoffs paid a heavy price by having to shop at stores with terrible selection in out-of the way locations that charged way too much.

“My food habits are based on what’s available at the co-op, so there’s a lot of stuff they carry that’s not available at other super markets,” Ettlinger said, who estimated that the prices at Key Food on Fifth Avenue were about 30-percent higher on average than at the co-op, and that he spent roughly $1,500 more during his banishment.

Rutner had a better experience, shopping as much as she could at Trader Joe’s on Court Street at Atlantic Avenue, which she found relatively a-political with prices that were comparable to the co-op.

But the Brighton Beach resident was occasionally shopped at the Key Foods on Neptune Avenue, which she claims charges exorbitant prices because its customers are older people who won’t go anywhere else.

“They charge a dollar more on almost every single item, because they have a trapped audience,” Rutner said.

Andreolli’s said she took pleasure in exploring Park Slope’s more conventional grocery stores, like the Third Street Whole Foods, the Ninth Street C-Town, and the Seventh Avenue Union Market, where she found the organic produce to be fresher but more expensive than the co-op’s.

She really liked the organic mashed potatoes at Union Market, which she heated up with butter and organic olive oil, and topped with red beats, red peppers, and garlic.

“It’s a healthy, fun meal,” she said.

Ettlinger described his weekly schlepps to Key Food “pain in the ass,” and was disappointed that the variety of organic produce and meats that he had grown accustomed to at the co-op were unavailable.

So he admitted he’ll be “more careful” when protesting the grocery store’s influential boycotter faction, but that he’s “pissed off” that the co-op’s in-house newspaper, the Linewaiter’s Gazette, still provides them a place to pontificate about their anti-Israeli agenda.

That’s not so for Rutner, who said she has returned to the co-op for political reasons, and that she won’t leave until the boycotters have been “excommunicated” from the grocery store.

“I hate them like poison, to tell you the truth,” she said.

And Andreolli spent some of her time away visiting the United Nations in Manhattan, where she petitioned Israeli and Jewish advocates for support in a civil defamation suit she plans to file against the co-op in retaliation for her suspension, which she claims ruined her good name.

Her efforts there were unsuccessful, however, despite the minor celebrity she enjoys among Jews for standing up against the co-op’s boycotters.

“It was unbelievable,” said Andreolli. “I’m in this sea of big Jewish organizations, and they know about me, and say I’m a hero, that we love you so much, but we can’t help you.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.