Bucharest, Romania…It is less than a 3-hour flight from Tel Aviv and a round trip flight can be as inexpensive as $200, which explains why Israel is the second largest source of tourism for Romania, next to Germany. The political climate and cooperation between the two countries, is growing steadily. Romania has taken initial steps to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But despite the large number of Israeli visitors and as many as 30,000 other Jews from other parts of the European Union and the United States, kosher options lag behind such destinations as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Rabbi Rafael Shaffer, the Chief Rabbi and Aurel Vainer, the veteran Jewish activist who serves as the Chairman of the Jewish Federation, are committed to change the kosher landscape. During a government sponsored tour of the country, Kosher Today discovered options in various regions including Bucharest, Transylvania and Moldova. There are also various plans to add kosher dining options, including one by a major upscale restaurant and even for a kosher Israeli-Mexican restaurant. With a large group of Israelis, the 5-star Intercontinental Hotel in Central Bucharest posted a kosher sign at breakfast but it featured only hard-boiled eggs, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. With its Jewish population dramatically reduced from 880,000 in 1913 to 4,500 today, Romania is still an important heritage site for Jews, and features nearly 86 synagogues, 30 of them functioning and as many as 300 Jewish cemeteries. According to Mr. Vainer, there is an active program to restore many of these synagogues with government support. Major Chasidic groups like Satmar, Siget, and Sekulen also have roots here.
Rabbi Shaffer supervises several eateries in Bucharest and other parts of the country. He also occasionally arranges kosher for large groups at hotels. There is a growing interest by Bucharest’s developing and modernized food industry to go kosher and increase its exports. One well-known plant that the Romanian-born Israeli rabbi certifies is the Borsec company, known for its natural water from nearby springs. He is planning to add a kosher certification for the company’s Alsbacher Beer. At least two hotels cater to Jews who seek medical treatment in the mineral bath region. The development of kosher is very much like the development of the rest of the economy of Romania, which is still in transition from the bitter Ceausescu era but is galloping fast to join the Western world.