September 14, 2009

Kosher Food in Remarkable Resurgence in Odessa, Ukraine

Odessa, Ukraine…by Menachem Lubinsky…The Hebron Restaurant is one of two kosher restaurants in this city by the Black Sea that has experienced a remarkable resurgence of Jewish life. It is part of the Chorale Synagogue, under the leadership of Rabbi Shlomo Baksht, who in 17 years has managed to build a network of educational institutions for some 900 children and an orphanage for 200 children. In fact, his Tikvah organization produces more than 2,000 kosher meals each day. In addition to the restaurant which offers a menu of various fish, meat and poultry and dishes, a kiosk just outside the synagogue sells sandwiches and pastries to many people who eat only kosher, including new “kosher” consumers (returnees to authentic Judaism) as well as passersby who are not necessarily Jewish, and a kosher grocery store which sells many Israeli products as well as a growing number of locally produced products that Rabbi Baksht certifies. In advance of Rosh Hashanah, the store sold a local brand of honey which was part of a special run supervised by the rabbi. The restaurant not only serves the local community but is also used by some 30 Israeli families involved in outreach activities here. The Synagogue which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary was transformed into an indoor sports arena between 1932 – 1992. Rabbi Baksht managed to get the authorities to return the magnificent building after the fall of Communism in the city. An estimated 40,000 Jews are believed to be living in Odessa, including many poor and elderly. The rabbi says that a strong Jewish community is being built from the more than 50% who are young, but he expressed concern at the large number of abused and abandoned children, many of which are in the Tikvah orphanage.