August 23, 2010

Kosher Food in the Baltics: Scarce but Available

Copenhagen…Although Denmark is not a particularly leading European destination, you wouldn’t know it from the crowds the Chabad of Copenhagen draws on a typical Shabbat in the summer for some real homemade kosher meals. Rabbi Yitzi Lowenthal and wife Rochel were hosts to some 220 people, nearly 150 waiting to embark on a kosher cruise on Sunday. The cruise crowd was served in a large dining room and courtyard on the main level while other guests enjoyed good Shabbos food and traditional songs on the upper floor. Rabbi Lowenthal says that the Shabbat meals often attract many notables. On this particularly Shabbat, it included Jewish Week publisher Gary Rosenblatt and his wife. Nearby, the small Orthodox Machzikei Hadas Synagogue also welcomes some of the visitors as does the Great Synangogue, under Chief Rabbi Brent Lexner, about a mile from the Chabad center. Rabbi Lexner certifies an impressive number of food establishments in the country assisted by Mr. Gershwald, a producer of gourmet Havarati kosher cheese. Although the community does offer some kosher food for sale, Gershwald often travels 10 hours to Antwerp to fill up his car with kosher goodies. The country is said to include about 8,000 Jews including some more recent Russian émigrés, but the number of people who eat kosher is relatively small. Still the main synagogue averages about 150 people on a typical Shabbat and makes arrangements to sell kosher food.

In other countries on the Baltic Sea, kosher is available but sparingly. In Tallinn, Estonia, kosher food is available in the main synagogue. Few of the estimated 2500 Jews who live there eat kosher but the synagogue has attracted many tourists in recent years. In Helsinki, Finland, a small kosher deli is situated right near the main synagogue. Tourists often load up on the few Israeli goodies that are on sale, including chocolate covered pretzels and halvah. In a remarkable story of accommodation, a new Radisson Hotel built right in front of the synagogue was built in two wings with a ground level bridge so that the dome of the shul can be seen from far. Stockholm too has its share of kosher food, again associated with the Jewish community center in the city. In St. Petersburg, Russia, there are some choices that include the Le’Chaim Restaurant in the Choral Synagogue. Manager Alex says that the summer has been good for business. On this summer day, LeChaim served more than 250 meals with homemade chicken and potatoes, a basic staple on the menu. He has also been called on to do a “growing number of catering jobs.” The new Shalom Restaurant is also a key attraction for many tourists who visit the beautiful city. Chief Rabbi of St. Petersburg Menachem Mendel Pewzner also certifies a growing number of plants with many of the products slated for export.