July 14, 2015

Significant Rise in Jewish Tourism to Poland Increases Demand for Kosher

Krakow - The traditional large number of Jews who visit European  cities every summer has to a great extent shifted from the large Western capitals to cities like Krakow, Budapest and Prague, giving rise to many new kosher options, including the new King David Hotel in Prague. Several travel agents who specialize in European travel told KosherToday that the shift is due to increased anti-Semitism in destinations like Paris and Amsterdam and a growing interest in visiting Jewish heritage sites, particularly Poland with its eerie reminders of the Holocaust 70 years after liberation. There has also been a new interest in kosher travel to places like the Far East, most notably China. This past week, dozens of groups from the US, Israel and Europe visited Warsaw and Krakow, with organizers utilizing some interesting venues to serve kosher meals. One group, Project Mesorah, a US group that works with boys “at risk and sponsors heritage tours to Poland,” used a rather regal conference center near the Galician city of Tarnov as the site for a late-night dinner for the group. Tarnov is the scene of a mass grave of several hundred children who were shot to death by the Nazis and where the Nazis learnt not to shoot children without their mothers. Another site was the first Beth Jacob Seminary for girls in Krakow, which was opened in 1927 by Sara Schneirer who died nearly 80 years ago. It is now a landmark building that was used as a catering hall for the 100 people from several countries on the 5-day heritage trip to Poland. Ari Scharf, the head of Project Mesorah, said that he used the commissary of Kosher Delight, a leading caterer in Poland with branches in Warsaw, Krakow and Lodz, along with kosher supervision from the Badatz in Jerusalem.

The Polish government is not ambivalent to its value as an international tourist destination, investing millions into preserving landmark sites like Umshlagplatz (the central gathering place for Jews who were sent to their death in crematoria), Auschwitz-Berkanau, Majdanek and the Jewish Quarter here with its many restaurants with Hebrew signs (albeit not kosher).  It built a large memorial park to the central gathering place for the deportation of Jews from Krakow. The park features bronze chairs as a reminder to the chairs the Gestapo placed there to keep their papers. Poland rescinded a ban against kosher slaughter last year and is a major source of supply of kosher meat for Israel and Europe. Some sources estimated revenues of nearly $500 million from the kosher meat business alone. There are also a number of food plants that are under the kosher supervision of Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Poland’s Chief Rabbi. Although few Jews still live here, there has certainly been a Jewish revival in Poland, 70 years after the liberation. Poland was home to nearly 3.5 million Jews before World War II with most perishing in the Holocaust.