How Is­rael sparked a kosher revo­lu­tion

For­get the tech­no­log­i­cal tri­umphs or mak­ing the desert bloom. The Jewish state’s great­est achieve­ment in its 60-year his­tory is gas­tro­nomic, ar­gues Nathan Jeffay

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features -

AT FIRST glance, YomHa’atz­maut is the worst cel­e­bra­tion of the Jewish year for food­ies. It is just about the only o n e w i t h o u t its own spe­cial dish. But is it pos­si­ble that it is ac­tu­ally the ul­ti­mate foodie fes­ti­val? Ev­ery year as Is­rael’s an­niver­sary ap­proaches, the great and the good feel an urge to as­sess the achieve­ments of Zion­ism and the state of Is­rael. This year, as we mark the big 60, the com­men­ta­tors are work­ing over­time.

Some stress the way Is­rael has rev­o­lu­tionised the sta­tus of the Jew — no longer vul­ner­a­ble, now al­ways with a home­land to turn to. Many talk of a re­li­gious revo­lu­tion, yet oth­ers to a cul­tural ad­vance: Jewish art and lit­er­a­ture hav­ing been given a new lease of life be­cause of Is­rael’s achieve­ments.

Maybe, though, the great­est trans­for­ma­tion in world Jewry as a re­sult of the state of Is­rael has been gas­tro­nomic. If you want to see the achieve­ment of the Jewish state that af­fects the great­est num­ber of peo­ple daily, head for your lo­cal kosher store.

Once stocked with a few ba­sic pro­vi­sions, to­day you will see hun­dreds of lines of rab­bini­cally cer­ti­fied in­gre­di­ents, fully pre­pared prod­ucts and wines. There is hardly a food that it is pos­si­ble to make within the limita- tions of kashrut laws that you can­not get. And you only need to look at the “pro­duce of” la­bels to see that it is a mar­ket driven by the breed­ing ground of kosher en­ter­prise that is Is­rael.

It is true that the ex­is­tence of the state has co­in­cided with the growth of food ranges world­wide, but kosher food would not be what it is to­day with­out the con­cen­trated cus­tomer base in Is­rael that wel­comes in­no­va­tion and sus­tains pro­duc­tion.

“Be­cause kosher is the only mar­ket we have, Is­rael cre­ates a sit­u­a­tion where an en­tire coun­try’s in­no­va­tion in food is chan­nelled into the kosher sec­tor,” says Zvi Gold­stein, head of the man­u­fac­tured food de­part­ment at the Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion of Is­rael.

Ac­cord­ing to the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fig­ures, Is­rael pro­duces £7 bil­lion worth of rab­bini­cally su­per­vised food a year. Over £450 mil­lion-worth is ex­ported.

But with kosher pro­duc­tion thriv­ing else­where, es­pe­cially in the United States, how much credit can you re­ally give to Is­rael? Per­haps this world­wide suc­cess story is, at least in part, a mat­ter of Is­raeli firms cre­at­ing a mar­ket that is so lively that di­as­pora firms pulling rais­ing their per­for­mance to stay in the game.

The lit­mus test for this no­tion must be Amer­ica, which has the most self-suf­fi­cient kosher mar­ket of any di­as­pora coun­try, with huge do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion op­er­a­tions. But even there, “the chal­lenge in kosher wine is to pro­duce wines that live up to Is­raeli stan­dards”, says Me­nachem Lu­bin­sky, head of the Lu­bi­com kosher food mar­ket­ing con­sul­tancy in Brook­lyn, New York and ed­i­tor of kosher­to­day.com. “The Is­raeli food in­dus­try has sig­nif­i­cantly raised the bar on kosher wine,” he adds.

Ask most di­as­pora Zion­ists why they love to visit Is­rael and they will give you all sorts of re­sponses. But press them on how they re­ally know they are “home” when they ar­rive and they will in­vari­ably give a food-re­lated an­swer.

For one it will be that they can walk along Ben Ye­huda Street in Jerusalem with a su­per­vised ice-cream, for an­other it will be the avail­abil­ity of a kosher McDon­ald’s at Ben Gu­rion.

What is more, peo­ple re­turn from Is­rael with an en­thu­si­asm for eat­ing out, a ma­jor fac­tor in the growth in the num­ber of kosher restau­rants in Lon­don. There you can sit, in­vari­ably in a restau­rant owned by an Is­raeli, eat­ing Is­raeli in­gre­di­ents cooked by an Is­raeli chef and served by an Is­raeli waiter or wait­ress… while mus­ing over what the great con­tri­bu­tion of the Jewish state might be.

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

A kosher McDon­ald’s restau­rant in Tel Aviv, an ex­am­ple of the broad range of food avail­able to Is­raelis

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