With a menu offering five salads, a variety of soups, breads and meats, the only kosher restaurant in Western Ukraine opened last week in the city of Zhitomir. Philanthropist George Rohr, on a visit to the local Jewish community, affixed a Mezuzah on the door to the restaurant that could comfortable seat sixty.
Situated on the 30 acre Ohr Avner Chabad Educational Village, the new restaurant is an exciting development for the local Jewish community and regular visitors from abroad. Home to a synagogue, Jewish day school, two mikvahs and an orphanage, the village, says Rabbi Zalman Bukiet, administrator of the campus, “is the perfect setting for a restaurant and completes the Jewish community.”
There are about 5000 Jews in the city, but when Rabbi Shlomo and Esther Wilhelm arrived there in 1994, they began reaching Jews dispersed in remote communities in Western Ukraine. Today there are 16 Chabad representatives in the city and over 250 employees in its Chabad institutions. Some 40 Chabad representatives serve Jews in Western Ukraine.
For Jews living in Western Ukraine, until last week, making a kosher event was difficult. “The food was made at home or in borrowed kitchens at the school, where it would need to be made after school hours,” says Rabbi Avraham Daitsh, a local Chabad representative. “It discouraged many from making their events kosher.” The new restaurant will change that.
Thankfully, the city has been spared the violence in Ukraine, but it is in financial trouble, a factor that was considered when planning the new restaurant. “While visitors to the city could afford to pay in full for their meals, many locals who would eat out at non-kosher restaurants, will now enjoy the discount offered to Jewish community members, making eating at a kosher establishment affordable and preferable.”
Children from the local Chabad schools and some thirty Chabad representatives from Western Ukraine came to celebrate the restaurant’s opening.
Rabbi Wilhelm presented Mr. Rohr with a Hebrew letter in cast lead from the famed Slavuta printing press. Slavuta, a nearby city, housed the Jewish press, most known for its printing, in the 1800’s, of several editions of a magnificent Talmud.
“It is very emotional for me to see first-hand what the shluchim are doing in Ukraine,” Mr. Rohr said, adding that he never imagined he’d be eating in a fine restaurant in Western Ukraine.
“I have the merit to be a part of all that you are doing. You do not need to tell me thank you, I need to tell you thank you for letting me partner with you.”