Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Kashrut, Yad Vashem and Torah

We recently took some relatives to visit Yad Vashem - the Holocaust Museum / Centre. Due to the nature of the place, I was sure that the Kashrut would be of the highest standards. As things turned out, I was to learn an important lesson in understanding Kashrut in Israel. These are some tips I picked up:

1) Never presume there will be a Kosher restaurant when going to a museum or other place of interest, even in Yerushalayim.

2) Just because a venue or museum demonstrates how Jews have been badly treated, does not imply that they will have consideration for all levels of Kashrut.

The experience was a very painful one.

We asked the two men behind the Milchik Bar what the Heksher was, only to find that what they pointed us to was a folded piece of paper with the word Kosher on it. One should be aware that typing the word Kosher, whether in Hebrew or English, and printing out the word in a fancy font does not equal the fact that the food is in fact actually Kosher.

Keep this in mind: There has to be a valid certificate from a reputable Kashrut organization. e.g. Badatz Eida Chareidit, Rav (Avraham) Reuben, Rav Landau. For further details or to learn about Kashrut, please contact Reb Eliyahu.

Our next surprise was to find that the assistants were non-Jews. What concerned me was that there are so many Jews without work, why not offer work to those Jews in need, after all, surely in a place like this - highlighting the the horrendous behaviour of the world towards Jews, shouldn't this place - at the very least - be filled only with Jewish workers?! It would be wonderful to go into a restaurant at a place like Yad Vashem and be served by a religious Jew with a Kippa on his head or a head covering if a married woman - someone who understands the importance of Kashrut and what it is all about. This would demonstrate that the theme and painful lesson of what happened during the Shoah had translated into providing work to Jews and enabling them to fulfill their role in this world of living a life of Torah and Mitzvos.

The next problem we came up against was that there were no washing basins available. A Jewish woman dressed modestly asked if we had seen anywhere to wash ones hands prior to eating. We too scanned the area finding ourselves at a loss for any hand-washing basin (as is customary at any restaurant.) The best we could help her to find was the basins in the public toilets. Here, there were no washing cups and the water sprayed out in all directions. As an aside, both me and my husband found the toilets in an unsatisfactory condition. Surely the theme of Yad Vashem is concerned with the terrible treatment administered to the Jews at that time? Stories are told about Jews who saved their lives by having to hide in the most revolting sanitary conditions (hiding themselves in the sewerage and other such places.) If this museum is dedicated to making people aware of the importance of clean living conditions, it was amazing to see the less than acceptable state of the toilets.

If you do decide to eat or drink at Yad Vashem and have not prepared something to bring with you, there are some packaged ice creams with good Heksherim that are very yummy. There are also some bottles of cold drink. Once again, do make sure they have a recognized Heksher on them.

When going upstairs from the restaurant, we had to go through security. Our first thought was, the first security and means of protection for Jews is to uphold Kashrut and other Torah laws. So while we wait for the Kashrut to be improved at Yad Vashem, do make sure to bring your own Kosher snacks and out of respect for those who died Al Kiddish Hashem in the Shoah, do dress modestly.

A powerful lesson taught in some of the videos shown at Yad Vashem, are how the Jews were treated like animals, yet so many had the strength and courage to still find a way to uphold mitzvos. Let us follow their example and unite in strengthening our role in the world as a Light Unto the Nations. Let our response to the attrocity that happened be to eat Kosher food, learn what Kashrut is, dress as Jews, behave as Jews and provide employment first to Jews. Once the Jews in Israel all have their needs taken care of, then we can consider others. But first, as long as there are Jewish families without parnassa to cover their basics, as Rav Kanievsky gave a Psak, work should go to Jews.

When coming out of the museum itself, one soon finds a synagogue. Going in to daven Minchah we found a peaceful place with the chairs placed so as to form the shape of a Menorah. Unfortunately our enjoyment of a beautiful place to daven, surrounded by Aaron Kodesh and other items from synagogues that had been destroyed during WW2, was short-lived.

A couple entered to shelter themselves from the cold wind that had come up, seated themselves, man and woman next to each other and began talking about regular every day talk in loud voices. This is not the reason to enter a synagogue or the manner to behave in a place of worship.

Once again our hearts cried out. Here of all places, we should behave in every way as Torah abiding Jews. when going into a synagogue the reason is for Torah learning or prayer, not just to shelter from the cold. In a synagogue, men and women sit separately and any talk should be done only if no-one else is praying and in a hushed voice. The topic of conversation should be e.g. to ask the page for the current prayer in the prayer book, to express respect for G-d, to inquire as to time for the relevant prayer ie Shacharit, Minchah or Maariv. There are many more laws of how to behave in a Synagogue. If you would like to learn more, please contact Reb Eliyahu to set up a learning session, either via his email or website.

This post is not meant to attack any particular kashrut standard or any museum etc. Rather it shares an important lesson of responsibility when coming to Israel, and a responsibility for those having an impact in Jewish living in Israel. Perhaps, instead of beautiful architecture and movies that highlight the tragedies that occurred, there should be added to this the important traditional values of the Jew, providing a complete role model, as taught in the Torah.

Your comments and thoughts are always welcome.

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