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Borsht in Bahrain: Manama’s Ritz Carlton to serve kosher food

Five-star hotel will be first in kingdom to establish a kosher kitchen, supervised by Orthodox Union; local Jewish leader lauds move, hopes for more Jewish tourists

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A view of the Manama skyline, Bahrain. (CC-BY Jayson De Leon/Wikimedia Commons)
A view of the Manama skyline, Bahrain. (CC-BY Jayson De Leon/Wikimedia Commons)

The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bahrain’s capital plans to start serving kosher food in the coming days, it announced on Monday.

The US-based Orthodox Union will oversee the process, helping the luxury hotel establish a new kosher kitchen and certify that the food prepared there adheres strictly to Jewish dietary laws, according to a press release.

“Additionally, OU Kosher is helping the hotel identify a kosher culinary team member who will serve as a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, when kosher meals are prepared on the premises,” the OU said.

On October 18, Israel and Bahrain signed a “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations,” which the Knesset is expected to approve on Tuesday, before the agreement goes to the cabinet for ratification.

Since Jerusalem and Manama signed the so-called Abraham Accords on establishing diplomatic ties, “there has been a surge in interest from Jewish business and leisure travelers from Israel, North America and Europe in visiting the Kingdom,” the OU said.

“Bahrain is unique as it already has an indigenous Jewish population, and since the recent normalization of relations, we are seeing a greater interest from Jewish and Israeli travelers, and we want to be able to provide kosher food for those who prefer this option,” said Bernard de Villèle, the general manager of the Manama Ritz Carlton, which located in the city’s Al Seef district.

Ebrahim Nonoo, head of Bahrain Jewish community, prays in the only synagogue in the kingdom of Bahrain, in the capital Manama, on November 9, 2020. (Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

The head of Bahrain’s Jewish community, Ebrahim Nonoo, praised the hotel’s decision, predicting it will bring more Jewish tourists to the tiny island nation. “Nearly [sic] a day goes by where we don’t receive a request from Jewish groups and individuals about visiting Bahrain and kosher food is one of their top questions,” he said.

Rabbi Menachem Genack, who heads the OU’s kosher division, said his organization’s kosher certification services have been “sought-after” in the Gulf. “The Abraham Accords has opened new destinations for kosher travelers in the Gulf that have never existed before,” he said.

The OU is not the only player in the region’s burgeoning kosher certification business.

Last month, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism signed an agreement with the “Emirates Agency for Kosher Certification,” which was founded by Dubai-based Chabad emissary Rabbi Levi Duchman.

According to the deal, the newly founded agency will “officially certify the emirate’s hotels for serving kosher meals,” the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned news agency WAM reported at the time.

In apparent anticipation of an influx of Jewish tourists, local authorities in Abu Dhabi in September instructed all hotels in the city to prepare kosher food options.

In a written message sent to the managers of all hotels in the Emirati capital, its Department of Culture and Tourism cites its commitment to serve “all visitors and tourists in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.” Therefore, “all hotel establishments are advised to include Kosher food options on room service menus and at all food and beverage outlets in their establishments.”

Ross Kriel, left, and Emirates Flight Catering CEO Saeed Mohammed signing an MOU about cooperating on kosher meals produced locally, Abu Dhabi, September 17, 2020 (courtesy Emirates)

Also in September, the UAE’s flagship airline’s catering service announced that it will start producing and serving kosher in-flight meals.

“The new partnership will be called Kosher Arabia, and production is expected to begin by January 2021,” Emirates Flight Catering, or EKFC, said in a press release.

The meals will be produced at a special facility set up for kosher food in the UAE, and will be certified by the OU, which will collaborate with the South African Union of Orthodox Synagogues, according to the press release.

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