Levi Liberow, Beis Moshiach
A close friend of mine was looking into parnasah prospects. He was considering entering the restaurant market and wanted to try something new and fresh in one of Brooklyn’s Jewish neighborhoods. He was looking into an Asian style of cuisine, which (at the time) did not exist in the kosher market.
He approached a potential investor, a mover-and-shaker in the kosher dining market, who was behind a respectable list of successful kosher restaurants, and asked what he thinks about it.
The investor — not a Chabadnik, at least openly — liked the idea. “But don’t try it here. People here are too traditional. You have to debut in Crown Heights first…”
I guess we are trailblazers in everything Jewish. No one like the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach is open to using any legitimate trick and method to get more Jews involved.
So, this spirit of Jewish innovation, besides for, of course, fueling shlichus, also rubbed off on entrepreneurs in our community and so, Crown Heights has in recent years earned the title of “the capital of Jewish Food.”
We have artisan bakeries, a Kosher Vietnamese restaurant specializing in pho & ramen noodle selections, fine smoked meats, 24-hour coffee shops, liquor-infused ice cream, and many more “new-age” dining options, side-by-side with thriving traditional world-famous cholent-and-kugel places (I know this firsthand — people in my Flatbush shul rant and rave over Dovid Malka’s potato kugel..)
“Capital of Jewish food?”
Many of us —myself included — don’t like the sound of that. “Is that what we have to offer?” “Crown Heights should be known as the capital of Torah, of Jewish spirituality, of simcha, of Chassidus!”
“How do you think the Rebbe would react seeing a headline in the media reading that ‘Crown Heights is the capital of Jewish Food’?” many of us think.
I don’t know how the Rebbe would react. But everything a Jew sees or hears must serve as a lesson in Avodas Hashem; Surely, when it happens in the Rebbe’s city and neighborhood.
We all know the song “Essen est zich” and we all know what Chassidus says about indulging in ta’avos heter — permissible kosher indulgences. The whole “culture” of food is antithetical to Judaism. We eat to be healthy and able-bodied to serve Hashem.
It really doesn’t matter if its Vietnamese noodles, or chulent and kugel – all a ta’avah needs to fit into the category of ta’avos heter is a good hechsher. The fact that Jews have been eating it for hundreds of years doesn’t make it less klipas nogah.
I shared my thoughts on this matter with a friend, someone I thought to be more “radical” than myself. He surprised me with his reaction: “What does every Chabad House do? Every shiur in a Yeshiva today advertises that ‘refreshments will be served!’ Of course, it’s not the main thing, but when you bring Jews to Crown Heights, ostensibly for food, they get to be in the Rebbe’s shchuna. They see Chassidim, they see Jewish life, and even the mere sight can have a tremendously positive effect.”
And he’s right. Avraham Avinu invented the formula. His four-door-tent was “the capital of kosher food” in the desert for miles around, and that’s how he brought thousands under the wings of the Shechinah!
And with all this said, I still believe there is a balance that needs to be reached. True, Chabad Houses use food as a tool to bring Jews closer, but Chabad is not a restaurant chain. Crown Heights is the capital of Jewish life, not only of kosher food.
In a fascinating sicha (Mikeitz 5752), the Rebbe points out that all Jewish festivals — in typical Jewish fashion — are food-related. There is an obligation of a seuda — nourishing the body — because we celebrate them to commemorate miracles that saved our bodies.
Chanukah has no such obligation. We mark the miracles with more spiritual acts, like lighting candles and reciting Hallel, because the Greek persecution was directed at our souls.
But the Rema (in siman 670:2), notes that while there is no obligation to feast, nonetheless, “yesh ktzas mitzvah b’ribuy haseudos” — it is customary to add in festive dining, and there is an aspect of a mitzvah involved too.
This is because a Jew’s spiritual life cannot be detached from his physical life. If you oppose a Jew’s religion and faith, you are bound to become a plain antisemite and lose all your intellectual sophistication on the way, which is exactly what happened at the time of Chanukah: the “enlightened” Hellenists couldn’t refrain from hurting Jewish property either.
When we celebrate our spiritual victory, the food just has to be there too, because Jewish food stands for much more than what meets the eye and the taste-buds… And we need to teach that secret too.
Yud Tes Kislev is also all about food.
The victory of Yud Tes Kislev was really the vindication of Chassidus from a heavenly kitrug, a claim that the world was unworthy for these secrets. But years before his own arrest and liberation, the Alter Rebbe gave his famous mashal of the ill prince and the crown jewels to fight off the same kitrug? How then did that Heavenly opposition return?
The Rebbe brilliantly explains (Likkutei Sichos vol. 30 on 19 Kislev), that that defense was for Chassidus as a medication; for droplets of divine wisdom sparingly administered to save a deathly ill nation.
The Alter Rebbe’s Chabad Chassidus wanted every Jew to thrive on Chassidus, not only survive through it! The new kitrug came about when the Alter Rebbe began “feeding” crown jewels to every “nobody” for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack too!
Ultimately, that “menu” was approved by the Heavenly Court, and so, what Crown Heights has to offer to every Jew (and gentiles too) is Chassidus and Torah not as a potion or merely “supplemental” inspiration for Jewish life.
We are indeed the “Capital of Jewish Food,” with an emphasis on the “Jewish.”
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