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(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
It smells like a McDonald's french fry, it tastes like a McDonald's french fry, but if it's from the McDonald's at Jerusalem's Central Bus Station, it won't look like a McDonald's french fry - at least the wrapping won't.
After a nine-year impasse in negotiations between the Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate and the McDonald's corporation, the "golden arches" food chain in the capital's bus station - which will no longer be golden - revamped its image last week as the first kosher branch in Jerusalem, with a few small labeling tweaks to make sure people won't confuse a kosher Big Mac for a non-kosher Double McRoyale On the Grill.
"People have been coming up and blessing us since we reopened," said Adam, a worker at the branch who declined to give his last name. "They come up and say 'mazal tov!' They're happy it's finally kosher."
The biggest obstacle to the bus station McDonald's kosher certificate was the Rabbinate's concern that patrons might get confused and think that all of the McDonald's in the city were kosher. The capital's kosher supervisors had originally insisted that McDonald's change the name of the kosher branches to "McKosher," which the corporation refused to do.
Only within the past few months has the international restaurant chain agreed to make other changes to satisfy the rabbis.
In order to differentiate between the kosher and non-kosher branches, the signs are a bright blue, instead of the traditional red, with "Kosher" written in Hebrew and English in unmistakably large letters.
The disposable cartons, bags, wraps, and place mats, which generate thousands of kilograms of waste daily, are also blue and devoid of the golden arches or anything "Mickey D" related. The uniforms at this branch will also not have arches or any McDonald's symbols, including the well-known "I'm lovin' it" slogan.
Currently workers are wearing a plain grey t-shirt while the new uniforms are being made.
While all kosher McDonald's have a blue sign, the blue disposables and new uniforms are special to the Jerusalem branch, because the Jerusalem rabbinate made additional demands of the corporation.
The Mevasseret branch, for example, is kosher but has the regular packaging and uniforms.
"We sensed the need for a kosher restaurant in Jerusalem," said Ruth Sarid, the executive vice president of McDonald's in Israel. "I know for a fact that a lot of tourists or those who come from the States love to eat McDonald's but can't. They are delighted to eat McDonald's here."
The McDonald's in the bus station has been trying to receive kosher supervision since the opening of the bus station in 2001, insisting that they followed halachic obligations without an official certification.
Previously, the rabbinate had refused to give kashrut certifications to chain restaurants that had non-kosher branches in the same city. Workers at Burger's Bar, the other hamburger joint in the central bus station's food court, insist that they aren't in the least bit worried about competition. "I'm going to stay with Burger's Bar because McDonald's is more expensive," said Moshe Lezarovich, 18, from Netanya. His friends agreed that Burger's Bar was a cheaper and tastier option, and they weren't fazed by the novelty of a kosher McDonald's in the nation's capital. Currently there are 153 McDonald's in Israel, 24 of which are kosher. The Jerusalem Post has learned that there are plans in the future to convert other Jerusalem branches, like the one on Emek Refaim, to kosher restaurants, though the time table is uncertain.
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