Cinnamon and ginger: A veteran oleh brings heat to Jerusalem

“We’re very happy we made aliyah. Every day is a very special and powerful thing. It’s a big blessing and a privilege to be here, I think to myself, every day that I drive by the Old City.”

 Ben Yaakov David, 35 From Brookline, Massachusetts to Jerusalem, 2011 (photo credit: COURTESY KINAMON)
Ben Yaakov David, 35 From Brookline, Massachusetts to Jerusalem, 2011
(photo credit: COURTESY KINAMON)

In these different, often difficult days, workers in the hospitality business need to have several irons in the fire to survive slumps in activity. Actually Ben David, the scion of a metal artist mother, could identify with this idiom from observing his mom in action.

The Davids, who recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their aliyah, live in the Armon Hanatziv or East Talpiot area of southeastern Jerusalem with their two sons, aged four and seven. Chaya works in hi-tech, while Ben runs a catering business called Kinamon. Ben – known for his fiery hair and beard – is very focused on his priorities, which he defines right now as “mainly work and family.”

As veteran olim know, establishing a business here is tough, and may challenge one’s initiative when pandemics beset the country. “This is the slowest time we’ve had since last January,” David says of the catering company he founded five and a half years ago. 

As coping with contingencies is the new normality, luckily David has many ideas to implement. He and partner Moshe Herc have had to reinvent themselves to keep them and their eight employees – all new immigrants – afloat. After all, many of the usual functions and parties that sustain caterers have been scaled down or canceled. 

One ingenious strategy is that “Kinamon offers a rotating menu of multi-national cuisines published weekly on our website.” Some patrons enjoy varying their Shabbat menus with a delivery featuring these international flavors. They have varied between Italian (minestrone soup, meat or vegan lasagna, anyone?), Chinese, Indian, Brazilian and Mexican – not to mention Southern fried chicken, pulled brisket and coleslaw. Kinamon also offers a traditional kiddush box with potato kugel and cholent, and produces gluten-free and vegan-friendly options.

In fact, David found himself developing a yen for diverse cuisines from childhood on. His father, who was American born and bred, worked in hi-tech in Portland, Oregon. David attended public school in Portland and also went to Hebrew school after hours. In his leisure time he enjoyed browsing around the many food stalls of the town with their tantalizing aromas and eating out with the family who observed only minimal kosher restrictions. 

“I explored a huge range of culinary offerings,” he says. He liked to spend summers and vacations with his mother, most often in rural Amish country, in northeastern Ohio. 

David later graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Judaic studies. During that period he encountered Chabad and was very active as Hillel president. He also met his wife, Chaya, in college, and both gradually became more religious. 

Zionism featured strongly on the agenda. Ben had made a USY (United Synagogue Youth) trip here when he was about 16 and then spent his third year of college at the Rothschild International School of the Hebrew University, where he also did ulpan. Chaya came from a very Zionist family, had attended a Jewish day school, and her sister had already made aliyah. “On our first date, Chaya told me she was making aliyah as soon as possible,” Ben relates with a smile.

“After we got engaged I worked for a year in Hillel for the Jewish community of Sonoma County, California, north of San Francisco, and also taught Hebrew school,” he explains. After the couple married they moved to Brookline, Massachusetts. Chaya worked in the Consulate General of Israel to New England, located in Boston, while Ben was an administrator at the lively Young Israel of Brookline. 

Upon their arrival in Israel in December of 2011, Chaya switched to the hi-tech field, and Ben plunged right into the catering business. “I started working in the food industry the third day after making aliyah, as the head cook in Ryu, an Asian restaurant, and then in the kitchen of Holy Bagel catering in Jerusalem,” he says.

At age 28, David got to join the army, was assigned to Central Command, “and became part of Israel,” he declares proudly. The half-year he spent in the army as a cook was valuable experience. He was busy doing upscale catering for the officers’ dining room where he churned out a variety of salads and other dishes, learning more every day, and getting used to the label, “the American gingi who makes schnitzel.” 

Next he ventured into his own business, with both dairy and meat kitchens, focusing on local and international cuisine. “Five and a half years ago I opened Kinamon catering, where we have catered for all of the life-cycle events, britot, b’nai mitzvot, weddings, engagements, sheva brachot, funerals, office meals, with events ranging from 20–600 people,” he relates. “We have cooked for the National Library of Israel, and produced goulash for the Hungarian Embassy on their national day. Currently we are the official caterer of the OU (Orthodox Union) of Israel and also for the Israel Center on Keren Hayesod St.” Its OU kashrut certification is a high level of kashrut, and Kinamon also has Jerusalem mehadrin rabbinical certification.

Despite the challenges, David declares, “We’re very happy we made aliyah. Every day is a very special and powerful thing. It’s a big blessing and a privilege to be here, I think to myself, every day that I drive by the Old City.”

So meanwhile, Ben is applying himself very seriously to his chosen profession, reminding one perhaps of that whimsical children’s rhyme: “Run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”