Why is this young Mexican rabbi giving out free kosher hamburgers in Qatar?

Rabbi Sholem offers Jews from around the world meat, schnitzel, fish and many other main dishes with protein for free in Qatar.

 Rabbi Sholem preparing hot kosher meals (photo credit: Kosher House in Qatar)
Rabbi Sholem preparing hot kosher meals
(photo credit: Kosher House in Qatar)

Kashrut-observant Jews in Qatar attending the World Cup have limited food options – bagels and challah – but there is a new kosher venue in town that has been working under the radar.

Rabbi Sholem (he asked that his last name not be publicized), a young Chabad rabbi from Mexico, has opened a semi-unofficial Chabad house in Doha ahead of the games. As opposed to those selling bagels with different cold spreads, with an official approval from Qatar, Sholem offers Jews from around the world meat, schnitzel, fish and many other main dishes with protein – for free.

"Many of the kosher-keeping Jews at the games have been eating the fresh kosher bagels, but they were all craving meat or warm food."

Rabbi Sholem

“I wasn’t sure if there would be any kosher food for Jews in Qatar so I decided to promote my own initiative,” Sholem said in a phone interview from Doha. “Many of the kosher-keeping Jews at the games have been eating the fresh kosher bagels but they were all craving meat or warm food.”

Sholem rented a house and brought a large portion of frozen meats to offer the Jewish tourists. He calls his temporary Chabad house “the Kosher House in Qatar,” and has already celebrated the last Shabbat with more than 20 Jews from around the world that ate at his place – and some actually slept at his house because they wouldn’t be able to get there on Shabbat.

 Hot kosher meals prepared for Jewish tourists in Qatar (credit: Kosher House in Qatar) Hot kosher meals prepared for Jewish tourists in Qatar (credit: Kosher House in Qatar)

“I offer people meals and a place to stay,” he said. “We cooked food for more than 50 people on Friday for Shabbat, and most of them asked me to send it to them or they picked it up. I came to see the Mexican soccer games but also wanted to help the many Jews that I knew would come as well.”

Sholem explained the adventure he decided to take. “I understood that there would not be a Chabad house, and I said to myself, ‘people want to eat meat, they can’t live without it.

“I rented a kitchen and bought meat, while I have funded all of the expenses at the moment. I hope to raise money after the games end to cover the costs.” He said that he hasn’t had any difficulties in importing kosher meats and that he has only received positive feedback to date.

“Anyone who needs food and cares about kosher food comes to me, word of mouth. I haven’t publicized this anywhere,” he disclosed.

Chabadnik in Qatar on Instagram

He runs an Instagram page called Chabadnik in Qatar. He added that “soon the kosher meat that I brought will run out and I’ll need to purchase more.” All of the meat that he cooks in Doha was imported personally by Sholem.

Kosher House in Qatar’s menu includes hamburgers, schnitzel, kebabs, meatballs, salmon, bread and pareve pizza and Shabbat foods. “Every day I serve schnitzels and another meat portion,” he said.

Last week, New York-based Rabbi Marc Schneier denied reports that Qatar banned hot kosher food and Jewish prayer.

Schneier, an influential Jewish figure in the Muslim world and president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, a global center for Muslim-Jewish relations, said, “I’ve been in touch with the Qataris, at their request, to make sure that the FIFA World Cup is inclusive to Jews and Israelis. I never asked for hot food,” he said. “The only person that spoke to the Qataris about this [on behalf of the Jewish community] was me.”

The kosher kitchen that Schneier initiated is under the supervision of Rabbi Mendy Chitrik of Istanbul, chairman of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, and his son Rabbi Eliyahu Chitrik. The food includes the baking of the first bagels in Qatar and other Jewish delicacies.

 Frozen kosher meat for the Jewish tourists in Qatar (credit: Kosher House in Qatar) Frozen kosher meat for the Jewish tourists in Qatar (credit: Kosher House in Qatar)

At the moment, Kosher in Qatar sells challah for Shabbat, bagel sandwiches with spreads such as hummus, vegetables and smoked salmon.