Kashrut by royal decree: The UAE delegation’s kosher supervisor speaks

Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski was a guest of the Emirati royal court, which spared no expense to make sure kashrut observers ate as well and as elegantly as anyone else • WZO sends emissaries to Dubai

Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski (photo credit: GODRUME KRIEL)
Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski
(photo credit: GODRUME KRIEL)
With normalization between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, kosher food is likely to be more in demand in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and beyond than ever before. Now, it will be certified by the Orthodox Union.
Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski, CEO of OU Kosher in Israel, was in the UAE this week to ensure a high level of kashrut for the local caterer, Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, which prepared meals for the observant Jewish members of the Israeli and American delegations.
Elli Kriel, whose husband Ross Kriel is the lay leader of the Jewish Community of the Emirates, opened her catering service several years ago. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs began to contact her to provide meals for projects involving Jewish people, Krakowski said. He had already been in touch with Kriel as she sought to expand her business.
Last week, when it became known that Israeli and American delegations would be heading to Abu Dhabi to get normalization off the ground, Krakowski wondered if he would be heading to the Gulf as well.
Sure enough, ahead of the Israeli delegation’s arrival, Kriel asked if Krakowski could come as well. The UAE government wanted to be sure that the food was fully certified kosher at a level that would be comfortable for National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, who is strictly Orthodox.
Krakowski received an invitation from the royal court of the UAE to arrive and certify the event.
“It was different from everything else,” except for a recent kashrut certification in Riyadh, Krakowski said.
“If you do a program for a nonkosher hotel and you take it over for a week, every little thing becomes a fight,” he said. “Over here, when you deal with royalty… anything, whatever you ask, it’s there… In that way, it’s easier.”
Not only was being a royal guest an advantage, but hospitality in the Gulf is an important value that makes people willing to make an extra effort, Krakowski said.
“If you ask for something, they say, ‘No problem,’ and it’s there supersonic fast,” he said.
Krakowski recounted that Kriel needed truffles for a recipe, and he explained that vegetables are kosher; they just need to be checked for insects. He was brought truffle sauce, which had nonkosher wine, so he could not allow it to be used. Then, a distributor was called, and the Emirati hosts were willing to pay 2,000 dirham (NIS 1,800) to get the truffles for them – and they did it within minutes.
“Everything was like that,” Krakowski said.
Another unique situation was dealing with kosher plates, cutlery and glasses for the delegation. The Emirati hosts wanted everyone at the meals to have an identical place setting so those eating kosher food would feel totally comfortable. However, that made it impossible to know which plates were used for kosher food and which were for nonkosher food, Krakowski said.
The solution was that 150 brand-new sets of tableware were brought out for each meal, with a member of Krakowski’s team supervising to make sure they were truly new. The used dishes were then sent to the hotel’s nonkosher kitchen to be cleaned and used for guests who were not part of the delegation.
The Emiratis were “very impressed by the level of supervision,” Krakowski said.
About an hour before the banquet on Monday night, he was in the kitchen when three Emiratis told the chef they were from the royal court’s quality-control team, and they needed to sample all the food. The chef told them to return in half an hour.
“When they came back, I was checking the lettuce for insects, and they were like, ‘Wow, you guys are really serious.’ They were floored,” Krakowski said.
Krakowski and the OU plan to continue to be involved in certifying kashrut in the UAE. After the Israeli delegation left Abu Dhabi, he headed to Dubai for projects there.
In the long term, when direct flights are open to Israeli tourism, the OU plans to have a permanent kosher supervisor in the UAE. In the meantime, it will send supervisors for specific events.
On Wednesday, several Jewish organizations announced they would have a more permanent presence in the UAE.
The World Zionist Organization (WZO) will send its first permanent emissaries to be stationed in Dubai in the coming weeks. They will be its first Jewish emissaries to serve in an Arab country.
To meet the needs of the Jewish community in the UAE, the matter had been discussed before normalization was announced, Krakowski said, but it was made possible once ties between the countries became official.
WZO’s pioneers are husband and wife Yaacov and Zloty Eisenstein. They will establish and run a Jewish kindergarten in Dubai, where they will teach the local community about the heritage of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. They will also start an ulpan and arrange events for Jewish holidays and festivals.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also said it is exploring cooperation with the Jewish Council of the Emirates in the areas of monitoring extremism in the region and helping dismantle harmful stereotypes about Jews, Israelis, Americans, Muslims and Christians.
Recently, the Emirati Jewish community has been subjected to a spike in online hate speech. The ADL will advise on best practices for responding to hate on social-media platforms.
The research groups will be chaired by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, chief rabbi of the Jewish Council of the Emirates. Sarna, who does not live in the Gulf full-time, serves as an adjunct professor at New York University and NYU Abu Dhabi.
Sarna said he hopes the normalization deal and the new cooperative initiative with ADL will help grow the relatively small Jewish community in the UAE.