* Small sign that takes on deeper meaning
* Kosher food used to be available only at speciality shops
* Biggest problem now is logistics
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor
BERLIN, Oct 28 When shoppers in New York, London
or Paris come across kosher food in their neighbourhood
supermarkets, it's just one speciality product among many. When
the same thing happens in Berlin, it's a statement.
Berlin's Jewish community, decimated by the Holocaust, has
been steadily growing since Germany reunited in 1990. Thousands
of Jews have moved in, synagogues, schools and shops have opened
and some young rabbis have been trained and ordained.
But presence isn't the same as acceptance. In a city weighed
down by memories of its Nazi past, even small signs that Jews
are a part of normal daily life again take on deeper meaning.
One such sign appeared last month when a local supermarket
began selling kosher food. Stocked on shelves and in freezers
next to other German and imported goods, the food prepared
according to ancient Jewish dietary laws is presented like any
Yehuda Teichtal, a Brooklyn-born Hasidic rabbi who advised
the Nah und Gut ("Near and Good") supermarket on its selections,
is thrilled to see this in Berlin.
"This was the centre of darkness and evil, where the Nazis
planned the extermination of Europe's Jews, and now you can go
into a normal supermarket and there's a sign that says kosher,"
"The Nazis failed. Where do you find Hitler and Eichmann now
-- on Wikipedia. Where do you see Jewish life in an open way
-- on the streets of Berlin!"
IMMIGRANTS BOOST JEWISH RANKS
Of the 160,000 Jews living in Berlin before the Second World
War, 90,000 fled abroad, 55,000 died in concentration camps and
7,000 committed suicide to escape Nazi terror, according to the
Jewish Community of Berlin. Only 8,000 were left in 1945.
Starting in 1989, Jews from the former Soviet Union began
flocking to Berlin. Young Israelis started settling here in the
mid-1990s. Now there are an estimated 30,000 Jews in the city,
but nobody knows for sure because not all of them are registered
with the established communities.
"Many Russian Jews are not registered because, if you do,
you have to pay the religious tax," Teichtal said, referring to
the tax that members of recognised religions in Germany must
Those who keep kosher had a handful of restaurants and small
specialty shops around the city where they could find
religiously permitted food.
But Teichtal, who runs the Berlin centre of the worldwide
Chabad Hasidic movement, thought more Jews would eat kosher food
if they didn't have to get to those small shops with their
limited opening hours to buy it.
"If you have to go to one shop to buy wine, another to get
fruit and veg and a third to buy a piece of gefilte fish, that's
one thing," he said. "If a person goes to one supermarket and
does all their shopping, it's a completely different ballgame."
So he scouted around for a supermarket ready to try a new
line of products and found Nah und Gut, an upscale establishment
in the affluent Wilmersdorf section of western Berlin. Many Jews
live in the area and several of the city's synagogues are
"A BIT EXOTIC"
"We always try to have different products from around the
world," explained store manager Stefan Voelker, who is not
Jewish and describes kosher food as "a bit multicultural, a bit
The kosher products -- everything from wine, beer and cheese
to chocolate-covered matzo bread and frozen steaks and chicken
nuggets -- have interested curious non-Jewish shoppers and
brought in several hundred new Jewish customers, he said.
Voelker's biggest problem is not customer acceptance or
rejection, but logistics. Almost all his kosher products come
from other countries, mostly Israel, Poland, France, Belgium and
Britain, and ordering small shipments can be expensive and
Teichtal, who stressed his interest in the sale of kosher
food is strictly religious and not financial, said he was
searching around Europe for large wholesalers who could offer
more regular supplies.
About 3 km (2 miles) away at Kosher Deli, Maurice Elmaleh
has different concerns. He's worried the new competition could
hurt the small speciality kosher shops like his.
"The shops that already exist have problems to stay open,"
he said in his sparse shop as a customer picked up a fresh loaf
of braided challah.
"There are more Jews eating kosher, but the number is small
compared to the number of Jews in Berlin," he said. "Only about
10-15 percent of them keep kosher."
TRY IT, YOU'LL LIKE IT
Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov, the community's kosher expert who
moved here from Uzbekistan 11 years ago, estimated that up to
6,000 of Berlin's Jews kept kosher and demand was steadily
rising. "When I came here, there were only three shops selling
kosher food. Now there are seven," he said.
People buy kosher food for various reasons.
"There's no single trend," he said. "Some say it is
healthier, others say they tried it and it tasted good, others
say they want to be closer to God."
He disagreed with Elmaleh about the supermarket.
"More competition is good because prices will fall," he
said. "Many Jews say kosher food here is too expensive.
"Also, if I wanted to get new customers for a kosher shop,
I'd have to do a lot of advertising. But Jewish shoppers go to
supermarkets anyway. Then it's like the sweets at the check-out
counter -- you see them and buy them.
"Once you've tried kosher, you'll ask for more," he said.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)