Orthodox Union gears up for major UAE kosher operations

kosher biz

The OU has already hired a young couple to move to Dubai this month and oversee the agency’s kosher certification efforts in the country

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The Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi on the city's Saadiyat Island.

L’Shana Haba B’Abu Dhabi? 

If the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the Orthodox Union kosher certifying agency are successful, thousands of Jews could be celebrating Passover in the United Arab Emirates next year. 

Following the historic UAE-Israel peace accord announced last month, efforts to provide kosher food for the expected influx of tourists have been ramping up, Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU’s kosher division, told Jewish Insider. And the OU has been tapped by the UAE government to oversee such efforts.

Earlier this week, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Ministry issued a letter instructing “all hotel establishments” in the city to include kosher food options for guests, including by designating an area of every hotel kitchen “for kosher food preparation.” 

Genack told JI that he imagines in reality the kosher facilities will vary from hotel to hotel. 

“This is what I presume is going to happen — I’m guessing — it doesn’t mean that every single hotel will have a full-fledged kosher kitchen necessarily,” Genack said. “I think part of it might be that they’ll have options, that if a person wants kosher food that they can get a kosher meal and they can heat it up for them double wrapped.” And other hotels, he predicted, “will have adjacent catering of some kind, a kitchen, that will be closed, and when they’re producing there will be a mashgiach temidi [full-time kosher overseer] there.” 

An Emirati official told Globes that the government believes many Israeli and American Jews will be visiting the UAE during Sukkot, which begins in just three weeks. Genack, meanwhile, isn’t so certain.

“I suspect that significant tourism… I don’t think it’s going to really come until after we’re beyond the corona pandemic,” he said. But he is hopeful that things will be smoother — aided by an expected COVID-19 vaccine — come spring, when another big Jewish holiday rolls around.   

“I’ve been told that the crown prince, at his directive… wants to see all those hotels filled for this coming Pesach,” Genack told JI of the tourist-centric Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. “So for Pesach we hope to have it all set in place.”

In just two weeks, Genack said, a young couple hired by the OU will be moving from Jerusalem to Dubai to oversee the burgeoning kashrut operations in the Emirates. Rabbi Yaakov and Zlaty Eisenstein — along with their baby — will be working on both kashrut issues for the OU and communal outreach for the World Zionist Organization.

And while it all seems to be happening very fast, the OU has been in talks for more than a year to begin working in the UAE, specifically to oversee the operations of the Dubai-based Elli’s Kosher Kitchen, the UAE’s only kosher catering operation. Until now the catering company, run by Elli and Ross Kriel, had been supervised by UAE Chief Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. But ahead of the Expo 2020 in Dubai, initially scheduled for this year, the caterer was seeking OU certification. 

“The Kriels were really focused initially toward the Expo 2020, which because of COVID has been postponed” to October 2021, Genack said. “That was the goal, and that’s what we were getting geared up for. And then came this extraordinary historic change in terms of the peace treaty between Israel and the Emirates, which expanded dramatically the kosher needs within the country.” 

Rabbi Yissachar Krakowski, the OU’s rabbinic coordinator in Israel, accompanied the historic U.S.-Israeli delegation to Abu Dhabi last week, to oversee kosher provisions for parts of the group. Other OU representatives will join future Israeli delegations until the Eisenstein family is set up and established, Genack said. 

“They’re going to be representing the OU in terms of kashrut, but they’re also doing some other works in terms of the WZO in terms of outreach and so on,” he said. He expects the OU will look to hire another two couples to move to Dubai in order to handle the growing kashrut needs.

Estimates vary as to the size of the UAE’s Jewish community, but Genack believes it is somewhere between 500 and 1,000. “We’ve been in touch quite a bit with Rabbi Sarna, with the local community there, we’ve also had discussions with the local Chabad,” Genack said. “We will be acting obviously also in conjunction with the local community.”

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