You can’t miss an IKEA. Full of furniture and household items with Swedish names many find hard to pronounce, the stores all look the same – big, blue, and yellow.
But in Israel, there’s one striking difference, for it is there that the chain’s trademark in-store restaurant is kosher.
That fact has been on full display over the past month in the small village of Kfar Chabad, where a large IKEA truck has been seen stopped outside a local Jewish ritual bath. Because the store’s Netanya branch is soon reopening after a devastating fire last year, Rabbi Michel Vishedski, a Chabad-Lubavitch trained kosher supervisor, has been busy preparing all of the restaurant’s utensils for kosher use.
The last step in the process is to submerge the utensils in a ritual bath, known in Hebrew as a mikvah.
“We’ve already done thousands of utensils,” said Vishedski from IKEA’s other Israel store, in Rishon Letziyon.
Because of the sheer amount of the dishes, pots and pans and silverware that must be ritually immersed prior to use, Vishedski chose to bring everything to Kfar Chabad rather than to a local mikvah in Netanya. In Kfar Chabad, the mikvah’s courtyard itself is larger, making the process easier.
The commandment to immerse one’s vessels is found in the Book of Numbers. Chasidic thought explains that since eating is a holy act when done mindfully – with the intention to unlock a food’s energy in order to have the strength to do good deeds – it renders all of one’s cooking utensils divine instruments.
“The immersion of vessels is crucial,” said Vishedski. “Without it, it is forbidden to eat from the vessels.”
Vishedski explained that about 20 to 30 plates can be immersed at once when placed carefully into a big plastic crate with holes.
“The water has to be able to touch every plate,” he detailed.
The Netanya IKEA will once again have a large meat restaurant with seating for 400 as well as a separate dairy restaurant. All the dishes and utensils must be immersed. And for Passsover, the process must be repeated once again on completely new utensils – both the meat and the dairy ones – that will only be used on Passover.
This is nothing new for Vishedski, who two years ago, oversaw the conversion of the Rishon Letziyon store to kosher use after the company’s new Israel president, Matthew Bronfman, ordered the switch.
“They threw out all the old utensils and made kosher kitchens,” said Vishedski. “So of course, we had to immerse all the new vessels. Of course, when we need to replace a few items, we can just take the new items in a car to the local mikvah.”
For Vishedski, who has a staff of supervisors working for him in two shifts each day, the fact that IKEA is kosher guarantees that its patrons – many who do not eat kosher on a regular basis – are eating kosher food.
“Bronfman’s aim was to encourage people to eat kosher,” said Vishedski. “Every day, 2,500 to 3,000 people are eating kosher here. And on the intermediate days of Passover, 10,000 to 15,000 people are eating kosher for Passover food.”
Vishedski will soon be busy once again. IKEA is expected to open yet another megastore, this time in the northern city of Haifa.