Kosher Comes to the Amazonian Rainforest

by Shaul Wolff –

What’s a Chabad rabbi to do if he wants to help Jews in the in the Amazon Rainforest keep kosher?

Rabbi Arieh Raichman, Chabad representative to Manaus, Brazil, has been chewing on this conundrum for some time now.

Nestled in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, Manaus is effectively cut off from the rest of the country. There are no roads leading in or out of this city, making boat or plane its only means of connection to the rest of the country.

The closest Jewish area is in Belem, 800 miles away. Inaccessible by land, it’s a two-hour long flight. Somehow, Rabbi Raichman, his wife Devorah Leah and their five small children manage, or make do with less. Some kosher food is imported by boat from Belem and Sao Paulo. And they’ve learned to take advantage of the local  abundance of seafood. “We eat a lot of fish,” says Rabbi Raichman. “I bring my own knife and cutting board to the local fish market, and they fillet fish especially for my family.”

But providing kosher food for the greater Jewish population has proved a challenge. Waiting more than a month before basic supplies are delivered is not going to make kosher-keeping popular with the city’s Jews.

So the Raichmans, there since 2009, have developed a rather ingenious plan. “Why should we have to import food from other cities,” they began asking, “which only hikes the prices and makes kosher food inaccessible? We can begin producing kosher food locally. Let kosher become a cheap and viable option for everybody.”

Devorah Leah began preparing a weekly kosher menu from which people could order three-course meals to enjoy over Shabbat. Then, Rabbi Raichman turned to locals who had experience and a hand in the food industry. He reached out to Shalom Ohana, a local Jew who owns a pizza store. “We discussed koshering his restaurant for a day, and offered a fully kosher menu for the Jewish community.”

Ohana, an Israeli living in Manaus for the last four years, was more than happy to comply. Koshering the ovens and kitchen utensils proved to be a challenge, but when the work was done, a fully kosher breakfast menu was made available and for the first time in the history of the Manaus Jewish community, locals could eat out in a restaurant and order kosher food.

“A kosher restaurant in the Amazon? Unheard of here,” chuckles Raichman.

The event, said Ohana, is a reflection of the tremendous effort the rabbi and his wife invest to educate and raise awareness among local Jews. “We had about 20 people coming here for kosher breakfast that day,” not a skimpy number for Manaus, and more, he expects, will come next time.