Can flavours of disparity heal a wounded heart?

Updated: Nov 17, 2019, 07:43 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

Eleven years after Colaba's Chabad House was ravaged in the 26/11 terror attacks, Chaya Kozlovsky and Rabbi Israel decide to open its doors to non-Jews at the city's first kosher restaurant

Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky with wife Chaya at Chabad House, Colaba. Pics/ Suresh Karkera
Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky with wife Chaya at Chabad House, Colaba. Pics/ Suresh Karkera

It's a Tuesday morning and Chaya Kozlovsky, co-director, Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, has just received news of multiple rockets being fired into Israel from Gaza. Alongside, she has been bombarded with text messages from well-wishers about an issue that, technically, has nothing to do with the Jews, the Ayodhya land dispute judgment. "In Israel, there was fake news circulating about the situation in India being tense, so, I have been receiving 'stay safe' messages," she laughs.

"The truth is," says Kozlovsky, "We've never felt threatened here."

The confidence has made Chaya and husband Rabbi Israel Kozlovsky throw open the doors of Chabad House, the Jewish outpost that was at the centre of terror attacks during 26/11. Kosher Mumbai, a restaurant located on the first floor, will now be open to public. It's a first in the history of the Jewish centre. While the restaurant launch date is yet to be decided, they have tied up with premium food delivery service Scootsy to launch deliveries. "Mumbai didn't have a place where you could sample kosher cuisine," she says. The Jewish bakery at Worli shuttered a while ago. While their focus has always been on catering to the community, they realised that welcoming non-Jews to the restaurant would be symbolic. "It was time to forget the dark past and move on," she says.

PicChallah or Jewish signature bread is served at a Shabbat meal. It's crispy from the outside and soft inside

That the launch might coincide with the 11th anniversary of the terror attacks is pure coincidence, she insists. "The idea of opening Kosher to non-Jews occurred to us after launching the memorial last year," she says, adding that visitors who climbed down from the terrace memorial where the terrorists were holed up noticed the restaurant and showed an interest in dining. The six-storey structure, rebuilt with contributions from the global Jewish community, now wears a plush look and is amped with security. The bullet marks and damage to walls by grenades, however, have been preserved to serve as a reminder of the martyrs. Now, with the restaurant's launch, the security will only be made tighter, we are told. But unlike their predecessors, this couple, with their five kids, has chosen to live in a nearby apartment instead of Chabad House.

picMiddle Eastern favourite bakalava, a sweet, nutty filo pastry

The Kozlovskys, both born and raised in Jerusalem, have been aggressive in their efforts to make the centre a robust headquarter of Jewish activity. In 2012, they assumed the position of co-directors of Chabad House, four years after the killing of Rabbi Gavriel and his wife Rivka Holtzberg in the attacks. "At the time, we were supposed to go to Tokyo as emissaries, not Mumbai. But the plan suddenly changed. I was five months pregnant with my first child," she recalls. The couple first began conducting socio-cultural programmes from their small apartment in Churchgate since Chabad House was being redone.

pic Herb marinated, grilled salmon fillet, served with warm beans salad

In 2015, they launched a Jewish school in Chembur. Ten months ago, they roped in Leorith Elijah, chief operating officer, to helm affairs at Chabad House now renamed Nariman Lighthouse. A local Jew, Elijah oversees the affairs of the memorial, the upcoming museum, and will now be involved with the restaurant, too. "As an Indian Jew, there was so much I didn't know about Israeli cuisine," she says. "The menu borrows from varied Jewish traditions, including European and Mediterranean. We've also kept the ratio of Indian to Israeli dishes is 50:50, so that there's equal representation."

According to kosher tradition, any food categorised as meat cannot be served or eaten at the same meal as a dairy product. Furthermore, all utensils and equipment used to process and clean meat and dairy must be kept separate—even down to the sinks in which they're washed. As a rule, Kozlovsky manually inspects all ingredients daily. All vegetables and fruits are carefully inspected to ensure they don't contain bugs.

picLeorith Elijah, CEO, Nariman Lighthouse

A reasonably-priced menu includes star dishes such as the chicken soup with Matzah ball (Jewish bread dumpling), the highlight of a Shabbat meal; Mediterranean Couscous salad loaded with fresh vegetables and chickpea in fresh lemon dressing, and Challah (pronounced as Khallah), the Jewish signature bread, crispy on the outside and soft within. And then there is the famous Shakshuka, eggs poached in a sauce of tomato with added spices. The menu also has biryani, rajma and pav dishes.

Although their aim is to popularise Jewish food, Kozlovsky wants people to see kosher as a way of life. She says, "The idea of keeping kosher is to be knowledgeable about the way in which your food is prepared and where it comes from."

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