Jerusalem Hotels – David Citadel

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Quite honestly, it appears that my hotel visits continue to improve with each hotel. This morning, I met with the rabbi of the David Citadel Hotel, Rabbi Yosef Lishner, a man involved in kashrut for over a quarter of a century. Rav Lishner, an eight generation Jerusalemite was most cordial, and provided this reporter with a wealth of knowledge, well exceeding that which was necessary to give a comprehensive picture of kashrut in the David Citadel.

Our conversation was conducted in both Hebrew and English, with a bit of Yiddish thrown in for flavor. Yes, the veteran Jerusalem rabbi is quite fluent in English, so North Americans and other visitors, get right in there and ask your questions.

The rabbi began his career at the LaRomme Hotel (now the Inbal), followed by the Renaissance, where he spent 14 years. He explained to me that the latter was the first of the 5-star hotels to become mehadrin. It was at the behest of the city’s chief rabbi that young Rabbi Lishner began implementing then pioneering efforts towards raising the kashrut level of the hotel, and as he put it. He continues with new innovations today, always seeking ways to improve towards ensuring a high standard of kashrut for guests.

When he arrived at the Citadel he implemented all the mehadrin additions that were commonplace at the Renaissance, and continues to “learn everyday” as he modestly explained. Also traveling abroad from time-to-time, he explained that he is always on the lookout for new innovations and he readily brings new technology home to enhance the level of kashrut in his hotel. Now the rabbi proudly boasts, many rabbis from abroad ask to see his operation, to learn from his wealth of experience.

As the hotel’s rabbi, he functions as the chief mashgiach as well, and tends to all the religious needs of the hotel and its guests.

The rabbi explained the hotel is well-aware than many if its clients are Sabbath observant – people wishing to maintain a high standard of kashrut while also seeking uncompromising hotel accommodations – stating proudly the Citadel provides both.

The hotel has a regular Jerusalem Rabbinate certification, maintaining a shmitah l’chumra status, using only produce from non-Jews. There is nothing used that is heter mechira or kedushat shvi’it. All greens are the “Gush Katif” type.

Mashgiachs are present in the hotel from 7am, making certain to light the flames and ensure the cooking is in compliance with bishul yisrael. The rabbinical supervisors remain until 11pm at night, when the kitchens close down. A mashgiach lives on premises on Shabbatot and Yomim Tovim.

The rabbi explained the hotel complies with the demands of the Rama, and Sephardim who seek mehadrin compliance with the rulings of the Beit Yosef may make arrangements when necessary. He explained that sometimes, one might book a party and insist the food is only prepared by Jews, and with a kitchen staff that is 60%+ Jewish, this is doable and in fact, has been done in the past.

While chatting with the rabbi, his phone rarely ceased to ring for period longer than 10 minutes, ranging from demands to arrange private synagogue services for a guest and his party, to making a ‘shiva’ condolence call.

The beef in the hotel is usually Beit Yosef, and Rabbi Avraham Rubin/Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook. The fowl is currently mehadrin Jerusalem Rabbinate. Rabbi Lishner explained that from time-to-time, he and a number of colleagues visit slaughter houses to monitor the situation and they may change suppliers based on kashrut and cost considerations.

At times, only by special request, non-mehadrin duck liver will be served but he stressed that any food coming out of the meat dining area on a regular basis is indeed chalak (glatt). The fillet, which in the Inbal and Jerusalem Regency hotels was not glatt, is glatt in the Citadel.

The rabbi added that soon, the demands on the hotel, now approximately 400 rooms, will increase, with the planned spring opening of the new wing, adding 250 rooms.

There are a total of 6 kitchens, and yes, we toured them all. I must say that while my mission is not to represent the Board of Health, I am compelled to state that I have never seen such noticeable cleanliness. While other hotels were in no way unsanitary, here, the place sparkled. It was amazing, nothing less. The meat and dairy kitchens were buzzing when I toured, as were the parve and dairy bakeries. One could literally eat off the floor. This was the standard throughout the hotel, walk-in refrigerators and walk-in freezers — a standard that deserves special mention.

Anyway, back to kashrut issues. Some of the rabbi’s unique innovations are low-tech, but no less effective in maintaining the high level of kashrut he seeks to call his standard. For example, in the large room that houses the meat and dairy automatic washing facilities, he does not make due with the natural room division, or the large “meat” and “dairy” signs posted conspicuously in Hebrew and English. He has stainless steel covers literally blocking the loading areas of the machines not in use to make sure a waiter or busboy does not accidentally place a dish or article on the incorrect side. This is all in addition to the standard coding, holes for dairy and no-holes for meat. The cutting boards are come colored from the factory so they do not wash off in the high pressure wash cycle.

Another component of his fine kashrut system is the physical layout and design of the kitchens, wash stations and prep rooms, all guaranteeing that an item never leaves its designated area.

The meat prep station is adjacent to the wash and cooking, so a meat receptacle will never have to be taken elsewhere. The same holds true for dairy and the parve and dairy bakeries. The respective walk-in refrigerators and freezers are directly opposite each area – once again ensuring an item never leaves its designated area. This he exclaimed achieves its goal, with almost no incidents of mixing up utensils, an occurrence that is rarely seen in his institution.

The meat tray and platters are all silver-plated, giving them a unique identification, and the glass bowls and salad dishes are all marked with a very noticeable red dot on the bottom, rarely seen by guests.

In addition to the holes drilled into the stainless utensils, most have a ring through the hole to make it immediately identifiable, quicker to the eye than seeking to spot a drilled hole.

The rabbi also showed me his Shabbat innovations, which include but are not limited to the warming boxes, manufactured by Alto Shaam. He saw them in The Diaspora and today, they are part of the hotel’s operation for Shabbat. The food is kept warm, and the thermostat is preset before Shabbat. A plate covers the buttons and is locked before Shabbat, ensuring a higher standard of maintaining food temperature without compromising the Holy Day.

There are also locks for the gas buttons on ranges, and thermostats on refrigerator units that have manual temperature settings. He explained that on Shabbat, all potential pitfalls are addressed in so far as the staff cannot raise and lower the temperatures of the food.

The bakery he added is manned by only Jewish staff so those maintaining a strict standard needn’t worry.

Another word about the bakeries regarding kashrut precautions, both quite busy upon my arrival. It was explained to me that if the parve bakery is making chocolate cake, the dairy will not, another safeguard against mix up between dairy and parve. The same holds true with other items he explained. The dairy baker, whose name I forgot to write down, told me the parve bakery will never ever use white chocolate so it is known if the product has white chocolate, it is dairy – that simple. To say the temptation was incredible would be a mild understatement, as I was offered the finest sliced fresh fruits, white and dark Belgian chocolates and more. Nevertheless, I managed to politely decline. Too many calories for this reporter.

All the baked goods by the way are homemade in-house, nothing brought in from outside.

The bakeries also have their color as an added kashrut safeguard, yellow for the parve and green for the dairy.

And let’s take a moment to skip over to Pessach (Passover). Preparations are in semi-full swing and a number of rooms and refrigerators were locked with signs conspicuously displayed stating “kosher for Passover” in a number of languages.

One of the mashgiachs, Reb Nosson, an elderly hassidic fellow, was busy moving from one place to another, stopping briefly to greet the rabbi and engage in an ever so brief Yiddish conversation.

We entered all the meat refrigerators and they were as organized, clean and well-marked as the next. Ditto for the freezers. I met the chief of the meat department, a Sabbath-observant Jew, who was busy boning fresh veal, which was slaughtered locally just yesterday. Kosher seals, labels and plumbers were quite visible and care is taken to permit them to remain until the actual cooking stage begins, once again a safeguard and testimony to ongoing efforts to maintain a high kosher standard.

We visited the storeroom, manned by a fine young man who seems to alternate between doing his job and reciting Tehillim (Psalms). Products on the shelves had an array of kosher certifications, all well-established, including but not limited to the Eida Hareidit, Rabbi Landau, Rabbi Rubin, KSA (Los Angeles) and the OK.

Even beers, and there was quite the selection, all have kosher certification, those from Israel, the United States, Ireland, and more. There was quite a display of NIS 120 a bottle champagne on ice, apparently for a wedding scheduled to take place tonight. The refrigerator was locked, so there were no concerns here. There is a separate storage facility for wine and water.

Another kashrut move that I have not yet seen is the method used to store legumes and flour. They are in their own walk-in refrigerator, with the rabbi explaining this significantly reduces the fear of bug infestation, and it is the hotel’s norm – a matter of policy.

Flour is sifted by machine, as is rice, and other beans are checked by hand. On the subject of rice, this machine is another find the rabbi made, explaining to me that a number of years ago he spotted the machine used in Europe to separate all unwanted matter from expensive coffee beans. After a few adjustments, the machine now cleans the rice by removing all broken grains and any unwanted matter other than whole clean grains of rice. He insisted on dumping some rice in to give me a demonstration and I can assure you that what this machine pulled out of the rice one can never accomplish by hand. The only product entering the chef’s pot is whole clean grains of rice, nothing else. Even broken grains are discarded, thereby also raising the level of the food quality – a welcome benefit to the chefs.

Rabbi Lishner explained that he used an average of 60 kilograms (132lbs) of rice daily, so proper cleaning at an acceptable pace is critical.

Since we passed, Rabbi Lishner also took me to the laundry, and once again, the level of cleanliness is downright amazing. I met the man in charge, Ze’ev Natan, who explained that the current set up is small compared to what is being prepared for the opening of the new wing. Once again, as was all the members of the staff, cordial and nothing to hide. I spoke with a number of chefs and assistants, as well as pantry personnel and so-forth, all with a friendly word, all seemingly maintaining a good relationship with the rabbi.

The chief dairy baker, yes, the one whose name I forgot earlier, told me “Even when the rabbi is not here, he is here. That is the way it is. There is no playing around with the kosher in this hotel”.

Rabbi Lishner explained that even the flowers being used for the wedding tonight are flown in from France to remove any shmitah concerns.

The place is a city of its own, with a high standard. It appears that kashrut, cleanliness and hotel amenities are all striving to be above average, and there are no clashes in these areas.

Rabbi Lishner explained that the hotel’s sukka, located on the roof, will feed 1,200 guests in addition to the 21 private sukkot on hotel grounds. He stated the main sukka is undoubtedly the largest in the country, while maintaining the Citadel’s five-star level of service.

On Passover the hotel will maintain its mehadrin level, and there is no shrurya (gebrochs), no kitniot, and all matzot are shmura, machine and hand.

I can say with a modicum of certainty that few guests will be aware of the efforts of Rabbi Lishner and his staff, working tirelessly to maintain a high level of kashrut for the many visitors to one of Jerusalem’s most popular hotels.

If this is the hotel of your choice, enjoy, for from my perspective, it appears you will be pampered and well-fed, as well as finding yourself a comfortable walk to the Kotel (Western Wall).

To contact the hotel rabbi, one may call 972-2-621-2221.

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