Jerusalem Hotels – Inbal

Jerusalem Hotels – Inbal

Sunday, March 2008

Admittedly with a bit of delay, I have visited another hotel, the Inbal, located on Jabotinsky Street near Gan HaPa’amon. Once again, I was greeted by a most professional and hospitable rabbi, the hotel rabbi for the past 26 years, Rabbi Tzion Avi-Zohar, who told me he has been involved in the kashrut business for most of his life. He is one of the hotel’s most veteran employees and oversees all religious services and kashrut maters, managing a team of mashgiachs and assistants.

We began our hotel inspection with a sit-down in the lounge, with the rabbi responding to my questions and then elaborating, telling me about the operation that he has created over the past two-and-a-half decades. The rabbi was a student of the Ponovitz Yeshiva, and told me he is uncompromising in his standards.

The Inbal, formally the LaRomme, is under the supervision of the Jerusalem Rabbinate and maintains shmitah l’chumra (mehadrin), using only produce from The Diaspora or non-Jewish areas of Israel. All greens are “Gush Katif” and almost all dairy products are chalav yisrael. I will explain more in-depth as we move along in the interview. The supervision however is regular Rabbinate, not mehadrin.

During the week, one can almost always rest assured that all meats and poultry are chalak (glatt), with two exceptions, fillet and duck liver. This is served rarely if ever in the general dining room, more frequently upon special order for a bar mitzvah or other private event. Nevertheless, the rabbi felt compelled to tell me, so guests and visitors are aware these items might appear at a meal in the dining hall. On Shabbat and Chagim (Yomim Tovim) they NEVER will serve these two items, and the hotel is 100% mehadrin in all dining rooms on those days.

As I mentioned above, the hotel dining areas, including the 9th floor Executive Lounge, are all mehadrin with the two exceptions noted above, which only impact meat meals.

Upon my arrival, I looked for the rabbi and the reception personnel suggested I check the kitchens. I walked through all the kitchens and asked if anyone saw the rabbi, and they responded “he left a short time ago,” a welcome response, realizing the mashgiachs are out there doing their job.

I think there is something about wearing a necktie and walking around with a clipboard in Israel – no one questions who you are, believing you are an inspector of sorts, responding cordially and pointing you in the right direction.

I will interject with a quick Passover note here, with Rabbi Avi-Zohar telling me the hotel will observe a mehadrin standard for the upcoming holiday, no kitniot (legumes), no shrurya (gebrochs) and all matzot will be available, machine, machine shmura and hand shmura. Regarding oil, on Passover Palm and Olive oils will be used. There is a hotel Seder for those wishing to sit back and enjoy, and one may also have one’s own private Seder. The hotel will also be offering a 2nd Seder for visitors from The Diaspora.

Back to the day-to-day — the rabbi explained that to the best of his knowledge, his hotel is the only major Jerusalem hotel that has two mashgiachs supervising every morning – explaining he sees this as a necessity since the breakfast rush demands a lot of kitchen work as do early preparations for lunch. As a result, he uses two, not one, as he explained is the norm elsewhere. Another mashgiach comes in during the evening shifts, explaining that the kosher supervisors are generally found on premises from early morning hours until about 10:30pm-11:00pm daily. On Shabbat and holidays, a mashgiach is present all the time, living on the premises.

As far as the kitchens, the picture is not much different from my previous stop, the Jerusalem Regency, with professionals manning the different stations, meat, dairy, parve and the bakery. Dairy trays and utensils are marked with a hole, meat without, and cutting boards and mixing and other large bowls and pots have color coding as well. Washing areas are separate, all on the same floor, but apart from one-another.

Interestingly, one room was visibly closed and the dead bolt in the closed position with a Hebrew and Arabic sign stating “No chametz permitted”, with the rabbi explaining it was the meat/chicken boning room, already prepared for Passover. We entered and what do you think we found – yes, large piles of chicken parts waiting to be boned.

The chickens and meats have different kashrut supervisions, with the common denominator being they are all chalak, approved by the Jerusalem Rabbinate. I did see Beit Yosef as well as Yisa Bracha [under the supervision of former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu]. Other products in the walk-in refrigerators stated “glatt under the supervision of the Jerusalem Rabbinate”.

I entered all the walk-ins, as well as the pantries, and all the items I picked up and visually scanned did have kosher supervision of well-established agencies, Eida Hareidit, Machzikei Hadas – Belz, Chief Rabbinate, Sherit Yisrael and so-forth. Truthfully, I tried passing one or two but the rabbi insisted I enter every one of them, so I complied.

Most wines are Carmel, mevushal, but there was also a supply of Golan, a more elegant wine [but not mevushal].

As far as ‘bishul yisrael’ goes, there is absolutely no problem for Ashkenazim who hold by the Rama the rabbi explained, since the gas is lit in the morning by Jewish chefs, as well as during the day, but Sephardim holding by the Beit Yosef do have a problem since non-Jewish kitchen staff do indeed mix foods from time-to-time. Rav Avi-Zohar stated the kitchen staff is about 50/50, Jews and non-Jews.

Flour is sifted by machine, but rice and other legumes are inspected by hand, by the mashgiachs. There were no special wash stations for greens (produce) as was the case in the Jerusalem Regency.

I did see that another walk-in refrigerator was also locked in a peculiar way, and found a young Orthodox male, Dan, supervising workers who were looking for lettuce and other greens. Dan, with a big smile on his face, explained they are not permitted to enter alone since the walk-in was already prepared and is kosher for Passover.

The loading dock is also carefully supervised, and a shipment of onions arrived just as I entered the area. The rabbi showed me the bill of lading must first of all be from the correct supplier, and display the special “shmitah l’mehadrin” stamp from the Jerusalem Rabbinate. If either of these are absent he explained, the shipment is sent back. Each item he added is checked against the orders and so-forth prior to entering the kitchen storage facility area, to ensure the items sent are correct and acceptable regarding his kashrut standard. There was no special rubber stamp used by the mashgiach as was the case in the Jerusalem Regency.

Another Passover note – The utensils used for the real heavy-duty chametz, such as the mixing bowls and so-forth are not koshered, but cleaned and put away for Passover. New dishes are brought out to replace broken utensils during the year, and they remain in service after Passover. A special set of stainless steel bowls and other utensils are stored just for Passover to avoid having to kosher the dough bowls and other problematic vessels.

The hotel stops serving bread some 3-4 days before the holiday, and while the cooking facilities are changed over a bit at a time, the “big changeover” occurs over one night, when the rabbi imports his team of 15 people, most veterans accustomed to working with him. At the conclusion of the all-night marathon, he does a final inspection and declares his hotel kosher for Passover. The exact date for this operation this year has yet to be decided, a decision made with Rabbi Avi-Zohar and senior hotel management.

On the ninth floor, we visited the newly-opened Executive Lounge, which offers a breathtaking view of the Old City. One may sit indoors, enjoying the mellow background music, or take advantage of the marvelous balcony, permitting one to sip some java while overlooking the walls of the Old City. The entire food operation in this exclusive lounge is mehadrin.

The one place on the hotel’s premises which is problematic for those insisting on mehadrin is the Sofia, which is the restaurant lounge at the end of the left side of the lobby (when you enter the hotel). It has its own kitchen and on the menu are cheese items not seen in the dining halls or Executive Lounge which are not mehadrin. That mean if you eat in Sofia or are seated at the lounge area, you may not be getting mehadrin and you must check if you have concerns in this area. Not all the cheeses are chalav yisrael. The name “Sofia” is prominently displayed on the wall above the serving counter of the area, so it is easy to realize where you are if you are concerned.

The rabbinical staff is headed by Rabbi Tzion Avi-Zohar, who told me that on Shabbatot, many guests from other hotels come to the Inbal for prayer services and it is not rare on holidays to have a number of minyanim.

The mashgiachs are:

Katriel Tzaddok – weekdays and always on Shabbatot and Chagim (Yomim Tovim). His mobile number is 972-54-848-0019.

Yaakov Gabbai – weekdays

The rabbi’s office number is 972-2- 675-6715.

Before, closing, I wish to share a story. Rabbi Avi-Zohar told me that when he was relatively new to the post, he entered the parve kitchen and tasted a cream cake that the new chief baker just completed. He stated he was quite sure it contained sour cream, but the baker assured him this was not the case.

The rabbi had the cake in question sent to a Bnei Brak laboratory, which confirmed his suspicions – the cake was dairy, not parve. He had the baker dismissed, and had him blacklisted in the Jerusalem Rabbinate. He told me the baker was unable to find work in the capital for some 18 months, despite his unique skills, and finally, he persuaded officials in the Jerusalem Rabbinate that he learned his lesson and would never entertain such a move again, realizing it would cost him his career.

Over the years stated the rabbi, he did have opportunity to send a small number of items to the lab in Bnei Brak, adding he will never hesitate to do so in the future should he believe there is a need. He stated that at the end of the day, the hotel does not want a kosher scandal anymore than he, realizing such a reality would be very costly and therefore, it must be avoided at all costs. This he explained provides him and others in his position much backing when it comes to ensuring guests receive the standard of kashrut they expect.

I share this to explain that professionals employed in the hotel kitchens, especially in Jerusalem, realize kashrut is no less important than food quality, and therefore explained the rabbi; they will not risk their careers to engage in foul play that may compromise kosher standards. This he emphasized is a major component regarding the day-to-day realities of overseeing a large operation that provides food for an institution such as the hotel.

At the risk of sounding repetitive [from the last hotel article], Rabbi Avi-Zohar stated that he urges all guests and visitors not to hesitate if they have concerns regarding kashrut, and they are always invited to request to speak to the on-call mashgiach or to phone. He told me that he is pleased that over the past years, the number of guests inquiring or just asking a personal question has increased significantly, and this he feels shows growing kashrut awareness.

I will add that prior to making an appointment for my visit; I sent an email to the hotel stating I plan to be a guest and would like to contact the rabbi regarding kashrut. Within a number of hours, I received a most polite and professional response from Shlomit Ferber, the hotel’s Communication Center Manager, providing me with the name and contact information for Rav Katriel.

This concludes the second article in the current series, “Jerusalem Hotels”. I cannot promise a schedule but by future stops will G-d willing include The David Citadel, Jerusalem Sheraton Plaza, Kings Prima, Jerusalem Renaissance, Jerusalem Pearl, Lev Yerushalayim and Crown Holiday Inn Plaza.

Enjoy your visit and we look forward to seeing you in the Holy City.

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