Crowne Plaza Jerusalem

 

The rabbi’s chassidic look and pronounced beard and side locks are perhaps compelled to take a back seat to his marvelous personality and genuine willingness to pass his wealth of knowledge along to others. He is quite the upbeat fellow, and I for one was impressed, grateful as well, regarding his willingness to give me hours of his time.

Crowne Plaza Hotel

Crowne Plaza Hotel

What began as an interview of another Jerusalem hotel actually became a day-long adventure, one that benefited me greatly. Rarely do I have an opportunity to have a one-on-one sit down with someone of the caliber of Rabbi Yosef Fink, the rabbi and chief mashgiach of the Crowne Plaza Jerusalem. Anyone in the loop regarding kashrus in Jerusalem in particular, or in Eretz Yisrael and perhaps the international community has heard of Rabbi Fink, a veteran personality in the field, a reference manual for questions pertaining to kashrus, ‘isur & heter’, ‘basar v’chalav’ or what have you.

He possess a working knowledge of the real deal vis-à-vis the Israel kashrus scene, and he was kind enough to answer many of my questions, providing me with a wealth of information towards bring JKN increasingly accurate and in-depth reports.

 

 

As has been the case with other hotel rabbonim and mashgiach, when the rabbi speaks of the Crowne Plaza it is quickly evident to all present that this is far more than a job, but a life’s work, a responsibility that remains in the forefront of the rabbi’s daily routine.

Lobby dinning area

Lobby dinning area

Anyway, the interview began in the lobby over some higher-priced-than-I-usually-drink carbonated mineral water — I knew it was going to be a good day. Taking part in the first phase of the five-hour interview and hotel tour were my colleague Yossi, a longtime Jerusalem resident and the person who continues to provide me with immeasurable halachic and other support. He too spends many an hour on the phone speaking with rabbinical authorities to assist me in getting to the bottom of so many kashrus questions. There was also Rabbi Fink and let’s not forget Mr. Eran Maza, who is the deputy manager of the hotel’s Food and Beverage department. Although a native Israeli, he completed his bachelors degree in hospitality management in Providence, Rhode Island, and then continued in the United States earning his masters in business and marketing. He then worked for a year in what he described as a “small hotel” before returning home, employed in the Crowne Plaza for three years.

Rabbi Fink, in his wisdom, decided to include Eran in the first portion of the day, which he obviously planned quite well in my opinion, providing me with the ability to understand the issues from the perspective of someone involved, but not from the kashrus angle, but more from the pleasing the client and expense/budgetary angles. It is even more potent perhaps since Eran is not yet a Shomer Shabbat Jew. Anyway, he began with a monologue, explaining that overall, a fine working relationship exists between kashrus and management, and he seemed proud of this. He did however raise a number of issues, unabashedly I may add, albeit with the encouragement of Rabbi Fink, with the matter of cold Shabbos morning breakfast leading his list. To my surprise, he explained that while most foreigners and of course religious guests never broach the subject, many Israelis seem to feel cheated and therefore are at times irate regarding the fact that Shabbat morning breakfast is limited to cakes, coffee and a modest array of some cold items. Interestingly, not that I am a regular in hotels on Shabbos, before Eran raised the matter, it never entered my head. It is just what it is. Everyone knows that on Shabbos morning, breakfast is simple. I guess if Shabbos is Saturday for someone, he/she may expect a regular meal.

The rabbi told Eran the reason is simple, “because the Chief Rabbinate has so decided,” telling him that he must take the matter up with the rabbinate and that it is not a local hotel policy decision. [After Eran left, the rabbi further explained the halachic problems of quiches and other possible Shabbos morning foods being reheated, either because they are not truly dry, or not 100% cooked before Shabbos to satisfy Shabbos requirements (kol tzorcho). Therefore he explained, all the hotels have adopted the policy of cold Shabbos morning breakfast since eggs other than hard boiled are not an option. In addition, this is the norm for Am Yisrael before shul, after which there is Kiddush and a major seudat shabbat, the day’s main meal].

Rabbi Fink and his colleagues in other hotels with whom I spoke during earlier interviews agree, that he kitchen staff mustn’t be taught halacha regarding kashrus, but they must be instructed as how to act and what and what is not permissible. They are all of the feeling that teaching non-Jews or Jews who are not Observant halacha, will leave them with a feeling of competence to possibly begin arriving at their own decisions without consulting the rabbinical authority as they should.

Eran went on to elaborate on wines, stating that while most are mevushal, there are of course non-mevushal, which usually include the higher-end wines as the hotel must stock to accommodate those who wish it. He stressed the hotel frequently hosts chareidi affairs, a statement that is confirmed by the rabbi, who explains he routinely will kasher the kitchen and take whatever measures are required, dependent on the requests of the party. At times, it may just be a special schita for chicken or meat, and at other times, it may entail turning the kitchen upside down to kasher it for a totally mehadrin event.

While Eran accepts the reality, it is evident he is somewhat bothered by the fact that strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus are taboo, as per Rabbi Fink. Actually, it is more annoying to the chef and his staff, but it was quite evident during our tour of the kitchens that Rabbi Fink maintains absolute authority and has the last word on such items.

Crowne Plaza Jerusalem Religious Council certificate

Crowne Plaza Jerusalem Religious Council certificate

I should point out that the hotel’s supervision is from the Jerusalem Local Rabbinate, regular and NOT mehadrin, yet the hotel does indeed maintain a significantly higher standard than is required by the dictates of the regular kashrut.

Another decree handed down by the rabbi is the ban on all meat soup powder bases. Truth be said, I learned during the course of the day that soup bases are rarely used, but they are more for last-minute touch-ups and emergencies, but the thought of having parve and meat powders presents an array of possible problems and confusing situations — leading to Rabbi Fink’s decision to add the item to the banished list. On that note, I learned later in the afternoon that one of the hotel chefs’ trade secrets is a natural soup base if you will, what they call “juice” or “demiglaze”, consisting of a humongous pot loaded with beef, unpeeled onions, carrots and other vegetables, permitted to simmer down for 72 hours. It becomes an extremely intense concentrated base, used in many many dishes. Actually, Rabbi Fink explained that you may be seated with others in a meat dinning hall or restaurant in a hotel but decide you do not want a meat dish, and order a vegetable or onion soup. This ‘parve’ soup may often contain the meat base, used to enhance the taste of many dishes, so if you truly do not wish meat, and you are in a meat dinning area, you must make certain the soup is truly parve.

Back to Eran, who proudly explained that he can host 800 guests in the large modern hall, which has a “state-of-the-art built-in multimedia system,” and the level of kashrus can be brought to any standard, to meet the most demanding of clients, who over the years have learned Rabbi Fink is world-renowned for his expertise in the field.

Eran excused himself explaining he has another meeting, and the three of us continued on for sometime, ordering a second bottle of mineral water. Anyway, getting serious again, the Rav made some very strong points, asking me to be his shaliach and relay the information to the readers. For one thing, he urges you, the kosher consumer, to “do your job – to begin asking for the mashgiach when you arrive, asking questions and probing the basics”. He explained that asking management for the “rabbi’s phone number” and announcing you wish to check things out ultimately gives the mashgiach more leverage and when he and his colleagues sit at staff meetings, it is not rare for senior management to comment on the increase in requests pertaining to kashrut, realizing the need to maintain a certain level of kashrut and a staff commensurate with the demands of accomplishing this task. Actually, Rabbi Fink has five fulltime mashgichim under him in addition to the Shabbos mashgiach. He explains “This did not happen over night”, but during his 19 years in the hotel, he has come a long way and implemented many rules that enhance the level of kashrus. By the way, he is involved in kashrus in Jerusalem since 1983, and comes from a home that permitted him exposure to Torah giants, being his father was an Av Beit Din in Haifa.

“The kashrus comes from the people and only the people” the rabbi stated in a serious tone, emphasizing the need for consumers to become involved and not just eat based on assumptions, or seeing someone with a black hat seated at a table. He hopes you get the message and begin advocating on behalf of yourself and the kosher consumer at large. By the way, if you visit the Crowne Plaza, you can converse with Rabbi Fink in Hebrew, Yiddish, basic German, Spanish, Portuguese and he does get by in English as well. We spoke in Hebrew but he did field a few English phone calls during our day together.

The meat used in the hotel if Chief Rabbinate chalak, “not the glatt used by the higher end chareidi badataz hechsherim” he points out, and the chickens are also mehadrin, adding that he is careful as to which brands are used, stating he does not accept every schita. By the way, the rabbi is a known expert on schita as well, so deciding which chickens to use is based on his own first-hand knowledge regarding the schita in Israel. For me, it was a true learning experience, hearing much on the topic of chickens in Eretz Yisrael.

I guess I will interject here that Yossi left us at some point, compelled to attend another meeting — leaving just the rabbi and I for the last three hours or so.

Of course all greens are the ‘bug-less‘ type, know generically today as “Gush Katif”. Rabbi Fink is also very selective as to which firms are permitted for use as he too knows many of the so-called bug-less brands are far from bug free, but this is for another report perhaps.

“A good mashgiach knows every ingredient in every dish,” he explains authoritatively, adding “you don’t have to know how to cook, but you do have to know what belongs in the dish”. This is necessary to determine if something is out of place so to speak if a mashgiach sees ingredients that do not belong to a particular menu. Actually, this was also highlighted by some of the experts in the field at a recent Kosharot conference that Yossi and I attended, held in Moshav Beit Meir for people in the commercial end of the field, including school administrators and the like.

The hotel, non-mehadrin as it may be, does adhere to some stringencies that I have not seen elsewhere to date. One such example would be the fact that gas is left on in the various kitchens, not relying on a pilot light, as well as ovens operating. Rabbi Fink explains that HaRav HaGaon Sholom Yosef Elyashiv Shlita is of the opinion that to ensure proper bishul yisrael, the gas that is ‘on’ must be hot enough to cook, and therefore, Rabbi Fink will not rely on a pilot light.

The dairy products by and large are chalav yisrael mehadrin, but there are a number of exceptions [which is fine since the hotel hechsher is not mehadrin]. At times there one may find two a blue cheese and another truly aged hard cheese offered among the breakfast delicacies, as well as the grated parmesan, which if you do not wish topping your onion or perhaps other soup, you will have to tell the folks in the lobby dinning area to hold the grated cheese.

Both the grated cheese and the gas [bishul yisrael stringency] were pointed out as we entered the lobby kitchen, which serves the guests ordering at the tables in that area. Actually, ditto for the oven which was also on in that kitchen as well.

The mehadrin dairy products run the gamut of the spectrum to include the well-known badataz agencies, and the often found Chug Chatam Sofer Bnei Brak and Chug Chatam Sofer Petach Tikvah, with the latter providing a hechsherim for many dairy products seen around the country.

I would love to tell you which floor I was on after leaving the lobby, but we took one elevator too many and actually, while I saw a number of kitchens, I cannot say with a modicum of accuracy where I was. For those of you whom have seen the workings of a hotel, one service floor looks like any other and there are no large numeral signs as one sees when one leaves a guest elevator. We chatted while walking as Rabbi Fink pointed out many things to me, all the while introducing me to staff members, including but not limited to mashgiach Rav Yosef Horowitz, pastry chef Zihad Dahod, and yet another mashgiach, Rav Eliyahu Avital, who plays a special role, one that I will address later in this report.

At one point, Rav Horowitz approached Rabbi Fink and whispered something in his ear, obviously not wishing to share it with me. He did however announce “we have a problem” which prompted me to step back to give them their space to address what appeared to be a pressing matter.

Well, Rabbi Fink decided to share this with me, as he explained it is a fine example and what a hotel mashgiach is expected to do. A bit over a week ago, the pastry folks requested permission to bring in Badatz Eida Chareidit chocolate pralines for a new dairy crunch cake. The rabbi was opposed, fearing it may lead to confusion with the parve pralines in use, but was persuaded to give it a trial run, but he insisted on strict guidelines. They showed me the two types of pralines by the way, and yes, they are identifiable, with the dairy one being a bit lighter in appearance. Anyway, the deal was to be as follows. The dairy chocolate was to be kept in the rabbi’s office, and when a pastry chef needed them, the mashgiach would bring them, watch them being applied and then return them.

It appears that Rabbi Horowitz found the box of dairy chocolate in the parve kitchen, prompting him to ‘sound the alarm’. It did not take too long to ascertain that they were not used incorrectly, but the staff just failed to deal with them as promised. Rabbi Fink instructed the kashrut staff to round them up and place them in the office, under lock and key, then making a series of telephone calls, which I later learned were to hotel buyers, managerial staff, head chef, pastry chef, loading dock manager and a number of others. The new/old directive was in effect immediately, “no dairy chocolate may enter the hotel again”. There was a bit of attempted persuasion by the pastry staff and a chef or two, but to me it was clear, this was a done deal, and so it is.

Another interesting kashrus fact is that all the hotel dishes are toveled, not a common reality in the industry. As we continued chatting I was writing as quickly as I could, jotting down assorted kashrus facts. Rabbi Fink stated he was the first in the hotel line in Israel to bring in an electric flour sifter, about 16-18 years ago, and it has since been upgraded numerous times to adhere to today’s standards. I do not recall if I mentioned, but all the shrubbery that is the “Gush Katif” brand is also soap washed, rinsed and dried before use. (The bags do instruct users to wash the greens before use).

We then visited the CPC (Crowne Plaza Club) located on the 21st floor. (Don’t think I knew what floor we were on. I was to busy writing to notice where we were going. I did however remember to ask Rabbi Fink as we left he VIP lounge, AKA the CPC. It was your run of the mill operation, on the same kosher standard as the rest of the hotel, offering a genuinely impressive view of Jerusalem.

Mashgiach Eliyahu Avital

Mashgiach Eliyahu Avital

And now, we stop in the rear of the lobby at Kohinoor. Wow is my opinion, a truly unique restaurant operated by Vinod and Reena Pushkarana. Anyway, the restaurant is run privately, on contract with the hotel, and the hotel rabbi, Rabbi Fink, is responsible for kashrus. The place has a full-time mashgiach, Rabbi Eliyahu Avital (I told you I would get back to him), who maintains a presence at all times when cooking is taking place. Other hours of the day, he enters and leaves as required.

Kohinoor entrance

Kohinoor entrance

I am not a maven on Indian food, but the ambiance here is cool in my opinion, nice background music, and a touch of elegance, and the staff was noticeably polite and eager to serve. Perhaps its uniqueness is what stands out for me, not just ‘another falafel’ shop.

 

 

Kohinoor buffet

Kohinoor buffet

Rabbi Fink and Vinod

Rabbi Fink and Vinod

Rabbi Fink explained the meat and poultry in this restaurant are all Agudat Yisrael, and the standard is mehadrin to a high degree. If you are wondering, yes, we sat down and had lunch. Being an avid fan of charif (hot stuff), I truly enjoyed the array of spices, piquant dishes and of course, down right charif. I haven’t a clue what I ate, other than the vegetable curry soup, but Vinod brought us a bit of many items to sample.

Kohinoor buffet

Kohinoor buffet

The restaurant is open from 12:00pm-3:30pm and 6:00pm-12:00am. Reservations are advised (02-658-8867). I tried to get an idea for readers, and Vinod told me a major meal is between NIS 120-150 a person and there is also a NIS 69 a person buffet. Just repeating what I was told – I take no responsibility for prices.

For those readers bothered by my decision to give the place a free plug, sorry, but a free meal in my mind deserves a thank you. If you feel this taints the report, then it would be wise not to rely on any of my reports if you think I can be bought out for some curry.

With a limited number of truly mehadrin places to eat in Jerusalem, this was a new find for me, a well kept secret. Actually, it only become mehadrin after Pessach Rabbi Fink explained.

So let’s do a recap. The hotel has a Jerusalem Religious Council regular supervision, uses only bug-free greens, which are washed before use, chalak beef and poultry, overall chalav yisrael, although there are exceptions. Cooking is bishul yisrael for Ashkenazim for certain. There is much to report regarding Shabbos, but I try to limit myself to kashrus issues.

8 Comments

  • Eliyahu Skoczylas
    June 11, 2009 - 23:21 | Permalink

    My wife and I went for our anniversary to Kohinoor. We were quite satisfied with the buffet, which is very reasonably priced, and “all you can eat.” We took advantage of a credit card promotion, and it was even cheaper (I think 120 for two,) to which we added some wine. The portions were fresh and constantly being replenished in the buffet. And I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure that I saw Rav Avital coming in and out of the dining area, checking on the buffet. We liked the place, and would also recommend it, even though we paid for our meals. :)

    Good report on the hotel, BTW. Between the Crowne Plaza and Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center, it sounds like you had a much better week than fingering shysters and forgers in the shuk! Keep up the good work, and thanks for all that you do.

  • Chaim
    June 11, 2009 - 23:42 | Permalink

    Outstanding and very informative report!

    Just one small point: Regarding the lighter, cold breakfast served on Shabbat morning, the report said, “In addition, this is the norm for Am Yisrael before shul.” Perhaps this would be an appropriate forum to point out that this “norm” has a very tenuous halachic basis, if at all. The Shulchan Aruch makes no distinction between eating before Shacharit during the week and on Shabbat: in general it’s prohibited even on Shabat, unless someone has a concrete health concern, in which case it’s allowed even on a regular yom chol.

  • June 12, 2009 - 01:41 | Permalink

    “If you feel this taints the report, then it would be wise not to rely on any
    of my reports if you think I can be bought out for some curry.” i appreciate your report and i am sure this is true however the torah warns ki hashochad yavir aina PIKKCHIM visalef divrie ZADDIKIM so i dont think that would show a flaw of charechter rather a strong feeling of gratitude

  • Moshe
    June 12, 2009 - 10:17 | Permalink

    I continue to appreciate your reports and all the personal efforts that go into your investigations. Kashrut here is more complicated than in chutz la-aretz, and distinguishing a reliable hashgacha from those that are unreliable is quite a daunting task for the average Jew.

    Have you ever looked into the Ramat Rachel hotel? Many, many frum Jews have affairs there and take its kashrut reliability for granted. I personally had an experience there over a family Shabbat event, and was less than convinced that it’s really reliable, let alone “mehadrin for Shabbat” as claimed on their certifcate.

    Again, thank you for the important work you are doing!

  • June 14, 2009 - 10:56 | Permalink

    Chaim,

    Perhaps it should also be noted that many people daven quite early on Shabbos, especially in E”Y, and thus may want to partake of a light breakfast before a late seudah.

    Furthermore, it is not at all obvious to me that women or children cannot easily daven before their meal, which would imply that breakfast may be 100% lechatchila for more than 50% of the population…

  • Suzanne Lieberman
    June 17, 2009 - 14:48 | Permalink

    So you got there then! Glad you enjoyed it! Could you tell me how the Crowne Plaza compares with the Inbal?

  • Josh
    June 21, 2009 - 08:28 | Permalink

    You say that the restaurant is mehadrin: does it have a mehadrin hashgacha (and if so which one) or is it just unofficially being held to a higher standard than the rest of the hotel?

  • Suzanne Lieberman
    June 23, 2009 - 17:24 | Permalink

    I’ve just read your update, and can’t believe that it’s going to stop being mehadrin as of July 1st – what a great shame!

  • Comments are closed.