Restaurant offers kosher meal for R72 – or for free
Restaurants advertise all the time, but few market three-course kosher meals for “up to R72 if you can, free if you can’t”.
Such was a recent advert for the Jewish Community Restaurant (JCR) in Fairmount.
In the times we live in, few can put together such a meal for that price.
Mark Eilim, who said he had been involved in non-profit organisations for many years, and Rabbi Moshe Eckhaus from the Heichal Shlomo Shul, are behind this initiative.
Their idea is to serve healthy, quality meals to those who can and those who can’t afford a meal out, bringing the community together over a meal.
Eilim said he had wanted to start such an initiative for the past 10 years, ever since he returned from Israel. While overseas, he started the highly successful “Leket Israel”, a food bank that collects surplus produce. On his return, he said he couldn’t help but notice a significant economic decline within the community.
On mentioning his idea, “The feedback was that no-one will come, there’s no way we need it. Things aren’t that bad, et cetera. People are going hungry today in South Africa, and they’re still not prepared to admit it within the Jewish community.”
Eckhaus shared his vision. “The rabbi said to me, ‘You wouldn’t believe how often I’m getting calls from people who aren’t even asking for money for rent, for petrol, or school fees. They’re asking me for money for food’,” said Eilim.
The JCR opened on 15 January, and has become a welcome resource. According to Eilim, they now host between 35 to 50 people per day.
It offers a full three-course kosher meal from Sunday to Thursday, 15:00 to 18:30, providing a set menu on a weekly basis that features a different nutritious, well-rounded meal each day.
Each meal contains soup as a starter (usually a vegetable soup such as baby marrow or pumpkin), a main course (such as curries, schnitzel, chicken a la king, as well as some sort of salad and chips or rice), and a dessert. They also serve juice, tea, and coffee. Eilim says those who can afford it, pay R72 – 72 being symbolic of chesed (kindness) – and those who can’t either pay what they can or get their meal completely on the house. They also offer a free shuttle service for those who can’t get there on their own.
When the SA Jewish Report popped in at about 16:00, the space wasn’t filled to capacity. According to Eilim, the first round of people usually come in as they open, and the second closer to dinner time. Among those eating there were families with three or more kids who struggle to feed their entire family a nutritious meal, as well as older individuals who come in a few times a week.
Many of these customers, whether paying or not, certainly didn’t appear impoverished, however, Eilim said that there were also a few customers who were living on the street.
The restaurant is set up in a hall next to the Heichal Shlomo Shul, with individual tables set with decorative tablecloths and cutlery. The surrounding stained-glass windows and chandeliers hanging from the ceilings create a welcoming dining space.
Patrons are served at their tables, so there’s no standing and waiting for one’s food, and they are welcome to have as many servings as they want. There are three kitchen staff, who appeared attentive and welcoming to every table.
Eilim said that though some customers did pay, the JCR was primarily funded by donors. They also have a website where anyone can make a donation, with options to feed a person, a family, and more.
Even potential donors didn’t believe that the idea would take off, he said. One told him that if the restaurant was able to attract 50 people, he would be proven wrong, and would fund the endeavour. They have had far more than 50 people to date.
“Concept is excellent. Food is brilliant. Everything is tasty,” said one of their regular patrons.
“It has become a real community,” said Eilim. “In the beginning, everyone sat as far away from each other as possible. Now there are groups of people that sit together and then go their separate ways. It’s like they know each other, and get strength from being in the same boat.”
Eilim said that though there are quite a few feeding schemes in the Jewish community, this initiative fulfils a different purpose. There are no conditions, no strings attached. The sole purpose is to provide a meal for anyone who may need it.
It’s not only those who have absolutely nothing that require food assistance, he said, it’s those who need to decide between buying healthy food and paying their bills. He also notices more people coming in towards the end of the month.
The JCR provides a charming restaurant experience for those who can’t afford it, and encourages those who can afford traditional restaurants to enjoy the community space and help to bridge the gap.
Anyone wishing to support this initiative through donations can do so at https://thejcr.co.za/.