This article was first published in The Times of Israel.
KINGSTON, Jamaica — In the country known for Jerk chicken, meat patties, callaloo, and ackee and salt fish, Israeli cook and caterer Vered Maoz is getting attention for her pita bread, hummus, shawarma and bourekas.
We’ve come to expect good Israeli food in cities with large Israeli ex-pat communities, like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, London and Berlin, but to discover it in Kingston, Jamaica (Israeli population of 15) is a revelation.
Maoz is the only source of freshly prepared kosher Israeli food on the island, and she may be key to growing Jewish heritage tourism to Jamaica. The country has a long, rich and unique Jewish history dating back more than 350 years, and the 200-member Jamaican Jewish community and the Jamaica Tourist Board are eager to share it with visitors.
However, until now, the lack of kosher food has stood in the way of attracting Jewish history and heritage buffs to this Caribbean nation. The thought of packing a week’s worth of tinned tuna and crackers and eating them picnic-style has not surprisingly proved to be a major deterrent to booking a trip. Kosher cruises also have not been able to provide refreshment for passengers alighting for the day at popular tourist spots like Ocho Rios and Falmouth.
As Maoz, 42, tells it, she wasn’t originally looking to bring a taste of Israel to Jamaicans, or to kashrut-observant Jewish tourists. Far away from home, and having discovered that Jamaican food did not tickle her taste buds, she just wanted to keep herself, her husband Yuval, and their four children connected to their culinary roots.
Two of Maoz’s children accompanied her to a Shabbat lunch she catered in early November for visiting Jewish American journalists and members of the local Jewish community. The meal was held at the Jewish Heritage Center of Jamaica, the building adjacent to Jamaica’s only functioning synagogue, Congregation Shaa’re Shalom in Kingston. (An impressive Spanish-Portuguese-style shul dating to 1912, it is one of only five functioning synagogues with sand floors in the world. The others are in Amsterdam, Curacao, Suriname, and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Island.)
As she watched the crowd enjoy her food, she explained to The Times of Israel how she and her family arrived in Jamaica 12 years ago, and how cooking recipes she watched her Greek-Israeli mother make in Holon, has helped her both retain her Israeli identity and connect with her Jamaican neighbors.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.