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Monday, July 20, 2009

Dairy-Free Restaurant in St. Petersburg. Not the One in Florida

In a sign of how quickly and incredibly change can come to a society, a popular restaurant in St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, formerly Petrograd, formerly St. Petersburg, capital of the Russian Empire and home to the tsars, has similarly undergone as complete and as dramatic a transformation. It is now kosher and dairy-free.

Jews left Russia by the millions after a series of pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th century. Judaism, like other religions, was suppressed in the Communist period. Millions perished in the Holocaust, millions more have emigrated since the founding of Israel. As a result, no more than 1 in 600 Russians today are Jewish.

So a Kosher restaurant in St. Petersburg is startling. And given the fledging capitalist society that is brewing there, economically foolhardy.

Owner Mikhail Mirilashvili doesn't care. He's doing it as a service to the remaining Jewish population. An article on explained the unusual gesture. According to the proprietor of the 7:40 restaurant, Abram Israelashvili,

"Our goal is not to earn as much money as possible, but to make kosher food available to all Jews of St. Petersburg."

The restaurant, meat-based and dairy free, now bears the kosher certification of the city’s Chief Rabbi and Chabad representative, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Pewzner.

During the 17-day switchover, explains Israelashvili, "we washed and scrubbed every square centimeter of the restaurant. We 'blow torched' our metal cookware. We had to replace all of our dishes and china ware, and replace the old stove."

The restaurant, now closed on Shabbat, and features entrées priced 30-40 percent below prices on the old menu. Though the restaurant is expected to eventually break even, Mr. Mirilashvili sponsored this mission, he says, as a way of helping local Jews adopt Jewish practices and make kosher dining at home and when eating out, a way of life.

I wouldn't have known where to send you to find dairy-free dining in Russia. Now I have a recommendation.

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