We live in a world where kosher food is available almost anywhere we turn. From kosher food aisles in local grocery stores to remote locations where kosher food is imported, almost everything is available. We’ve grown accustomed to food at our fingertips. However, there are still places, even in the United States, where kosher items are limited. A city like Anchorage, Alaska is known more for the amount of salmon it sells than the kosher items they produce. Keeping kosher in Anchorage means learning to be creative, and being grateful for everything you get.
When it comes to local food, necessities are often sparse. The available kosher food consists mainly of a couple of Kosher for Passover items in the local grocery store. Basic kosher food items that most grocery stores carry in larger cities such as Los Angeles and Florida are not carried in Anchorage. Anything from mozzarella cheese to bread to fish sticks are ordered in bulk from grocery stores in either Seattle or California. A shipment comes in every six to eight weeks and consists of all the basics that are not available around the corner. "There are certain luxuries we’ve learned to live without," explains Rebbetzin Esty Greenberg, who has been on Chabad shlichus with her husband in Anchorage since 1991.
"There are no bakeries or restaurants. Our house is the restaurant. We’re thankful for whatever we get. If an order comes and it’s not what we wanted, we don’t bat an eye. We’re happy with exactly what we get; if yogurt is plain instead of vanilla, meat is packed in ten pound packages instead of two pounds, if a bottle of wine is smashed – it doesn’t matter. It’s part of the process. We’re thankful for everything we get." The food is stored in six large freezers in their basement. Everything is prepared fresh at home, which can be challenging, yet rewarding. "Someone once asked my daughter if there are kosher restaurants in Anchorage. My daughter’s answer was, ‘Yes, my house!’" Rebbetzin Greenberg jokes.
“Someone once asked my daughter if there are kosher restaurants in Anchorage. My daughter’s answer was, ‘Yes, my house!’” Rebbetzin Greenberg jokes…
It takes a lot of effort to keep the Jewish community well fed. Besides the monthly food shipments with all of the basics, there are also events, programs and parties to cook for. Until 2008 when renovations began on their 10,000 square foot Chabad Center, every event for the community was prepared for in the Greenberg’s home kitchen. "My kitchen with one oven, four burners, one sink, a milchig counter and fleishig counter facilitated all the needs of our community," Rebbetzin Greenberg explained. "Everything from preschool lunch to Friday night dinners (they host at least fifty people every Friday night), cooking for Yomim Tovim (where they host between 100-200 people every year), up to 400 latkes for one Chanukah event. All of this took place in our tiny kitchen." The Chabad House kitchen, she explains, was like a miracle. "I’ve been working out of that kitchen for a year now and every single day I say Hodu Le Hashem Ki Tov! I walk into the kitchen every time I need to cook and feel the need to hug my massive stove, or the fridge." This year, making 500 latkes for their annual Chanukah party in their new kitchen is the miracle of Chanukah.
Keeping and maintaining a kosher lifestyle in Anchorage is only part of the challenge. Last year, Draizy Wilansky, a Chabad Hebrew School teacher in Anchorage, decided to focus on the importance of kosher food with her students. "I taught them all about different brochos and types of food. After each brocha was taught, we would make the food. We made everything from pasta to chicken to cake. At the end of the year, the students made a ‘kosher restaurant’ for the parents and local community members. All of the ingredients they needed were ordered in advance. They learned about what it takes to keep kosher and how important it is.
In Alaska, kosher without compromise only applies to the standard of the hechsher. Kosher observant Jews in Alaska often have to compromise on selection and variety, but their commitment to the mitzvah of kashrus is strong and they live up to the challenge. Like the Maccabees and the Chanukah menorah, Alaska’s Jewish community and their mesiras nefesh for kashrus brightens the darkness with the light of Torah and Mitzvos.