When one thinks of Montana, the images that come to mind include snowcapped mountains, Yellowstone National Park, and extreme sports. In a place like Montana, the last thing that people usually expect is high quality kosher cuisine. Yet, with a little creativity and effort, Montana offers a kosher culinary experience fit for travelers from all walks of life. And once you’ve had a taste of what Montana has to offer, you may never want to leave.
Bozeman, Montana is a town most famously known for the Bozeman Trail, a path that gave way to thousands of travelers—many of them Jewish miners— during the Gold Rush. The Jewish community was most prominent during those years, with several active traditional synagogues scattered throughout Montana. However, with the end of the Gold Rush, the community dwindled, until there was hardly a remanence of their community left. That is, until 2007. With the arrival of Chabad shluchim, Rabbi Chaim and Chavie Bruk, the Orthodox Jewish community—and kosher food— once again found a home in Bozeman.
“When we arrived, the only thing you could find was generic kosher items like ketchup and cereal,” shared Rabbi Bruk. As a native of Crown Heights, this transition was difficult for him. “Whenever we’d visit New York, the first thing I’d do was take a cab directly to Kingston Avenue to buy food,” he jokes. “I used to fly back to Bozeman with container after container of food.”
For Mrs. Bruk, who grew up on shlichus in San Antonio, Texas, the lack of kosher amenities available in Bozeman was hardly a surprise. And as they say, if you build it, they will come. The Bruks quickly got to work, slowly but surely making kosher food more accessible not only in their home, but in the homes of others.
“Within six months of moving to Bozeman, we reached out to Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin who lived in Iowa at the time, to speak to him about supplying food for our community. Not only did he help us by supplying the meat products for us and our community, but he also helped us by offering the food at the lowest cost available. This was his way of contributing to our shlichus, and we will forever be grateful for the help he gave us.”
These days, the food is supplied by The Weinberg Brothers Company in Twin Cities, Minnesota. The Bruks order a supply to last for three to four months at a time. Their order is processed along with the orders of fifteen other families, many of whom—with the Bruks help—began keeping kosher in recent years. Each order takes approximately two weeks to arrive, and is delivered from Twin Cities on a semi-trailer.
“It’s quite a sight,” one of the community members shared. ”If you ever happen to drive past the I-90 in the middle of the night, you may see all of us gathering there, waiting for the truck to unload our boxes.” The Bruks receive close to forty boxes of food in each delivery, which they store in six freezers that they have in their house. The food they order is used for weekly Shabbos meals (where they host approximately fifty people per meal), holiday events including community wide Rosh Hashana and Pesach meals, as well as to feed tourists who make their way through Bozeman during the high travel season.
In Bozeman, the only kosher ‘restaurant’ is in the Chabad House kitchen. All who are hungry will always have a place at their table. Mrs. Bruk prepares Shabbos meals for hundreds of guests each month, and always does so with a smile. “A big part of our success is my wife’s culinary skills,” Rabbi Bruk shared. “I think part of the reason people keep coming back is because of the food she prepares. A lot of this is attributed to her background. She watched her own mother do a lot of what we do now. She had the skills to run a Chabad House kitchen from a young age, and that really comes in handy around here. This past Tishrei, she prepared more than six hundred individual meals for our guests. It was quite a sight.”
For the Bruk’s children, finding kosher food at their local grocery store is less of a challenge and more of an exciting activity. Today, the local Albertson’s supplies more kosher products than ever before, and while it’s still not much, they happily make do with what they have.
“Our children really had to learn to understand kashrus. It’s not like in an average kosher supermarket where everything has a hechsher. When we go shopping, we really have to look for a symbol.”
When asked if he felt this was an overbearing challenge for such young children, Rabbi Bruk answered positively: “Our children know more about kashrus than most kids their age. It’s a source of pride for them. You should see the looks on their faces when they find something with an acceptable hechsher in the supermarket. It’s like winning the lottery.” Now that’s kashrus done right.