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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Liliha grocery stocks Jewish-style food

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Ifat Sharabi is the owner of Mazal's Kosherland Israeli Grocery in Liliha, specializing in food imported from Israel.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Mazal's Kosherland Israeli Grocery Store

555 N. King St., No. 113, at Kingsgate Plaza, King Street and Dillingham Boulevard in Liliha.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays, 45 minutes after sundown to 11 p.m. Saturdays. (But call ahead, as hours may change.)

Phone: 848-1700

Ifat Sharabi normally would have closed up her Liliha shop by 2 p.m. on a Friday to get ready for the the Sabbath, which for Jews begins at nightfall on Fridays. But last week, her first full week in business, she kept Mazal's Kosherland open for a little longer than usual on Friday when a girlfriend called ahead, eager to pick up a few things for the Sabbath meal.

When Sharabi's pal arrived with two others, the women greeted each other in Hebrew and, within minutes, the three customers had fanned out in the tiny, two-aisle shop and begun to exclaim joyfully over familiar packages and products — Angel Bakery products, Ossem Passover foods, Pereq spices, tzfatit (a delicate, soft Israeli cheese), stuffed bureka pastries, canned goods from Israel and frozen kosher meats and chilled dairy foods from the Mainland.

"This is typical," she said. "People come in and they're very, very excited. They want to buy the whole store."

Pearl Krasnjansky is the wife of Rabbi Itchel Krasnjansky of Chabad of Hawai'i, the mother of seven, has a full-time job and keeps kosher. The family's dedication to the Jewish dietary laws — "one of the three pillars of Jewish home life," she says — has meant that she has had to cook from scratch every meal of every day. There is literally nowhere they can go out to eat here, she said.

The kosher convenience foods Sharabi stocks — frozen chicken nuggets, fish sticks and such — are, Krasnjansky said, "excuse the pun, a godsend!"

Keeping kosher also has meant spending a great deal on shipping costs to bring ingredients in from the Mainland. Only a handful of kosher dry goods are available in local grocery stores, Meats were overly expensive and had often been frozen too long.

While not all Jews follow the dietary laws that, among other things, require processing of food under rabbinical supervision and the strict separation of meat and dairy foods, many at least nod toward kosher at Passover, which begins this year on April 5. Each year, local temples would organize a bulk mail order of kosher-for-Passover foods so members could celebrate the holiday's seder meal properly.

Furthermore, many grew up eating kosher products, in neighborhoods with kosher delis and bakeries, and yearn for the foods of their childhoods.

Krasnjansky points out other advantages: Some non-Jews prefer certain kosher products because the foods have a reputation for a high standard of purity. Travelers have had a very difficult time keeping kosher in Hawai'i. Chabad often gets calls from tourists, asking about sources of kosher food. Because of the store, more of the money spent on kosher foods stays in the Islands.

And most importantly to her and Chabad, it is now not so daunting for those who haven't previously kept kosher to move closer to compliance with the laws outlined in the Torah, the books that contain the body of Jewish law and learning. "Our focus is very much on trying to strengthen the knowledge and awareness and observance and this goes a long way toward that," Krasnjansky said.

Last May, Sharabi, who grew up in Petach Tikve, west central Israel, took note of the number of people who gathered here for an Israeli Independence Day celebration, and how eagerly they embraced the opportunity to celebrate their Jewish custom and culture. She decided then that it was time that Honolulu had a kosher store of its own. "It showed me there's a strong Jewish community in Hawai'i and there is a need for kosher foods," she said.

The result is the 950-square-foot shop on North King Street at Dillingham Boulevard, which officially opened March 3. It's well-stocked now with dry goods, chilled foods and frozen items, and a deli counter should open in early April if permits are granted. Sharabi wants the shop to be both a place to stock up and a place in which to sit down and socialize. Active in both Chabad of Hawai'i and Temple Emanu-El, she hopes Mazal's will become a place where Jews, Israelis and their friends can meet and mingle.

Smiling down on it all is a photograph of Sharabi's late grandmother, Mazal Hamami, for whom the shop is named. She is wearing a lei during a visit to Hawai'i.

"This is not only to sell things, but it's because I believe in it. I practice kosher in my home. I'm hoping that this will be a place to educate the local community about kosher, about the foods and traditions and customs," said Sharabi. "The way to know somebody's culture is through the stomach."