Updated: Nov 20, 2020
For a new entrant into the kosher market, Kosher Fest is nothing short of a marvel. The two days that I was there were a complete fascination to me.
Earlier in the year, I had decided to exhibit at Kosher Fest when offered space by my sponsors Star-K, one of the world's leading kosher certifying agencies. To be honest, it was the first time I had heard of such an event. I was excited to discover that not only would it be a great platform to launch myself into an international market, but I would be exposed to a wide range of kosher products and services all in one place.
I headed to New York a few days before Kosher Fest to give myself time to get over jet lag but also mostly to spend some time with a precious friend who had moved back to the US from Dubai. It was my second trip ever to New York and with her, I got to explore Manhattan. On Friday night, I was hosted by Rabbi Mintz and his wife, and I spent Shabbat morning at their Shul, Kehilat Rayim Ahuvim a Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Upper West Side. In the few days I had in Manhattan, I got a taste of kosher restaurants in New York, and Crowne Heights and visited Brooklyn too. And then, it was off to New Jersey for Kosher Fest.
Arriving on the first day, I must admit I was nervous as I was not sure what kind of response I would receive being the first kosher caterer from the Gulf region. I was also not sure what to expect. The hall was packed with exhibitors making their last minute arrangements. There were many of the major certifying agencies present including (but not limited to) OU, Star-K, Kosher London Beth Din and the South African Beth Din. The aisles of Kosher Fest were expertly arranged and offered gorgeous displays of cakes, pastries, pickles, breads, cheeses, South African-Style biltong, other meats and more. There were bustling cooking stations with an amazing array of delicious foods. There was even a cocktail bar using freshly squeezed fruit juices - it was a good stop for the the end of a long day! A small conference was taking place simultaneously and a broadcast station was set up where with interviews taking place. At Kosher Fest, I was thrown into the heart of the American Jewish world and it felt wonderful to have all this ready made, delicious kosher food around me. I even got to try kishka - something I have never seen or tasted before. It's not something that we have in South Africa or Dubai! The tastes, the sounds, the Brooklyn and Long Island accents, all amplified the experience of Kosher Fest for me.
Before opening time at 10am on the first day, queues of people were already lined up waiting to get into the event first. Despite the record low temperatures (and even some snow!) over those two days people were not deterred in exploring this bustling event.
My booth was located a few steps from the entrance of the hall - a most beneficial location! I roasted and brewed Gahwa coffee at my booth and the fragrance of cardamom and coffee wafted down the aisle greeting visitors as they walked into the exhibition, drawing them to my booth. On offer for visitors was Gahwa coffee and Karak tea and I had sample packets of both on display. Khalas dates (from the Emirates) were a delicate and sweet accompaniment to the coffee and tea.
The response I received from visitors to my booth was one of pleasant surprise and amazement that in an Arab country, a kosher caterer exists. It created excitement and generated many questions about what there is to do in Dubai, how one gets there, what kind of food I offer and how it can be accessed.
Very quickly, the news of my service spread around the hall and I was greeted by enthusiastic journalists who I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to. You can read one of the articles that were written about me in the Jewish Link publication here. I was also filmed for a documentary on our community in Dubai.
The Chief Rabbi of the UAE (Rabbi Yehuda Sarna) who lives in New York and who provides my hashgacha traveled to visit me at my booth. His visit was testament to the valuable support he unwaveringly gives me in developing my food service in Dubai. I was so touched by the fact that he arrived back to New York from a trip overseas and climbed into a cab and came directly to Kosher Fest. I also received visitors from key rabbis and dignitaries from the OU. These were particular highlights of my time at Kosher Fest. I also made contacts with KLBD and was thrilled to discover, that like Star-K, they kosher certify factories in Dubai!
I loved meeting some fans who follow me on Instagram and to meet them in person and it gave me the opportunity to thank them for their support.
The most inspiring highlight was the visit of H.E. Abdalla Shaheen, UAE Consul General. What an honor to have him and his Cultural Affairs Advisor, Ms. Mayssam Latif visit me at the festival. I offered him Gahwa coffee and dates and also gifted in the book on Tolerance in the UAE in which our community features prominently. His visit is a wonderful acknowledgement and affirmation of my business and the community. I was very grateful for his visit and our community celebrated it too!
At Kosher Fest itself, I got to interact with many people and that gave me a real a sense of the environment and kosher vibe of the east coast of the US. This was important to me as it gave me insight into the world of my customers - the majority of whom come from the East Coast of the US.
When I was relieved from my booth for brief moments I took the opportunity to explore the market place around me. I was delighted to find South African products (such as South African style biltong) and services (travel services / kosher safaris). It was wonderful to meet up with Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, Director of Kashrut, from the South African Beth Din who has supported me from the beginning. I also met the President of Star K, Dr Pollack, and the President & CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting, Menachem Lubinsky, who is also responsible for Kosher Fest. I had the pleasure of dealing with the rabbi in charge of the event, Rabbi Aaron Mendelsohn.
All-in-all, I was thrilled to have attended Kosher Fest. It was a great learning experience for me and I made some excellent contacts to be able to take my service in Dubai forward.
Kosher Fest is an annual event that is mainly geared towards the B2B market and draws approximately 6000 visitors in 2 days. It is held at Meadowlands, New Jersey, and this year, it took place on the 12 and 13 November, 2019. To read more, go to www.kosherfest.com.