A Rabbi's World
The Nosh Pit
Success Without the Tsuris
A New York Minute
A Rabbi's World
A New York Minute
The Nosh Pit
To open a kosher restaurant, you have to lease the space, order food, buy pots and pans, train chefs in the laws of kashrut and hire a mashgiach.
In Athens on the eve of the Olympic Games, you also have to arrange for security guards.
“We’re very concerned about [security],” Rabbi Mendel Hendel said in a phone interview from Athens.
Rabbi Hendel, who has served the past three years as the emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement in the Greek capital, opened the Kol Tuv Glatt Kosher Restaurant this month in the heart of the city to coincide with the Summer Olympics Aug. 13-29 and the Paralympic Games in September.
The meat restaurant, the first-such kosher establishment in Athens in 50 years, is gearing up for the thousands of Jewish tourists who are expected to visit the city to enjoy the sporting events and pageantry.
An English sign, “Kosher Restaurant,” will identify the building near the Acropolis, and will mark it as a possible terrorist target. Jewish sites will be subject to additional police patrols during the first Olympics conducted since 9-11.
Rabbi Hendel, the son of former Brooklyn residents who moved to Israel in 1976, said Athens police will watch his restaurant and he may hire additional private personnel.
“Because of the Olympic Games, everyone [in the Jewish community] is concerned,” he said, adding that Jewish Athenians are cautious but “they don’t feel threatened or scared.”
His Kol Tuv restaurant is a converted office space with room for more than 100 diners and a rooftop garden. It will offer box meals featuring such Greek delicacies as moussaka and souvlaki, as well as Shabbat meals with advance reservations (www.kosherathens.com), for visitors and athletes. The restaurant will also serve as a Jewish information center.
Besides a welcoming reception for Israel’s Olympic team hosted by the Israeli embassy, to include a memorial ceremony for the 11 Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games, no other special events are planned for Jewish tourists.
“Basically for security reasons,” said Zanet Battinou, director of the Jewish Museum in Athens (www.jewishmuseum.gr).
The museum, whose current displays are an exhibition about Greek Jewry during the Holocaust and a related art show, is expected to be a popular draw, and Rabbi Hendel has fielded several calls about Shabbat accommodations.
Greece has a Jewish population of about 4,000, with three-quarters in Athens. More than 90 percent of Greece’s 80,000 Jews died in the Holocaust.
There are eight synagogues in Greece; all Sephardic. Athens has a day school, a Jewish youth center and two synagogues.
While Athens no longer has a Jewish neighborhood, the kosher restaurant, the museum and the headquarters of Greece’s Jewish community are located downtown within walking distance of each other.
Rabbi Hendel said there is virtually no public anti-Semitism in Greece, but anti-Israel attacks are becoming increasingly common in the media and in intellectual circles, prompting a call last year by the Simon Wiesenthal Center for a Jewish boycott of the country.
“This is certainly not [the position of] the local community,” Battinou said. “We are much better off than [Jewish communities] in Europe,” which have experienced an increase in recent years of physical attacks on Jews and vandalism at Jewish sites.
“There have been no events here — just words,” she said. “We haven’t had any threats.”
The Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece issued a statement that it “disagrees completely” with the Wiesenthal Center’s travel advisory. The board considers reports of anti-Semitism in Greece “isolated incidents.”
Greek Jewry is more concerned about imported terrorism than domestic anti-Semitism this month, Battinou said. Yasir Arafat indicated in a recent statement that his Palestinian Authority would not sanction terrorist attacks during the Games.
Arafat, the PA president, told a group of visiting diplomats that he supported an “Olympic truce” — in other words, no terrorist attacks — during the Athens competition. His remark drew comments from Israeli officials that Arafat, despite his frequent denials, controls Palestinians who carry out terrorist acts.
The PA is sending two athletes, a swimmer and runner, to Athens.
Israel’s Olympic athletes will be accompanied by armed guards, part of the largest Israeli security team ever deployed at an Olympics, according to several reports. Israel is among a handful of countries that has helped Greek security officials prepare for the Games. Israeli Navy ships may help patrol the Greek coast, an Israeli company will run security for NBC, and a few private Israeli security firms received lucrative contracts from the Greek government.
To provide an extra layer of protection for the Israeli delegation, an additional metal fence surrounding Israel’s residential compound in the Olympic village in Athens was built this week. A similar fence protected the Israelis at Sydney four years ago.
“Israel is a key country with respect to providing intelligence information and training and drilling the Greek security forces,” Public Order Minister Giorgos Floridis told Haaretz.
The security budget for the 2004 Olympics reportedly is about $1.2 billion, triple the figure for the 2000 Games in Sydney, but Greece’s laggardly pace of building Olympics sites and other Olympics-related infrastructure has raised concerns about the country’s level of security.
According to the Greek Foreign Ministry, more than 70,000 security staff, 936 magnetic gates, 261 X-ray machines and 1,577 closed circuit cameras are part of the country’s security effort for the Olympics. Athenian air space will be closed to air traffic during the opening and closing ceremonies, light aircraft will be banned over the city during the Games, and NATO AWACS planes will provide surveillance from the sky.
“Our main concern and highest preparation is to secure the complete safety of the country, of athletes and visitors,” said Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis, adding that “Greece will guarantee safe Games.”
“The level of security preparations is the highest we have ever had at the Olympic Games,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said. “That gives us confidence.”
Some athletes aren’t convinced. Many prospective American Olympians bowed out of the Games, often citing injuries or other reasons.
Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in swimming at the Munich Games, questioned “how important it is to put athletes in harm’s way.”
Israeli athletes appear to be less concerned.
“We live in Israel, we’re used to the threat of terror,” Asaf Bimro, an Ethiopian-born marathoner, told The Jerusalem Post. “It doesn’t even enter my mind. Maybe it’s different for the Europeans, but we Israelis aren’t going to get excited about this.”
Battinou of the Jewish Museum said security is “always a concern” for Athens Jews and that the city’s Jewish institutions have planned “extra security measures” during the Olympics.
“We are going to be extra careful,” she said.
But all the Jewish institutions will remain open, as usual, Battinou said. There will be prayers at the synagogues, exhibits at the museum.
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