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Jamaica’s New Hot Spot: A Beachside Kosher Eatery

Jamaica’s New Hot Spot: A Beachside Kosher Eatery

Restaurant doubles as a Chabad welcome center

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Kosher vegetarian fare with the flavor of the Caribbean is available at a new restaurant in Montego Bay. (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)
Kosher vegetarian fare with the flavor of the Caribbean is available at a new restaurant in Montego Bay. (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)

Jamaican Jerk chicken may have met its match in the form of falafel.

Chabad’s Kosher Hot Spot, which opened on July 13 in Montego Bay, allows Jewish tourists to enjoy kosher vegetarian fare with the local spice of the islands.

In addition to tourists, who head to the Caribbean year-round—particularly during the high season from December through mid-April (Chanukah to Passover)—the menu of falafel, hummus, French fries and fresh salads has also caught the eye of locals.

Jews have been in Jamaica for more than 360 years, according to Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, co-director of the Chabad House with his wife, Mushkee. And Chabad has been in Jamaica for nearly 60 of them, starting with “Roving Rabbis” who traveled regularly to the island long before the Raskins’ permanent presence in the fall of 2014. The Raskins started a Chabad center in their home, traveling to hotels, resorts and villas to accommodate larger crowds of Jewish travelers.

A few months ago, they signed a lease on a storefront, and now they’re operating a welcome center they call: “Your one stop for everything Jewish in Jamaica.”

“It’s much easier to find us now. There’s a massive sign on top of the shop,” the rabbi tells Chabad.org. “Now, Jews living here who we never knew about before or Jews visiting who didn’t think there was anything Jewish in Jamaica, they’re coming with a shock of happiness.”

Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, center, with diners (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)
Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, center, with diners (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)

“It is great to finally find falafel in Jamaica!” declares local resident Gaby Sharf, noting the mix of Middle Eastern flavors with regional spices. He and his wife frequently come to Chabad for Jewish holidays.

In addition to ordering catered take-out, guests can also eat at the restaurant, which currently seats up to 20 people, with accommodations in the works to fit in another 10.

“You can sit down with a nice kosher falafel and enjoy this Caribbean paradise,” says Raskin. “You have a panoramic view of the ocean, gorgeous views of the sunset and can watch planes landing into the nearby airport.”

On the ‘Hip Strip’

About two-dozen Israelis residing on the other side of the island drove more than two hours to show up on opening day. Among them were Yoram and Lilach Dallman, who traveled 100 miles from Kingston for the event. The Dallmans—residents for four years now—try to join Chabad for important occasions, this being one of them. Lilach Dallman says she was thrilled about the addition of a kosher restaurant in Jamaica, as well as what the center represents as part of Chabad’s work.

“They are doing great things for the community,” she says of the Raskins, who offer candlelit Shabbat dinners by the beach by reservation, organize prayer services and teach Torah classes. The couple operates a synagogue out of their home, renting space at a hotel or villa for larger groups and holiday programs.

Says a local resident: “It is great to finally find falafel in Jamaica!” (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)
Says a local resident: “It is great to finally find falafel in Jamaica!” (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)

The new Jewish destination sits on a main waterfront route called the “Hip Strip,” says Mushkee Raskin. “It’s literally the hot spot of the city,” she says of the site. “I am hopeful that the relationships and friendships developed there will continue to increase.”

According to the rabbi, some 200,000 Jews come to Jamaica annually, with Chabad reaching out to at least 10,000 of them—a number the Raskins hope to double with the facilities in place.

With the restaurant generating buzz, the rabbi and his wife are meeting more full-time residents. Come Chanukah and the start of busy season, they plan to hold a grand-opening event and the largest public menorah-lighting to date.

“We’re excited and happy that G‑d gave us this opportunity,” says Raskin of the establishment. “Of course, we’re already hoping we outgrow this space and have to build something bigger.”

The menu offers an array of dishes and beverages. (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)
The menu offers an array of dishes and beverages. (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)
Women say the blessing over the candles before a Shabbat celebration on the beach. (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)
Women say the blessing over the candles before a Shabbat celebration on the beach. (Photo: Chabad of Jamaica)


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