Third in a series of articles on the 40th anniversary of the worldwide kosher campaign launched by the Rebbe in 1975.

Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries often travel to and live in remote places, but few are more remote than Tasmania, Australia—an island bordered on one side by the Tasman Sea and the other by the Indian Ocean. Just 3,300 miles or so from Antarctica, the island is often referred to as the last stop before the South Pole.

Home to some 510,000 people, Tasmania has a very small Jewish community of about 500 residents and no specific kosher amenities to speak of.

Rabbi Yochanan Gordon—co-director of Chabad of Tasmania with his wife, Rochel, moved to the island on shlichus in 2011, and while they have boosted spiritual life with their programs, classes and services, obtaining kosher food for themselves and for Tasmania’s Jewish community remains a challenging priority.

So it’s a welcome day when the ship from the mainland docks and the food truck pulls in from the harbor.

In fact, on Monday, a new shipment of kosher food arrived.

Here are some thoughts on kosher grocery shopping, food imports and cooking kosher with healthy local fare in one of the more remote parts of the world:

Q: Is kosher food easy to get there?

A: Many dry goods are available in the local supermarkets, and one of our regular family activities is to do a scavenger hunt through the supermarkets for kosher food, meaning looking for products with a good hechsher (sign of valid rabbinic supervision).

The Gordon family
The Gordon family

Q: Are there any items you would like to have but rarely get?

A: Pizza, especially when we are preparing for a large program, milk chocolate, and dairy products in general (which need to be chalav Yisrael, a more stringent level of kosher supervision in the preparation of dairy products). Many local residents and tourists also wish there was a kosher bakery here.

Q: What are some of the challenges of not being able to get what you need at the local market?

A: My wife has learned that the typical kosher cookbook does not cater to people without a well-stocked kosher supermarket nearby. It was a challenge at first, but now we enjoy the fresh, local produce and healthy cooking.

Q: Who are your “kosher consumers”?

A: A core group of Jewish families live within six miles of our Chabad center, but more are spread far and wide in rural areas. The island is also a popular destination spot for tourists and cruise ships, especially from mainland Australia, which means that we have plenty of Jewish visitors coming to town, including those who may be looking for a kosher meal or two. Many Israeli backpackers also visit every year.

The food, much of it frozen, is shipped to the island and then trucked locally for pickup.
The food, much of it frozen, is shipped to the island and then trucked locally for pickup.

Q: How often do you get food deliveries?

A: We get our food shipments from Melbourne. We get about seven or eight shipments of frozen-food items per year, like meat and chicken, while refrigerated items arrive about three times a year. We also bring back food when traveling, and when people come to assist us with programs throughout the year they also bring foodstuffs. We have four freezers in the basement in which to keep the cold items. Sorting through the boxes—and organizing the food orders and pickups for community members—are whole-day affairs. We spend the entire day in the basement rearranging items in the freezer.

Q: Does the food keep well in the freezer?

A: Meat keeps well, although one time we came home after a few days away and someone had turned off the electricity. We had to throw away $2,000 worth of food. Another time our shipment was sent refrigerated instead of frozen, and we ended up with milkshakes instead of ice-cream for Shavuot.

Off the truck and into the hands of the Gordons, co-directors of Chabad of Tasmania.
Off the truck and into the hands of the Gordons, co-directors of Chabad of Tasmania.

Q: Have you ever run out of specific food items?

A: Many times we run short on things and have to work through it until we get a new shipment. Last week, for instance, we had finished all of our chickens and had to improvise when we were having 15 tourists for Shabbat. We held a vegetarian Shabbat; no one went hungry.

Q: When do you get the most requests for kosher food?

A: Around Pesach, we get orders from all over Tasmania, as many Jews here are looking for kosher-for-Passover foods. Only about a dozen families regularly order kosher food products throughout the year. They do it through us as a bigger order, and it’s distributed accordingly. That’s part of the daylong process when the shipment arrives, as it just did this week.

The Gordons' son helps open the boxes. It's often a daylong affair to organize and sort the food, some of which goes to community members.
The Gordons' son helps open the boxes. It's often a daylong affair to organize and sort the food, some of which goes to community members.
The family has four freezers in their basement to store items. In addition to their needs, food is used for Shabbat and holiday meals, and other Chabad programs open to local residents and tourists, many from Israel.
The family has four freezers in their basement to store items. In addition to their needs, food is used for Shabbat and holiday meals, and other Chabad programs open to local residents and tourists, many from Israel.

Other articles in the series:

First Kosher Kitchen an Entranceway to a More Spiritual Life

Q&A: Tools of the Koshering Trade: Pots, Rocks, Blow Torch

40 Years Later, Leaders Savor the Details of Kosher Campaign’s History

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