Travelling Kosher in WA

The Kosher Consumers Association is a network based in NSW, with a surprisingly high number of WA subscribers.  Andrew Blitz, who many people know used to write for the Maccabean, posted the comments below onto their email list.  We have reproduced this with Andrew’s permission as its very relevant to Jewish living in Western Australia.

There are a few Jewish lists around Australia for kvetching about various issues, and every so often there is something nice to say as well.  I just wanted to share a recent experience, and this list seemed to be the most suitable place.

I live in Perth, where in terms of kashrut there is little that we have to do without.  After Pesach, for the second week of the school holidays, I bundled my family into the car and we drove 500 KM south for a few days, stopping at small regional towns such as Donnybrook, Pemberton, Denmark and Albany.  As usual we packed a number of provisions, a couple of kitchens, and a range of appliances into the car (no-one in our family goes hungry). 

I’ve had the good fortune to do a lot of travelling around Australia over the past few years to some pretty remote places, and I’ve been noticing over the past few years how much easier it is becoming to travel as a kosher consumer.  This trip however, was the best yet.  We were able to go into IGA supermarkets in any of the towns and buy the full range of Yumis Dips.  Coles and Woolworths had Eskal Pickles, Jindi Cheeses, Carmen’s muesli bars, Vege Chips, Licorice.  We could buy biscuits, cake, ice-cream, Pizza bases, Yoghurt, etc all with a hechsher.  Many of these products were not available a few years ago, and even those that were have taken a long time to get into the national supply chains of the big supermarkets.  This is probably not news, but it is worth pausing and reflecting on what huge progress has been made and how much easier it is to travel right across Australia.  It’s not something to take for granted when you don’t have the convenience of dedicated Kosher shops nearby. 

During our trip there was one particular story I wanted to share.  We were in Albany, and I was able to purchase some Bagel House bagels (in fact a few varieties) with the KA hechsher.  Let’s face it, Albany (Western Australia) is about 4,000 Kilometers away from where these bagels are produced, yet for several days running we were able to pop into the supermarket and buy bagels, which were surprisingly fresh and made our trip so much easier.   I find that quite an amazing convenience, and being just a few days after Pesach it was particularly appreciated.

On last Thursday morning, when the Supermarket in Albany had sold out, I asked the bakery manager when they would be restocking.  He told me the bagels arrived “infrequently”, and could not guarantee supply for the next day.  He also remarked that he had always looked at the bagels and often wondered what they actually were, and then he asked me what you were supposed to do with them.  A few minutes later, armed with Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese, I engaged him in a small cultural experience of culinary-ethnic education. 

But the big part of the story is that I took time during the trip to visit an elderly man in Albany who is a fully religious Jew.  He is unable to travel, and spends his days learning from Sifrei Kodesh, and also knitting clothes which he sends to Shaarei Tzedek in Yerushaliem for newborn babies.  He has his food freighted in from Perth at the cost of $60 a box.  It was quite a humbling experience – I thought I would be visiting as a Mitzvah, but it was his Mitzvah to show me that you can be a Jew in any place or circumstance if you want to be.  Anyhow, I mentioned in passing that I had been buying bagels from his local supermarket, and he was unaware and very surprised that he could do this.  When I told him about cheeses and all the other products he could buy locally instead of having shipped in, he was ecstatic.

So all up, apart from having a great holiday, it is really nice to be able to say that kashrut in Australia is better than ever, and having such a huge range of locally certified products available on the shelves of supermarkets in the middle of nowhere is a particularly impressive accomplishment.  Big thanks to all the people who work with manufacturers to overcome all the complexities and have so many products produced and marked as kosher.

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