The Jew And The Carrot

Chabad Goes Vegan in Montreal

By Dorothy Lipovenko

  • Print
  • Share Share

Hosting a group of young adults for Shabbat dinner, Rabbi Yisroel Bernath and his wife, Sara, noticed something odd: salads and kugels were disappearing quickly, but the chicken went largely untouched.

When a little post-dinner sleuthing revealed many of their guests were vegetarian, it was all the incentive the Chabad rabbi needed to take his storefront center vegan.

For the 28-year-old Chicago native, whose friends at yeshiva called him “alfalfa sprouts” and ribbed the health-conscious bocher for his blender-buzzed vitamin shakes, the idea of a vegan/organic Chabad house was hardly a stretch.

“The students think it’s really different,” says Bernath, who arrived in Montreal with his family two years ago, quickly establishing a Chabad presence at Concordia University’s west-end campus, and in the nearby neighborhood.

So with pasta replacing pastrami, kamut giving kishka the boot, and typical kiddush food of roast root vegetables and tofu schnitzel, this Chabad is the only one Bernath knows of that’s taken a vegan route.

Even cholent, that soporific hotpot of beans, meat and potatoes traditional for Shabbat lunch, gets a makeover at the Chabad house. The version served here swaps cubes of beef for chewy porcini and shitake mushrooms, with an (unsuspecting) assist from dried slices of mango and papaya.

Fruit in cholent? Well, there’s never been any food left over, says Gigi Cohen, who cooks and supplies all this delicious fare, including spelt challah, from her kosher vegetarian cafe located up a short flight of stairs from the Chabad center.

The vegan outreach is gaining traction: a (mock) sushi sukkah party packed in 300, and monthly Friday night “themed” dinners (the most recent a five-course Thai menu) are drawing a sizeable crowd of students and young neighborhood professionals to the small space.

Word too travels in the wide but close network of Chabad emissaries, at least one of whom (in California) recently sounded out Bernath on the vegan venture.

“A healthy body will lend itself to a healthy soul. We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves,” Bernath says. He squeezes in pre-dawn walks for exercise before morning prayers.

This unconventional campus rabbi (who as a student rabbi visited prisoners in Florida and once spent the first night of Rosh Hashana behind bars in a locked-down facility), he’s also the mashgiach for Ms. Cohen’s café.

And while he may kvell over the exotic beets, Music garlic and Purple Haze carrots supplied by local organic grower Howard Reitman, the rabbi has his work cut for him before any of it gets on a plate.

Hunched over a table as if studying a page of Jewish text, Bernath must check the organic produce for bugs and insects. To that end, a light box and magnifying glass have joined spirituality as tools of his trade.

Bernath readily admits the vegan move was “radical.” As for those who maintain one is obligated to eat meat on Shabbat, he looks at it this way: if consuming meat on Shabbat is not a source of pleasure, then meat doesn’t have to eaten. “For some people, that pleasure is Purple Haze carrots,” he says.

Well, at least one person who cleaned his plate at a Shabbat kiddush unsuspectingly felt that way, when he asked Bernath if there was any leftover cholent meat. Ah, the rabbi smiled, those porcini mushrooms.

Chabad of NDG and Loyola Campus: 5690 Monkland Ave. (corner Harvard); Harvard Café: 5688 Monkland Ave.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Rabbi Bernath, Montreal, Harvard Cafe, Vegan

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.