By Larry Gordon –
The cholent this Shabbos being served at the ski slopes in the shadow of the Olympic Village in Sochi, Russia is not from Gourmet Glatt in Cedarhurst. That would have been too much for Rabbi Yona Eidelkop who is one of the overseers of the meat and poultry department as well as an affable and very personable young man to actually accomplish.
Rabbi Yona, as he is known to his friends and shoppers at Gourmet Glatt, left New York on Tuesday night to join his brother, Ari, who is the Chabad emissary in Sochi where he lives with his wife and five children for the last twelve years. He arrived in Sochi on Tuesday afternoon after a Delta flight from New York to Moscow and then a two hour trip with the Russian Aeroflot airline from Moscow to Krasladar and then it was on to Sochi by car.
Yona Eidelkop who in addition to his local duties is the head of his own Chabad of South Bay in Massapequa told me by phone on Wednesday morning as he was driven around Sochi what Chabad is gearing up for over the upcoming second Shabbos of the winter Olympics and the closing ceremonies on Sunday afternoon. Yona will be back in Cedarhurst sometime on Monday and I’m certain will be ready, willing and certainly able to answer whatever questions you may have about the Chabad involvement in serving the thousands of Jews and others who ascended on Sochi for these winter games.
Yona points out that there have been two Chabad Houses set up for the Olympics in building near the village provided to Chabad by the Russian government. He says that the stories about bathrooms not working and no door on hotel rooms are isolated situations played up by the media but certainly exceptions to the routine and daily reality on the ground.
The two locations are staffed by about a dozen emissaries, Yona says, including three who traveled from New York, several who came over from Israel and the rest from different cities in Russia. “Sochi looks like a modern city,” the Rabbi says a she is driven around by his brother for his first look and to acquaint himself with the layout of the area. He says that all the roads are new and even the Sochi airport, which he said was way too expensive to fly directly into, were built over the last few years specifically to accommodate the winter games.
On Wednesday as he settles in the Chabad staff are in full Shabbos preparation mode. Ari Eidelkop’s wife, Chana, is in her kitchen preparing Gefilte fish for 500 guests as well as overseeing the preparation of soup, salads and other courses. People might be excited about traveling to watch the US hockey team beat the Russians as well as some championship figure skaters, but if you are a Jew regardless of your level of observance if you want to taste or feel Shabbos in this Olympic atmosphere that is what these men and women are here in Sochi for.
Going over the menu before we conclude our conversation, Yona also points out that his sister in law is also preparing the cholent for the anticipated hundreds of guests and that she is known as an exemplary cook with great accolades about her culinary accomplishments and produces a gold medal level of fish, cholent and kugel.
As for how Rabbi Ari made his way from Los Angeles to become the Chabad shliach in Sochi is most likely quite a story of its own. The fact is that he is there serving the local Jewish population, the business people that travel through town and will be there for those who will now be drawn or interested in the city now that it is on the map after the conclusion of these Olympic games.
Yona tells me that as far as his children’s education is concerned, they are still quite young and are attending a Chabd online Yeshiva that has been set up for the children of Chabad Shluchim who reside in remote cities around the world like Sochi. More in this week’s 5TJT