Behind the Headlines: Jerusalem: Home of the World’s Only Kosher ‘vopper’ and Milkshake

The appearance of McDonald’s on the Israeli fast-food scene last year left some people here with a bad taste in their mouths.

Inaugurated with a flurry of media coverage, McDonald’s Israeli outlets chose to serve non-kosher food, and thousands of people responded. Though the meat that is served is reportedly kosher, the cheeseburgers most definitely are not.

While no one has lost sleep over the mixing of meat and dairy at McDonald’s — or at the other Israeli eateries without kashrut certificates — many observant Jews were a bit peeved when the fast-food giant opted to serve non-kosher food at all its branches, including in Jerusalem.

For this reason, the recent opening of the world’s only kosher, sabbath-observant branch of the Burger King chain has drawn cheers from Israel’s religious community.

The Jerusalem branch — one of five Burger King outlets in the country — has been overrun with customers since it opened in May.

Thanks to its kashrut certification, and its location in the capital’s most popular indoor mall, the restaurant has become the place to get a burger and a pareve milkshake.

On a recent Saturday night, customers stood five-deep in line, waiting for the teen-agers behind the counter to fill their orders.

The crowd, a combination of religious and secular, teen-agers and families, Israelis and Americans, sounded just like customers at any of Burger King’s 7,000 non-Israeli branches — ex-76cept, perhaps, for their pronunciation of the word “Whopper.”

Since the Hebrew language has no “w,” in Israel the Burger King signature sandwich is popularly known as the “Vopper.”

David Birger, the night manager, explained that while the food in all of the Burger Kings in Israel is kosher, only the Jerusalem one is closed on Shabbat.

“Most Jerusalemites care about a kashrut certificate,” he said, “but you can’t get one for a restaurant that’s open on Shabbat. As it is, the vast majority of restaurants in Jerusalem are closed on Shabbat anyway, so it seems quite natural.”

Neil Ackerman, a 20-year-old yeshiva student from London, said he was “ecstatic” when he heard that a kosher Burger King had opened in Jerusalem.

Sitting with a bunch of British friends, Ackerman explained, “You have to understand, coming from England, good kosher fast food is almost non-existent. It makes us appreciate this even more.”

“It tastes too good to be kosher,” said Simon Hammelburger, 22, biting into a Whopper.

‘SHOULD AT LEAST BE KOSHER’ NEAR BNEI BRAK

Their friend Danny Ormond, 21, said that he is disappointed that McDonald’s doesn’t serve kosher food as well. “It doesn’t seem right that such a large restaurant chain would come to Israel, only to serve treif food. They should at least be kosher in the branch that’s next to Bnei Brak,” he said, referring to the fervently religious neighborhood near Tel Aviv.

It tastes just like Burger King in America, except for the absence of cheeseburgers, said the Lazovsky family of Jerusalem, who said the kash-rut issue did not bother them.

There was one complaint, however: “Look at this milkshake,” said 18-year-old Gidi. “It tastes awful, but what can you expect? It’s pareve.”

The real taste test came form Joe Dawson, an American basketball player from Birmingham, Ala., who now plays for Maccabi Jerusalem, the city’s basketball team.

“This is a good hamburger,” Dawson said, “and it tastes as good as an American one.”

But, he confessed, “I go to McDonald’s when I want a cheeseburger.”

Living in Israel for the last three years, Dawson said that “of all the countries I’ve lived in, Israel is the most like America. There’s fast food, cable TV, call-waiting for the phone. Israel is a great place for an American.”

Ron Lapid, manager of the local Burger Ranch fast-food chain, an Israeli company, believes that having American fast-food restaurants on the Israeli scene has helped his business.

Asked if business at his 56 branches — the most of any chain in Israel — has been hurt by the foreign competition, Lapid said, “We haven’t experienced any direct impact, but I can tell you that business is booming.

“In 1992 we earned $25 million; in 1993, $31 million; this year we expect to make $40 million. We also plan to open four new branches by the end of the year.”

“If anything, I think that the American chains are making the hamburger even more popular in Israel,” he said.

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