Costa Rican Jews can add a new item to their lists of preparations for the upcoming Passover celebration: Go to the local supermarket.
Getting enough kosher food for the holiday here used to mean ordering it in advance and travelling to Miami.
Now, major supermarkets in the capital city of San Jose stock enough kosher products for the entire family, which means that the Miami trip can be avoided.
Stores here now line their shelves with products such as macaroons and fruit drinks — all kosher for Passover.
Spurred by the aggressiveness of entrepreneurs in Israel and at home, Costa Rican imports of kosher products have skyrocketed.
And major meat and poultry packing companies have entered the market with kosher cuts.
Rabbi Yossi Levi — the kosher butcher to Costa Ricans — works with local meat and poultry companies. Levi ensures that enough kosher meat is in the stores so that Costa Rica’s and Guatemela’s needs are met, which means butchering about 40 heads of cattle and 2,500 chickens monthly.
“With the help of the excellent rabbinical order Costa Rica has, I was able to get the response I needed to process kosher meat and chicken for the local businesses that have helped get to their clients a good product,” the rabbi said.
Levi does more than make sure kosher meat is available. He imports kosher products from the United States and Israel, such as salami, chocolate and pickles.
Levi said he imports $25,000 worth of kosher food a month. He estimated the total sales of imported and domestic products at $500,000 a year, quite a total for a Jewish community of some 2,500 people.
Although more and more products are being locally produced, matzah and kosher wines are still imported by the Costa Rica-Israeli Zionist Center, which has had this role since the period between the world wars.
Former center president, Enrique Weisleder, said that one year the center could not import matzah because of transportation problems caused by WWII. The center made its own at “a bakery with an old oven.”
Although it was tasty, the domestic matzah was not an economic success, and now it must be ordered in advance for Passover.
The variety and easy access to kosher food is helping Jews here retain their cultural and religious roots. In the past, being kosher was a struggle. Now, it is an option.
“I try to keep kosher but it is not always possible,” said Yoed Magen, a diplomat at the Israeli Embassy. “It’s getting easier due to a growing demand.”
Lawyer Harry Wholstein agreed.
“The person interested in staying kosher has a much greater chance now,” he said, “but not at levels like those in the U.S. or Panama. We are very, very far away from having that kind of access to kosher foods.”
Costa Ricans, however, are moving farther away from the time when kosher food was scarce, and that makes life — and Passover — much easier for the local Jewish community.