NEW YORK (Jun. 23)
The Lubavitch movement hopes to score its own goal at this year’s World Cup — reaching Jewish soccer fans, one kosher meal at a time.
The group’s European Bureau has set up the only kosher food stand at the newly constructed Stade de France, the 80,000-seat stadium outside Paris that is the site of many World Cup games, including the championship game on July 12.
The enterprise aims to attract a broad spectrum of Jewish visitors with light snacks and cold drinks. The stand also offers more standard Lubavitch fare: directions to area synagogues and other kosher restaurants, Shabbat referrals and the opportunity to put on tefillin.
Patrons have shown little surprise at the Chasidic presence among the T-shirt vendors and Kodak film stands.
“They know I’m not here to sell sandwiches,” said Rabbi Yossi Gorodetsky, who organized the stand in cooperation with the Chabad community of St-Denis, the Parisian suburb that is home to the stadium.
The bureau made the decision to establish the stand after it received hundreds of requests for information about lodging and synagogue services in advance of the World Cup, said Gorodetsky, who admitted that he is immune to soccer fever.
Inspired by a kosher concession at a baseball stadium in Florida, he arranged to rent the 100-square-foot stand, which is sponsored by a Parisian restaurateur. Mondial Food Cacher, or World Cup Kosher Food, opened on June 15, after only two weeks of rushed planning.
Gorodetsky said he faced some difficulty in securing the space, but that stadium administrators acquiesced to his stipulations — that the stand be situated away from non-kosher vendors and that it be closed on Shabbat.
“They understood right away,” Gorodetsky said with a lingering New York accent. “They see me with the long beard and the hat and they understand I’m a religious Jew.”
The kosher stand is part of a “village” of temporary booths surrounding the stadium, where massive television screens play tournament footage and evening concerts attract crowds in the thousands.
Gorodetsky estimates that 200 to 300 visitors stop by the stand each day. Interested parties so far have included representatives from the French Jewish media and the mayor of St. Denis. The suburb’s tourist information office also agreed to carry a brochure the Lubavitch created for the World Cup that features quotes from Rabbi Menachem Schneerson comparing a soccer game to a Jew’s life.
Although he hopes such publicity will increase patronage before the stand closes in mid-July, Gorodetsky said, “We’re not in it for the money. The sponsor is not in it for the money. If we break even we’re happy. If we make money, great. Our main goal is to be available.”