The Epcot International Festival of Holidays—a seasonal mainstay at Orlando, Florida’s Walt Disney World—celebrates “the joyous holiday traditions of our 11 World Showcase nations,” notably through the chance to “savor seasonal food and beverage specialties” in special holiday pop-up kitchens. This year, for the first time, one such pop-up will be offering a Jewish-inspired menu. That’s very good news for anyone who loves matzo ball soup (and who doesn’t love matzo ball soup?), but as Insider and Mic report, the menu has some visitors frustrated. It all seems to be more deli-inspired than Hanukkah-inspired, and what’s more, features not a single dish that’s been certified kosher.
L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen (l’chaim is a toast which translates to, “to life!”), which will be open along with all the other pop-ups until December 30, features a menu of what Mic calls “Americanized Jewish food items,” including pastrami on rye, potato knish with herb sour cream, chicken matzo ball soup, black and white cookies, an egg cream, and two alcoholic beverages (Brooklyn Brewery’s lager and a “Blue Cosmo” which looks, ah, not great.)
Most of it sounds delicious (looking at you, knish—but not you, Blue Cosmo, move along), but critics cite two specific issues.
First, none of those dishes is traditionally associated with Hanukkah. The Jerusalem Post notes that matzo ball soup is associated with Passover, while two of the foods most associated with the holiday—latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts)—are nowhere in sight. Instead, the dishes are the sort commonly associated with kosher Jewish-style delis. There is, as Mic notes, one difference, however, and that’s the second issue: “The food is not kosher, and therefore is not an option for many observant Jews.”
Here’s a spokesperson for Disney, in an email to Mic:
“While Holiday Kitchen L’Chaim! draws inspiration from traditional Jewish dishes, all of our festival food and beverage items are prepared in a shared kitchen space and due to those operational needs, we are unable to meet kosher guidelines... We continue to offer kosher meals on request at several of our Food & Beverage locations throughout the park, which are provided by a kosher-approved third-party vendor.”
As a result, some Jewish visitors won’t be able to enjoy the meals inspired by their culture. The Takeout wanted to find out how observant Jews saw this news. When we reached out to friend-of-the-site, film critic Danielle Solzman, she told The Takeout it was “definitely upsetting... When I know that there’s a kosher option available, I go for it.”
While noting that she was able to take advantage of the aforementioned kosher meal options during her last visit to Disney with little difficulty (“I did my research beforehand, so it was just a matter of finding those places”), she’s frustrated that the creators of the L’Chaim menu “didn’t even bother to think of their visitors who do keep kosher.”
It’s important to note that the lack of kosher dishes does not mean that no Jewish visitors to the park will be able to visit L’Chaim. In an email to Mic, Washington, D.C.-based Rabbi Kenneth Block, a reform rabbi, said, “The overwhelming number of Jews in the universe do not keep kosher and are spiritually connected to their Jewish roots all the same... So a pop-up Jewish kitchen that is not kosher is actually reflective of being a modern Jew, as it should be.”
Still, it’s the fact that it’s not really a Hanukkah-inspired menu that most bothers Solzman. “But to have a pop-up during Chanukah without any Chanukah dishes? Insane! As the article says, you can walk into any deli and get those dishes,” she said. And she’s not alone in that sentiment.
Yet despite the understandable frustrations, Solzman is far from oblivious to the positive aspects of the pop-up. “I like that they are including us!” she said, comparing it to hearing Jewish music in holiday music rotations. When your culture and celebration isn’t included, “you feel lonely and left out.”
Shannon Sarna, the author of Modern Jewish Baker, put it another way (again, to Mic): “I think the fact that Jewish food is included (finally) is more important than if it is kosher... Jewish food and kosher food are not synonymous for me.”
Then there’s this happy person: