By Anna Gustafson
At the first kosher soup kitchen in Queens, it is nearly impossible to tell this is a place for the down-and-out.
Rego Park’s Orenstein-Met Council-Masbia Community Kitchen, which opened last week, looks like a restaurant with its soft lighting, family-sized tables and walls adorned with paintings. Waiters and waitresses serve individuals who can enclose their eating area with an ivory curtain and the only way someone would know they are not in one of Queens Boulevard’s many cafés is the absence of a check.
“There are many people who need a meal but find it depressing to go into an institutional environment, especially people who had a good income all their lives,” said Rabbi David Cohen, the former executive vice president of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which helped to launch the soup kitchen. “This is charity, but they don’t have to feel it is. They don’t have to feel embarrassed to bring their kids here.”
The Met Council and Masbia, a nonprofit founded by Orthodox Hasidic Jews, officially opened the soup kitchen at 98-08 Queens Blvd. March 17 with significant financial funding from Henry and Susie Orenstein, an elderly couple who have underwritten kosher soup kitchens throughout the city.
“I’ve been to nice restaurants, and they’re not nearly as nice as this place,” said Orenstein, a Holocaust survivor who helped to create the 1980s television show “Transformers.” “You can serve people who can retain their dignity here. They’re in a place they’d like to be.”
The kitchen will be open Sunday through Thursday from around 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. The menu includes items like soup, chicken, vegetables, some type of starch and a desert.
“Every day we have fresh food,” said Menashe Silber of Masbia. “People don’t die of hunger, they die of shame, and we want people to come here. We want this to look like a normal restaurant and have it be a real success.”
Officials who attended last week’s opening stressed how crucial it was for a kosher soup kitchen to open in the Rego Park area, where there is a large Jewish community and where many people have lost their jobs.
“There are middle-class people who are now unemployed,” said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council. “This will be a tremendous help in making them meet ends.”
City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) praised the place for providing meals to individuals who never believed they would need to reach out to a soup kitchen for help.
“There are curtains here so people can keep their privacy,” Koslowitz said. “This is something that’s great for the community.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.