Where was history’s only anti-profit, collectively run, self-managed (by the workers), community kosher restaurant located?
In Silver Spring, Maryland, where the Kosher Kitchen (KK) existed from 1975 through 1978.
During the mid-1970s, if you wanted to go out for a kosher meal in the DC area, the KK was the only address. The last kosher restaurant in the DC area had closed in 1967, and no entrepreneur hoping to make a profit would open a kosher eatery. A group of friends, with the backing of synagogues, rabbis, individuals and the Jewish Week newspaper raised $3,500, enough to rent a coffee shop in White Oak and for the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington to award it a hechsher (kosher certification) and appoint a full-time mashgiach to oversee it.
When the restaurant opened in January 1975, the Jewish community was delighted, but also surprised. The KK was no ordinary restaurant. There was no owner or manager. The restaurant was run by a collective of equals, each making the same salary: $100 a week. After dinners, the workers engaged in criticism/self-criticism sessions.
Prices were set to cover costs. There was no profit. In fact, it labeled itself as anti-profit and took seriously the slogan “Food for People, Not for Profit.”
The KK was more than a restaurant. The collective ran a Meals on Wheels program, a drop-in-center for senior citizens, free Saturday night entertainment, monthly ethnic nights, biweekly speakers and fundraisers for the United Farm Workers’ boycott of non-union lettuce and grapes. The restaurant became an alternative community center especially for non-affiliated young Jews and even began to encounter opposition from the establishment.
And yes, there was also tasty, traditional and varied home-cooked food with seconds on the house if you cleaned your plate, a free meal if you helped wash dishes and a communal table where strangers were encouraged to talk with each other.
Ethnic dishes were incorporated into a regular menu of appetizers, from chopped liver to tabbouleh and chicken soup with matzah balls, main dishes of lamb, chicken, ground beef, flanken and other beef dishes, side dishes and homemade cakes. There were always vegetarian soups and entrees, too.
The Film: We Made Matzah Balls for the Revolution
The remarkable story of this collective of young people, then and now, is being captured in a documentary film currently in the midst of production, We Made Matzah Balls for the Revolution. The film explores what motivated these college graduates (Hint: 1960s counter-culture, the European shtetl, the Israeli kibbutz and the concept of tikkun olam). Many of these same motivations continue guiding the members of the collective today.
The idea of making a film came up at a recent reunion, but who besides friends would be interested in seeing it? As we recounted how the KK experience had shaped our lives, it became clear that we are as idealistic today as we were in 1975—two are rabbis, four community social workers, three educators, one a labor union organizer and three started non-profit organizations that still exist doing great work.
Noting that many of our adult children have also become activists, we realized that we have a film that is not just an interesting history lesson, but also an entertaining movie that could inspire people to work together to achieve change. Working with Baltimore inner-city teenagers in the framework of Wide Angle Youth Media, movie director Kellie Welborn will be filming for two additional days.
Top photo: The friends who founded and ran the Kosher Kitchen in the 1970s.