The last kosher market in S.F. to close, and its a shame

When Israel’s Strictly Kosher Market closes its doors in March, San Francisco will become the only major North American city without a market that sells fresh kosher food.

That is a shanda. And the worst of it is, we have only ourselves to blame.

As we point out in our page 5a story this week, Israel’s Market was a gathering place for the Russian-speaking Jewish community in San Francisco’s Richmond District long before Faina Avrutina took over as the store’s third owner in 2002, two decades after she arrived from her native Ukraine. She’s worked hard to keep it going, even as the economy tanked four years ago. Through it all, her smile never wavered, and her strudel and schnitzel continued to delight.

But the larger Jewish community didn’t support her. We didn’t patronize her store enough, and now it’s closing.

The demise of Israel’s Market is but the latest chapter in the Bay Area’s long, checkered history with kosher eateries. Our observant community has always been small, and our kosher eateries rarely lasted.

In October, Oakland’s Holy Land Restaurant gave up its kosher certification. The owner explained to us, on the verge of tears, that she needed Saturday business to stay afloat. In May, the Kitchen Table in Mountain View, which opened to great fanfare in 2009, served up its last house-made pastrami. Last year, Tel Aviv Kosher Market in San Francisco closed.

Other recent attempts also failed. S.F. New York Deli, a kosher deli that opened in 2006 in the Financial District, closed two years later. Bar Ristorante Raphael in Berkeley — Noah Alper’s experiment in fine kosher dining — shut in 2007 after four fretful years.

Today there are a handful of kosher eateries scattered throughout the Bay Area: Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels in Palo Alto, the Jerusalem Grill and Bar in Campbell, Sabra Grill in San Francisco and Amba in Oakland’s Montclair district, as well as the week-old RoastShop, also in Palo Alto (see this week’s “Hardly Strictly Bagels” on 20a). We also have Oakland Kosher Foods and the Grand Bakery, both in Oakland, and Pars Kosher Market in San Jose.

The only way these places will survive is if Jews patronize them. (Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, certified kosher at four Bay Area locations, will probably survive on its own.) Even if you don’t keep kosher, you might consider that a kosher retail establishment proclaims the presence of a town’s Jewish community with pride — as well as with pickles and pastrami.

Go forth and eat.