Masbiah open in Queens


Soup kitchen in disguise

by David Schneier

Issue of April 8, 2010/ 24 Nissan 5770

It looks like a restaurant, and a nice one at that, and that’s the idea behind the Masbia Soup Kitchen — the first ever glatt kosher soup kitchen in Queens. It opened in March, modeled on similar facilities in Brooklyn, in Flatbush, Borough Park and Williamsburg. The first opened in 2005.

After nearly $100,000 in renovations, Masbia, Hebrew for ‘to make you feel satiated,’ features stylish paintings, a hardwood floor, and 10 tables of four. Guests are seated by a maitre d’ and served by waiters. Up to 350 people a day can be accommodated.

100 people showed up one night before Pesach, said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council. She expected even bigger crowds when Masbiah re-opened after Passover.

“We wanted people to have dignity, have a meal, and feel good about themselves,” said Zalisky. The council sponsors Masbiah along with UJA, Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, and Henry Orenstein, a concentration camp survivor who later created the Transformer toys.

Diners begin with soup, followed by a three part entrée: chicken, fish, or meat; a carbohydrate, such as rice; and vegetables. Desert is a fruit cup; bread, pickles and condiments are on the tables. The menu changes daily.

The location at 98-08 Queens Boulevard was chosen for proximity to other restaurants and to public transportation. People can come in without attracting attention. “No one will stare,” Zalisky said. It is open from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Sunday to Thursday.

City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) visited Masbia, then offered praise.

“There are curtains here so people can keep their privacy,” Koslowitz said. “This is something that’s great for the community.”

Nearly 300,000 Jewish households, including more than 50,000 children, live near the poverty line citiwide, according to reports by Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and United Jewish Federation of New York.

In Forest Hills and Rego Park 30 percent of Jewish families live in or near poverty.It is also home to the largest concentration of Bukharian Jews in the US, said Craig Lavine, chief of staff to Councilwoman Koslowitz. Many are elderly immigrants who rely on social services. With the unemployment rate in Queens now at 9.4 percent, according to the NYS Dept. of Labor, many families cannot afford the high price of kosher food. Over 3,000 Passover food packages were distributed by the Queens Jewish Community Council, Cynthia Zalisky said.

Queens Jewish Community Council provides seven frozen Meals on Wheels a week to 120 clients borough-wide. Queens Community House serves an additional 350-400 kosher Meals on Wheels to seniors in Forest Hills, Rego Park, Corona, and Elmhurst, according to Blanca Goris, director of senior services for Queens Community House. There are 40,000 to 50,000 seniors in the district, overall, said Lavine. To volunteer at Masbia or for more information, call Cynthia Zalisky at (718) 544-9033.