Meet The Catholic Grocer Who Helps Mexican Jews Keep Kosher


Noe Trinidad Chavez sat at a small card table gutting zucchinis with a metal corer knife, preparing them to be stuffed with meat and cooked into platillo a la jardinera, a traditional meal eaten by Sephardic Jews.

The 56-year-old, a native of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, was born and raised Catholic. He had never met a Jewish person in his life until he was 10, when he ventured off to Mexico City for work. There he got a job helping Jewish families with day-to-day needs, such as cleaning and cooking.

Now he’s the owner of two Jewish food shops, including this one that’s no more than 6 feet by 14 feet with a lime-green awning adorned with a Star of David.

The store’s unlikely name: “El Tope,” or speed bump, a tribute to his humble beginnings and where he set up a food cart as a street vendor.

His shop is stocked with produce and packaged products common to Mediterranean diets — eggplant, grape leaves and tamarind syrup he prepares himself.

“It’s hard to find such unique things like these,” Chavez said. “It’s a very small but very important store in the life of the Arab and Jewish community.”

Chavez can thoroughly explain what keeping kosher entails — what his customers can and can’t eat and when, under Jewish law. He can’t read the Hebrew on the labels of the products that fill his store, but he knows which ones signify they are certified kosher.

In recent weeks he has been preparing for Pesach, which began Friday, clearing his shelves of forbidden products and performing the ritual of koshering his utensils by immersing them in boiling water. He refers to the holiday by its Hebrew name, Pesach.

Some store owners might have been put off by having to learn the complicated kosher rituals of an unfamiliar culture as part of their business. For him, Chavez said, it’s the most beautiful part.

Sirilina Avelino, who grew up here and runs a small restaurant, watched as the cattle and cornfields disappeared and the small commercial district took their place. As the demographics shifted, Jewish people made their mark on the community, she said.

“When they have their holidays, the town feels it because the majority of their businesses are closed, and the people that work in these businesses, it’s clear they don’t come, they don’t work,” Avelino said as she sipped jamaica, or hibiscus tea, with her family during a lunch break.

Next door to her restaurant, Orthodox Jewish families eat lunch in a quesadilla restaurant with a sign bearing a kosher symbol and “B”H” (for Baruch Hashem, meaning bless God in Hebrew).

Read the full report at Los Angeles Times.

{Photo: Taylor Goldenstein / Los Angeles Times}