Polish-born Dominik Zakrzewski was working at a synagogue as the senior rabbi’s assistant and preparing to convert to Judaism when he reached out to the managers of JJ’s Holy Cow food cart in downtown Brooklyn. A regular customer, he asked them to provide catering for the synagogue.
Zakrzewski had sampled the kosher food cart’s offerings on a street in bustling downtown Brooklyn. Although he grew up in a Catholic home in Queens and had attended bilingual Polish-English schools, he felt a kinship with the Jewish people he knew and was starting to keep kosher. He soon became a frequent Shabbat guest of the cart’s founders, Rabbi Eliyahu and Shaindy Raskin, Chabad on Campus emissaries at Brooklyn Law School.
The Raskins’ intent in opening the food cart was to promote kosher observance among the hundreds of Jewish students at Brooklyn Law, and they have had an unexpected response from the wider public. Despite being a major business district, there were no kosher eateries in the downtown Brooklyn, which also serves as the hub of the borough court system and is home to five colleges. JJ’s Holy Cow is still the only kosher option in a wider area that includes the historic Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.
The Raskins have since delegated the day-to-day operation of the food cart to others so they can focus on their outreach activities at Brooklyn Law, which include holiday celebrations, study sessions and guest lecturers. They recently hosted renowned attorney Nathan Lewin, Esq., for a lunchtime lecture.
The food cart continues to enable the Raskins to serve students at Brooklyn Law, many of whom now attend Rabbi Aaron Raskin’s shul at Chabad of Brooklyn Heights, Congregation B’nai Avraham.
From French Fries to a Shabbat Dinner
One Brooklyn Law student accompanied his kosher-keeping friend for lunch at the food cart every week, but was reluctant to accept Eliyahu Raskin’s invitation for Shabbat. After sitting down with the rabbi over a dish of French fries “on the house,” he finally felt comfortable enough to join them for Shabbat dinner. Now, less than a year later, he hosts weekly Torah classes in his home and wraps tefillin daily. Or as Zakrzewski says, “The food cart is more than just delicious food.”
Zakrzewski is just one of the cart’s many fans. Their extensive menu of meat and vegetarian options, along with their use of minimally processed beef and organic ingredients, has a wide appeal. Since its rollout last summer on July 4, 2017, in downtown Brooklyn, thousands of people have enjoyed its artisanal burgers, vegan buns, and other delicious offerings. Many developed a friendly rapport with the Raskins and are growing in their Jewish observance as a result.
When Brooklyn Law School is in session the cart is stationed at the busy intersection of Court and Schermerhorn Streets, and when school is out, it pops up in Midtown Manhattan and others places around town, so it can be available when the attorneys-in-training are back in class.
Surprise via Skype
Oh, and Zakrzewski’s conversion? His father had occasionally dropped murky hints at the family’s Jewish roots. Finally, while Skyping with an aunt in Poland, Zakrzewski’s vague suspicions were confirmed. When he told his aunt about his conversion, she said, “That won’t be necessary, your grandmother was Jewish!”
His aunt explained that on her deathbed, his great-grandmother, Cathy, had revealed to her daughter, Zakrzewski’s grandmother, that she was Jewish. On a visit to Poland, he discovered that his great-great-grandmother is buried in a Jewish cemetery.
Now working in Brooklyn Heights as a program coordinator for a language interpretation company, Zakrzewski is continuing to explore his Jewish roots and studying at Chabad of Brooklyn Heights.
Speaking of origins, In case you’re wondering about the food cart’s name, “JJ’s Holy Cow” is named for the Raskins’ son, Yaakov Yehuda, who carries the name of his great-grandfather, Rabbi Jacob J. (JJ) Hecht, a renowned Chabad rabbi, educator, radio personality, community leader and translator for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory.
Family favorite dishes? Eliyahu: the Breakfast Burger (with over easy egg, beef bacon, seasonal mix of vegetable sticks, caramelized onion, and aioli sauce). Shaindy: the Classic Burger (with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and sauce). And young JJ himself? French fries. At two months old, baby sister Malia isn’t ready for food from JJ’s Holy Cow just yet.
By: Tzipora Reitman