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One Man’s Meat

Shimon Breitkopf, Mexico City

Chaim Kurson was just a teenager when he realized the shechitah industry in Mexico was in shambles. Would his idealism and determination be enough to turn this Central American country into a hub of mehadrin kashrus? With hard work, adherence to gedolim and a large dose of siyata d’Shmaya, he — together with his rebbi Rav Shlomo Machpoud — managed to create a kosher empire.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The bulletproof car swallows up the kilometers as the scenery changes from a civilized metropolis to stone hovels and mud huts. Outside, suspicious natives dressed in rags hold their guns at the ready. Beside me sits Chaim (Kaima) Kurson, a chareidi businessman who’s built up a kosher meat empire in Mexico. We’ve traveled from the port city of Tampico — a two-hour plane ride from Mexico City — and are now settling in for a four-hour drive along the Gulf. Our destination: Chaim Kurson’s huge meat-processing facility, known to all the locals as Kurson Kosher. Every so often, the car bumps sharply on the broken road, and we have to stop at an unofficial roadblock manned by armed, though non-uniformed, people. The first time it happens, I panic. “What’s going on?” I ask. “Who are those people and why are they sticking their guns into our window?” “These are cartel people,” Kurson explains. “Usually I travel this route by helicopter, but because of the bad visibility today, I have to drive. Don’t worry, b’ezras Hashem everything will be fine; they won’t make us any problems.” This is quite a different Mexico from the cheerful country that I first encountered two days ago. Two days earlier I’d arrived in Mexico City, the sprawling capital of Mexico, and immediately, I was assailed by two things that I couldn’t shake: the aroma and the good cheer. If you ever visit Mexico City you’ll probably never forget these things either. The distinct “Mexico” smell emanates from countless stalls located on every corner selling spicy Mexican food — eaten right there in the middle of the street, no plates or cutlery necessary. And the good cheer? After a while, you’ll find it to be contagious and you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll also walk around the city with a smile on your face. Because if the residents there — who live in abject poverty in a city that ranks number one on the pollution scale — can smile their way through life, so can you. In Mexico City, by contrast to other capital cities around the world where you feel a sense of urgency in the air, here everything’s on cruise control. Traveling across the city, I saw both opulence and miles and miles of slums, built haphazardly from scrap metal and wood, tiles and stones. Perhaps the construction inspectors have also decided to take an afternoon siesta.

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