It was said about Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch that when he was well into his 70’s he decided to travel from Germany to Switzerland for a vacation. This was in the late 1800’s when cars and airplanes were unheard of. The trip was an arduous trek by train and coach. He was asked, ‘Rabbi, you’re an old man. Why are you taking such a trip?’ Replied Rabbi Hirsch, “After 120 years, I’ll meet my maker and he will ask me, ‘Raphael, did you ever see my Alps?’”
The world is truly a magnificent creation filled with all of God’s beauty. One of the benefits that I have in being a mashgiach (kosher supervisor) for the OU is that I have an opportunity to travel and see much of this beauty. My territory encompasses most of the Southeastern part of the United States, namely, Eastern Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Northern Florida. This area, known as the “Bible or Sun Belt,” offers much diversity as to scenery as well as to history. This is the South of Gone With the Wind fame. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of my territory.
Starting in Charleston SC, we come to the flower of the South. This city, with Fort Sumter in its harbor, was involved in the incident that began the Civil War. One can travel through the area and still see antebellum houses. Not far up the road in Summerville is an OU company, JW Aluminum. Taking the highway as well as side roads (watch out for logging trucks) we come to Augusta, GA, home of the Masters Golf Tournament. While there, we can stop by Kellogg’s Snack foods for some Famous Amos Cookies or go to Nutrasweet, makers of Aspartame Sweeteners. The Science Museum in Augusta is a hands-on/must see for families with children. Traveling south through back roads we come to Savannah.
Savannah is a beautiful city with old-time charm. The downtown area is arranged with small park squares that you have to drive and weave around. Tybee Island is just due east for a nice relaxing vacation spot. While in Savannah, we can visit a number of OU plants, among them Dixie Crystal and Fuji Oil.
We then travel south on I-95 to Jacksonville, FL where we can go to Heinz/ Portion Pak and Whitewave Foods. As one travels through Jacksonville one cannot help but go over the various bridges that span the local waterways. We then can take a trip up to Blackshear and Alma in Georgia. These small towns have OU plants like American Egg, Southland’s Best, and Richmond Baking. Then it’s on to Fitzgerald, GA to American Blanching and Deep South Products. Deep South bottles product for Arizona Tea as well as Winn Dixie sodas.
We are now in the heart of the South. As we drive through, we pass pecan orchards all around us. This is also peanut country. A side trip up I-75 takes us to Andersonville, GA— the site of the notorious Civil War prison and its cemetery.
I once was at the Holiday Inn in Fitzgerald and was talking to the hotel manager. He told me that it was a good thing that I came that week and not the week after. I asked him why. “Well,” he replied, “next week is your Jewish New Year and all of the old families come here from all over the South for High Holiday services and I wouldn’t have a room for you.” It seems that all of these small Southern towns had at one time been vibrant Jewish communities.
From Fitzgerald we continue to visit OU plants in Tifton, Ashburn, and Sylvester before coming to Albany, GA. I tell people that I go to most of the ‘nut’ houses in Georgia. This area is responsible for the vast majority of peanut production. It gets hot here in the summertime so a refreshing stop in Albany is the Miller’s Coors Brewing Co. Not far away we also can stop at Tara Foods. (Tara? Wasn’t that a plantation in a certain novel?) Just be careful in booking flights, cars or hotels. Many a time I have had the reservations made for Albany (all bany), NY rather than Albany (al beny), GA. Around an hours’ drive north of Albany, one can go to Warm Springs. There you can visit the Little White House — the summer home of President Franklin D Roosevelt, the place where he died.
Continuing west we cross into Alabama going through Abbeville, home of Golden Egg, and proceed to Dothan. Golden Oval, formerly known as Cutler Egg, processes eggs in both liquid and dried forms. Dothan touts itself as the Peanut Capitol of the world so naturally we go to Flavorhouse to see their operation. We then travel north towards Montgomery. There we visit Flowers Foods. Traveling west we proceed through rolling hills of beautiful countryside to Selma. Montgomery as well as Selma were key cities during the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s, 60’s and ‘70’s.
We continue traveling west going to plants in Marion, AL heading towards Mississippi. With OU plants in Hattiesburg, Jackson and Columbus, we literally travel around the whole state. While in Jackson, between visits to DeBeukelaer, Clorox and Reckitt-Benckiser, one can drop in at The Museum of Southern Jewish Life.
Another part of my territory is Tennessee. We will start in Crossville to see Mizkan Vinegar and another Flowers Baking facility, then proceed on I-40 across the Middle Tennessee Valley to Knoxville and Newport. This stretch of Interstate is simply gorgeous. Whether in the fall when all the leaves are changing colors; in winter when the trees are bare and sometimes white; or in spring and summer when they are in full bloom, this is a truly beautiful drive. Green Mountain Coffee, Bush Beans, and Rich products, among others, are situated in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains.
We travel down through the mountains to Cleveland and Chattanooga. With all of the abundant fresh water springs that come from the mountains, it is no surprise that many of the OU bottled water plants are in this area. Among them are Green Mountain, Crystal Springs and Nature’s Purest. While in Chattanooga, you also don’t want to miss The Tennessee Aquarium. From Lookout Mountain and Rock City you can seven states before heading back to Atlanta.
Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola so a must see is the Coke Museum, downtown. No visit to Atlanta would be complete without a visit to Stone Mountain. This large granite mountain depicts a carving of heroes of the Civil War as well as a plantation and museum about the War Between the States. Lastly, one can visit the Martin Luther King Memorial.
As one can see, traveling such a vast area inspecting over 100 companies is very demanding and time consuming. Yet, I have a chance to meet people from all walks of life. We talk about varied subjects from news to sports and I can truly say that I never have a dull day. The breadth of my work for the OU takes me to a vast diversity of products. I see facilities producing everything from baked goods to chemical companies making cleaning products. I recently went to a company that was making adhesives. At the plant, they were vastly impressed that the OU took the issue of kashrut so seriously that we would even check their product which is used to adhere foil to the cardboard core.
Let me end with one last story. I was at a plant on a day where everything was going wrong. I apologized to the plant personnel for coming on such a day, but I needed to do my inspection. “Rabbi Norm,” the official said, “I’m always glad to see you. Sometimes I’m glad to see you come and sometimes I’m glad to see you go. But I’m always glad to see you.” Talk about Southern Hospitality!