OU’s Longtime RFR’s: Kashrut Supervision Legends In Their Own Time

The Reasons behind a thriving organization’s success lie squarely at the doors of its trailblazers, the dedicated forefathers who laid the essential groundwork. In the booming OU Kashrut Division’s case, you could try knocking on the two Giants of Kashrut’s doors, but you probably won’t find them home; they’re on the road happily priming the next generation of experts.

Between the two of them, Rabbis Chaim Goldzweig and Sholem Lifchetz have given 60-plus years (and running full-throttle) of unsurpassed kashrut expertise, ensuring that the OU’s highest standards prevail in thousands of plants across the globe.

Rabbi Chaim Goldzweig – The Making of a Super-mashgiach (RFR)

One day back in 1960, while America was in the midst of the Cold War and about to enter the space age, the phone rang in the Goldzweig home in Chicago. At the request of Rabbi Alexander S. Rosenberg, Rabbinic Administrator at the OU from 1950-1972, Rabbi Shlomo Hecht, of Chicago, asked Rabbi Moshe Goldzweig, an esteemed master of Jewish mysticism from Tzefat, Israel, if he knew of anyone in the area able to fill a position as an RFR for a company just starting to run kosher glycerin. Rabbi Hecht called, hoping Rabbi Goldzweig’s oldest son would take the position. There was one problem; his son didn’t drive a car. Then Rabbi Goldzweig’s fateful question: “What about my younger son, Chaim?”

After ten spiritually lucrative years at Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland, Rabbi Chaim Goldzweig accepted the OU job as Rabbinic Field Representative for Proctor & Gamble. At the time, the world of organized kashrut supervision was still very young. “The public didn’t know about ingredients in those days,” says Rabbi Goldzweig. “As long as the ingredients panel didn’t list lard, everybody thought it was fine. And companies didn’t have to list everything.”

Learning as he went, Rabbi Goldzweig educated the companies along with himself. “Everything has to be looked into,” he says. “When checking out a new plant I get all the information I can.” He began jotting each relevant fact on paper, putting slip after slip into his pockets and committing every essential detail to memory. “When I started out, there were maybe ten people in the OU office,” says Rabbi Goldzweig. All issues of ingredient approval would go through him. He would take along stacks of papers of ingredient requests submitted by companies, relying on his foolproof memory, which predated and was likely more reliable than the computer. As his experience in kosher supervision increased, so did his breadth of knowledge about ingredients, ingredients within ingredients, all aspects of food manufacture, and every nook and cranny of plants worldwide.

What’s This Guy Doing In Our Plant?

Although he’s considered the OU’s undisputed most senior expert in the field, Rabbi Goldzweig never wears his revered reputation on his sleeve. During his initial visits to plants requesting OU certification, employees’ heads will inevitably turn as an elderly gentleman with a straggly beard and bulging pockets (filled with notes and an array of pens), saunters past them, smiling broadly at each puzzled face. But once the rabbi begins his impressive work, their initial doubts quickly dissipate.

“I once visited a plant with him,” recalls Rabbi Menachem Genack, Chief Executive Officer of OU Kashrut. “We found a box without kosher certification on it or any indication of what it contained. The plant manager hadn’t a clue as to what it was. Rabbi Goldzweig eyed the assorted numbers on the package and nonchalantly said, ‘Don’t worry; it’s a Durkee code’ (a manufacturer of shortenings). He knew exactly what it was.”

Within a short time, everyone on the plant floor considers him his buddy, certain that the feeling is mutual. It’s all genuine and crucial in getting the best job done.“He’s a master at being able to win people over and making them feel comfortable as he’s getting the necessary information from them,” says Rabbi Yaakov Luban, Executive Rabbinic Coordinator. “This is one of the most important aspects of kashrut supervision. You don’t want the company to feel that you are checking up on them or looking over their shoulders. No one likes to be monitored. He is extremely successful in his own home-style way of getting the needed information.”

Rabbi Goldzweig often adds a package of salami to his pocket assemblage as a gift of goodwill and gratitude to many a plant manager. “He may seem, at first, in a state of endearing disarray, but one soon realizes he is a man with outstanding ability, direction, and warmth,” says Rabbi Genack. “He’s the OU’s kosher Columbo.”

For the past 45 years, “Reb Chaim,” as his colleagues affectionately refer to him, has brought his disarming personality and kosher expertise to people and plants around the world. He’s been to China, the Far East, Kuwait, India, and Poland, to name a few. “I have more stamps than Carter has liver pills,” says Reb Chaim in his inimitable fashion. He has also had to keep up with the food industry’s technical advances, as well as the increasing number and complexity of ingredients. “We constantly face new issues, lines that are crossing from products to products. I have to make sure non-kosher and kosher don’t end up on the same system,” he says. “We have to make sure that the new techniques, if they are affecting kashrut, are helping rather than hurting. I’m always learning.”

Don’t Worry – The Car’s Bulletproof

After a few-day stint supervising the kashrut at a plant in a faraway continent, Rabbi Goldzweig often returns home with many enthralling, sometimes chilling stories to tell; the “miracle in Colombia,” for instance. His plane landed at the airport, on September 9, 2001, two days before the horrific 9/11 attack. Rabbi Goldzweig waited for his pick-up person to take him to his assigned plants. He waited and waited, wondering if someone would show up. A man approached him and asked in English, “Rabbi, are you lost?” He replied with his customary quipping. “I know what country I’m in, but have no idea who’s coming to get me.” He showed him a piece of paper with the name of the company. Recognizing the name, the man made a number of calls on his cell phone, speaking fluent Spanish. He informed Rabbi Goldzweig that he would be picked up shortly. “I’m thinking,” says Rabbi Goldzweig. “I don’t know this guy; he could be a terrorist.”The man pointed to his car and instructed Rabbi Goldzweig to wait there with his suitcase for a minute. “I looked at his license plate and felt relieved; it read: U.S. State Department,” says Rabbi Goldzweig. “When he returned he said I shouldn’t worry about going into his car because it was bulletproof! Then he advised that I not take any cabs in this city and never leave the hotel without someone who speaks fluent Spanish.”

The competent (and courageous!) RFR finished his work in two days and eagerly anticipated his flight back home. As he entered the airport, all the monitors flashed the dreadful sight of two planes pummeling through the World Trade Towers. Loudspeakers repeatedly blared, “The Airport Is Now Closed.” The rabbi reluctantly stayed another week in Colombia, not sure when he’d be able to get back to the United States. And Rosh Hashana was only a few days away. It dawned on him that he still had the card of the fellow who had helped him at the beginning of the trip. He fished it out of one of his crammed pockets and realized the man was a diplomat from the United States. That Saturday night, after the Sabbath, his helpful acquaintance arranged for a treasured ticket home. “I got back just hours before Rosh Hashana,” recalls Rabbi Goldzweig. “God wanted me home for the High Holidays.

A Man Of Kindness

With all his traveling around, the crazy hours, and unusual interactions with all kinds of individuals, Rabbi Goldzweig absolutely loves his work, and it shows.“I dream about ingredients!” he says. “I believe it’s a mitzvah to help people eat kosher food. An RFR has to be a person who wants to help people.” According to all those fortunate enough to cross Reb Chaim’s path, he delights in reaching out to others. “I was single and working in the West Coast region,” says Rabbi Michael Morris, Rabbinic Coordinator. “One evening, I had just finished eating my dinner, which, for a bachelor, consisted of a sandwich, when the phone rang. It was Rabbi Goldzweig calling from a plane flying to Los Angeles from San Francisco.He told me that he was changing planes at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) to return to his hometown in Chicago and had a few hours to spare. He said, ‘You probably haven’t had a good meal in a while. Pick me up at LAX; we’ll go to a restaurant for dinner and then you can bring me back to the airport to continue my journey.’ I cherished both the meal and the company.”

Whether a kashrut veteran or novice, Rabbi Goldzweig’s colleagues know personally of his no-holds-barred willingness to go all out to improve another’s lot. “When I was a relative newcomer to the OU,” says Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer, Rabbinic Coordinator,“I met with Rabbi Goldzweig to review some potato plants in Maine.This was my first long-distance OU business trip. As he drove me to the airport for my return flight to New York, it began to storm heavily.We found out the flight had been cancelled. Seeing I was itching to return home, he insisted upon driving me to another city in Maine, to catch another flight. After finding out that flight had also been cancelled, he told me to call my wife to let her know what was happening. Five minutes after I hung up, he advised I call her again to say hi and schmooze, as it was the right thing to do. He then took me to a local hotel. As I exited the car about to thank him, he got out with me, accompanied me to check in, and escorted me to my room to make sure it was okay. I will never forget his amazing kindness and warmth.”

Rabbi Goldzweig’s ample experience, knowledge and congeniality make for the consummate OU RFR.“I learned how to relate to people when conducting an inspection with him,” says Rabbi Luban. “He has also demonstrated to all of his colleagues that the more one knows about food technology, the more profound must be one’s understanding of everything going on in a facility. The RFR’s responsibility grows as the industry becomes more complex. He is called upon by virtually all kashrut organizations for his services.” Company managers and employees worldwide have become aware of his acute attentiveness to detail. “Once, during an annual inspection, Rabbi Goldzweig saw a single pallet on the top rack of our warehouse,” says Jim Peacock, former Kosher Coordinator at Dawn Food Products in Louisville, KY. “From 15 feet below he recognized a particular product and supplier as one that required a rabbi’s signature on the label, and he knew exactly which rabbi. I am happy to say it had the signature.”

According to Rabbi Genack, Rabbi Chaim Goldzweig is the OU. “The kashrut department is built on his shoulders,” he says. “He is a man of commitment, knowledge and concern for every aspect of the job, the technical and human. He views kashrut as a mission. I can’t imagine Chaim Goldzweig not doing kashrut work. He is what we call the ‘-Super-Mashgiach.’”