OU Kosher today announced an exciting and much-needed new initiative to respond to the kashrut needs and questions of Jewish communities throughout North America, particularly of smaller ones distant from major Jewish metropolitan areas.
The focus of the new service includes strengthening of local vaadim (kosher councils) and their standards through on-site visits to the communities and their supervised establishments; working with and reinforcing the local rabbinate, kashrut personnel and lay leadership; offering seminars and educational programs both to the local kashrut professionals as well as to the vaadim; and evaluating and enhancing standards and policies as needed.
The program, the latest educational venture of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut Division, the world’s largest and most respected kosher certification agency, was described by Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher, as “a natural outgrowth of the ‘OU Kosher Coming’ programs initiated during the past 18 months to reach out with OU Kosher education to yeshivot, day schools, Bais Yaakovs and seminaries throughout the United States and Canada.”
During the past two months alone, Rabbi Genack explained, “OU Kosher Coming” programs have visited educational institutions in Brooklyn, Long Island, Riverdale and Westchester in New York; as well as Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami Beach, and Edmonton, Canada among other locations.
“Just as we seek to educate the younger generation in the basics of kosher law, we simultaneously want to extend a helping hand to communities throughout North America to assure that their kashrut needs are consistently met,” Rabbi Genack said.
Given its mandate of maintaining close contact with the hundreds of OU synagogues across the United States and Canada, the Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, under the direction of Rabbi Bini Maryles, will join in informing the synagogues about the program and urge its use.
The program was born out of a late December visit by two OU Kosher experts, Rabbi Yisroel Bendelstein and Rabbi Avraham Stone, to conduct a seminar in Edmonton, Alberta, as part of the “OU Kosher Coming” program, at the Beth Israel OU synagogue there. Despite the typically freezing weather in the Canadian winter, more than 100 community members flocked to the synagogue for the seminar. The rabbis then visited Edmonton’s kosher establishments and provided advice on how they could improve their standards.
In a letter to Rabbi Eliyahu Safran, OU Kosher Vice President of Communications and Marketing, who has coordinated the “OU Kosher Coming” programs as well as the “OU Kosher Tidbits” heard on OU Radio, Rabbi Daniel Friedman of Beth Israel declared, “How wonderful it would be if the OU could provide ongoing support and advice to OU synagogues in the area of kashrut. Perhaps the OU could designate a member of its kashrut staff to each member synagogue who could be on call to each synagogue.”
When Rabbi Stone arrived back in the New York area, he had the same idea. In a message to Dr. Steven Katz, Chairman of the OU Kashrut Commission, he wrote, “I would like to propose that OU Kosher develop a mentoring/liaison program with the OU member shuls in small communities (such as Edmonton), around North America. The liaison would, at first, proactively reach out to the rabbi and offer whatever help and guidance the rabbi wishes. From that point on, he could be the address – your personal kashrut pro – the rabbi will turn to for direction in kosher matters.”
And so it was done. Not surprisingly, Rabbi Safran was appointed to spearhead this new kashrut outreach to Jewish communities. Commenting on this new challenge Rabbi Safran declared, “OU Kosher is the natural for this enormous task. Blessed by both the largest and most experienced staff of rabbinic kashrut professionals (rabbinic coordinators) at OU headquarters in New York as well as by rabbinic field representatives throughout the land, we are confident that together we can assist Jewish communities with every facet of their kosher needs including bakeries, fish stores, catering services, shul kitchens, and supermarket kosher supplies.”
Rabbi Eliyahu Ferrell, OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator who has been working with Rabbi Safran to coordinate many of the OU Kosher educational projects, will also assist in responding to the needs of the communities.
Even before the visit to Edmonton, the program was in its beginning stages as Rabbi Yaakov Luban, Executive Rabbinic Coordinator of OU Kosher, performed reviews of several local vaad supervisions around the country in response to the communities’ requests for OU Kosher to evaluate their kashrut standards and policies.
In addition to visits to individual communities, Rabbis Safran and Ferrell will also encourage the communities’ rabbis and lay leadership to forward all kashrut-related issues, concerns and questions (known as sha’alot) to OU Kosher rabbinic leadership and poskim (halachic decisors) as well as to OU Kosher rabbinic coordinators with specific industry expertise. Rabbi Safran emphasized, “We are committed to responding in a timely fashion, and when necessary to have our experts establish personal contact with the rabbis and their designated kashrut personnel.”
He made it clear that the purpose of the program is “to reinforce the local rabbinate and the local vaad – to enhance and educate, but not to take over from them.”
Commenting on this innovative new venture on OU Kosher’s educational menu, which includes the highly successful ASK OU programs and seminars directed by Rabbi Yosef Grossman, OU President Stephen J. Savitsky emphasized, “Reaching out educationally to our communities with intensive and hands-on kashrut education is very much part of the Orthodox Union’s mission and ongoing agenda through NCSY (the OU’s youth program), the Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, and the Department of Community Services. I am confident that OU Kosher’s leadership, implementing Rabbi Safran’s creative programming, will enhance our many successful Torah ventures throughout North America.”