The period between Passover and the Festival of Shavuot is a time of numbers for the Jewish people, with the daily counting of Sefirat HaOmer, for 49 days, leading up to Shavuot on the fiftieth day. At OU Kosher, it is also a time for reflecting on how the OU served the Jewish community in preparing for the holiday; tabulating the statistics reflecting that effort; and evaluating how the OU can further enhance its service to the community in observing the most complex of all Jewish holidays.
OU Kosher provided these services through its annual Passover Guide with its listing of products that are Kosher for Passover; its website, oupassover.org; its Passover Hotline; emails; its smart phone App, now in its second year; and radio programs and community visits. But it did not do this alone.
“Passover was a combined effort of different departments of the Orthodox Union, working together with Kashrut to produce the materials we disseminated to the kosher consumer,” declared Rabbi Menachem Genack, chief operating officer of OU Kosher. “Working with Dr. Sam Davidovics, chief information officer of the OU; Mayer Fertig, chief communications officer; Gary Magder, director of Digital Media and their staffs, the materials were produced in the various formats needed to deliver our message. The entire effort was overseen by Rabbi Moshe Zywica, executive rabbinic coordinator and director of kashrut operations; and Rabbi Eli Eleff, rabbinic coordinator and consumer relations administrator of OU Kosher.”
“Passover preparation at the Orthodox Union is like a symphony,” Rabbi Genack continued. “The different parts of the orchestra must work together to produce beautiful sounds. OU Kosher provides the knowledge base, but our colleagues in the other departments made it possible to transmit this knowledge worldwide.”
Here is how the OU provided that knowledge:
- The OU Guide to Passover had a print run of 60,000, with distribution to OU synagogues, and to yeshivot and supermarkets throughout North America; it was also available online.
- The OU Kosher Consumer Hotline was truly hot, answering 5,032 phone calls, not counting calls that went to voicemail or callers who did not call the Hotline directly. While on hold, callers were given recorded answers to the top ten questions received by OU Kosher this season;
- The highest volume was 471 calls answered on Monday, March 18;
- Starting ten days before the holiday, the Hotline was staffed by a team of 18 rabbis and five assistants answering the phone, and a fulltime staff of three answering and researching emails;
- With the holiday beginning on Monday night, the Hotline was open both Sunday and Monday; the OU was the only one of the major kashrut agencies to be open on Monday, erev Pesach;
- On Sunday, March 24, 91 calls were received in two hours; on Monday, 162 phone calls in three hours; on Friday, March 29, Chol Hamoed Pesach, 140 calls were answered in three hours.
- Regarding the website, there were more than 80,000 unique visitors during the Passover season, with more than 300,000 page views;
- The highest visit day was the Sunday before Passover, with more than 12,000 unique visitors; Erev Pesach there were more than 8,000 unique visitors; while the average day for the two weeks before the holiday was 5,000 visits.
- The weeks before the holiday brought in more than 1,200 emails, with more than 100 per day as the Festival approached.
- The OU Kosher App for smart phones, which is available year-round, but was adapted for Passover for consumers on iPhones, iPads, iPods, iPod Touch and Android, had more than 5,000 downloads in the weeks before Passover.
The Kashrut Department went beyond technology to provide assistance for the holiday.
- Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of OU Kosher and the OU’s world-renowned Daf Yomi maggid shiur, appeared every night for three weeks on Zev Brenner’s Talkline Show, responding to a wide variety of questions with his limitless knowledge and his ability to clarify even the most complex aspects of the Festival; other radio appearances were made by Rabbi Yoel Schoenfeld and Rabbi Eli Gersten on the JM in the AM program; and Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz on an online program hosted by Rabbi Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus Magazine;
- OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinators made community visits: Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Rabbi Elefant and Rabbi Rabinowitz to Lakewood, NJ; Rabbi Rabinowitz to Boston; Rabbi Eleff to Brooklyn; and Rabbi Daniel Nosenchuk to Monsey, NY.
- Once again, there was an online pre-Passover webcast with the Kashrut Department’s two halachic poskim, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rav Yisroel Belsky. Rabbi Dr. Eliyahu Safran, OU Kosher vice president of communications and marketing, served as moderator.
It has been said that OU Kosher begins preparing for next year’s Passover the day after this year’s holiday is over. That means that even as the counting of Sefirat HaOmer proceeds, planning is already in progress for Passover 5774 at the OU. The first seder is April 14, 2014.