OU Kosher recently celebrated a milestone that only a few Rabbinic Field Representatives can claim to have reached. When Rabbi Avraham Juravel recently landed in North Dakota, he officially marked the 50th State in the Union in which he offered his extensive OU Kosher expertise.
We took this opportunity to interview Rabbi Juravel about his experiences.
BTUS: Rabbi Juravel, it’s been reported that you’ve now visited all 50 states in your work in kosher supervision. Congratulations!
RJ: Thank you kindly. It’s been an amazing experience.
BTUS: How many years have you been working in the field of kosher supervision?
RJ: Most of my life, so far. 39 years is a career for anyone in any field, particularly so when your work requires extensive travel.
BTUS: Why did it take 39 years to finally complete the project?
RJ: North Dakota has an extensive farming community, and its agricultural bounty is something the USA would be hard up to live without. In terms of manufacturing failities supplying kosher food products, the kosher products tend to be simple enough not to warrant a review from a senior rabbi.
BTUS: You have an equally extensive foreign travel record as well. How many foreign countries have you visited over the years?
RJ: I’d estimate at least 40.
BTUS: Having met with so many plant personnel and factories around the country and the globe, what things do you think we as Americans and as citizens of the globe have in common that someone without your extensive travel history might not realize?
RJ: That’s a fantastic question. What unites us is clearly more significant than the things that divide us. Some take pride in their work, and some don’t put in the effort they could. It is always a privilege to meet master craftsman. And a warm smile is certainly understood in every language and culture.
BTUS: What was the most interesting OU Kosher assignment you’ve had to complete?
RJ: Kosherizing an oil refinery that has separate systems for both animal and vegetable products was a career highlight. Kosher law doesn’t allow for cross-contamination with non-certified animal fat (and for practical purposes, animal fats found in an oil refinery are all non-kosher). Maintaining the integrity of the vegetable system, by following the entire piping system, making sure there was no cross-overs between it and the animal fat refining process, was a Herculean task indeed.
BTUS: Have you ever had a situation where it just wasn’t possible to grant OU kosher supervision to the plant?If so, how did you handle it?
RJ: While OU Kosher communicates the best methods to maintain the highest standards of kosher, there have been times where a plant had dual systems for kosher and non-kosher, and OU Kosherwas not satisfied with the divisions proposed by the plant; it was incomplete from our perspective. I handle the situation by stating a firm and resolute, “Cannot be done.”
BTUS: Did you ever find a situation where you felt you were in danger, either in the plant or during your travels, because you are a rabbi?
RJ: In all my years, and in all the odd situations I’ve found myself in for OU Kosher, I cannot remember a time I felt in danger. Once I was lost in China, on a train for 14 hours, without a phone.I was scared then, but it had nothing to do with being a Rabbi. It had to do with being incommunicado!
BTUS: How has kosher supervision changed/improved over your career?
RJ: The introduction of formal quality systems, ISO systems and various third-party audits (many of which are looking for the same things as a kosher audit) have really helped smooth the way for kosher programs. Allergen cleaning has been a major help for us as well. Years ago, dairy (a primary concern for products labeled OU, whichguarantees they are dairy free), was something we had to actively confirm was not being used in our products in any form. Now, due to allergen concerns, the QA staff is aware in advance of our arrival of exactly which items and lines would have contact with dairy.
BTUS: I understand you also hold the ceremonial title of “Chief Rabbi of Idaho Falls,” due to your extensive relationship with the fledgling Jewish community there.Can you tell us about it?
RJ: I’ve been stationed in the Idaho Falls area forPassover productions of dehydrated potato products for much of my career. It’s a friendly part of the world, and people notice when a rabbi is walking around town. People would say hello, ask if I’m Amish, and tell me about other Jewish people in town. I was sometimes asked to give classes on Jewish topics to the locals. This led to the Mayor appointing me as Chief Rabbi. Frankly, it wasn’t hard to pick me, I was there more often than any other rabbi.
BTUS: What advice would you offer to an up-and-coming RFR who wishes to have as distinguished career as yours?
RJ: We all possess the most valuable piece of equipment –a brain. It has the indispensable ability to produce something called common sense. You would not believe how many catastrophes have been avoided by simply using it, and yet so many neglect this priceless human asset in search for more modern equipment. I say, begin with the most useful tool you’ve been blessed with, and you’ll go very far.
Rabbi Avraham Juravel serves as the OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator for Technical Services. His expertise and professional advice is sought by many Kashrut professionals throughout the United States and the world. Rabbi Chaim Goldberg is an OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator specializing primarily in fish and potato product manufacturing. His wife and children guard his spuds and tackle box at his Brooklyn, NY, home.