Ever since Divine deliveries of manna stopped falling, kosher consumers have had to rely on conscientious kashruth supervisors to make certain their food meets the highest standards of kashruth. That’s why the OU’s dedicated team of rabbinic field representatives (RFRs) travels to food-manufacturing plants across the globe, ensuring that the established kosher programs in each plant run according to plan. With travel bags in tow, they bring their expertise, guidance, and—if it’s Rabbi Norman Schloss at the door—a really good joke.
Rabbi Schloss, who lives in Atlanta, supervises OU plants in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee and parts of Northern Florida, as well as some in Ireland. The wandering rabbi, who drives an average of 500 to 700 miles per week, meets Jews from all over who express their gratitude for what he and the other RFRs do for the kosher community.
The distinctively personable manner with which Rabbi Schloss gets the job done also affects those outside the kosher community. “Some of these people (at the plants) have never met a Jew,” says his wife, Lydia, “let alone an Orthodox one. He’s a kind of emissary for the Jewish people.”
The Mashgiach Has Arrived
“Unscheduled inspections” comprise the bulk of Rabbi Schloss’ kashruth work. “What do a mashgiach (Hebrew for kosher supervisor) and the Mashiach (Hebrew for Messiah) have in common?” asks Rabbi Schloss. “Everyone knows I’m coming; they just don’t know when.”
From the management to the workers on the plant floor, everyone looks forward to a visit from the cheerful rabbi. “Everyone knows Rabbi Schloss,” says Richard Robinson, former materials manager of Golden State Foods, which produces condiments for the food industry in Conyers, GA. “When we started doing business with McDonald’s in Israel, supplying a lot of their syrups, toppings and sauces, Rabbi Schloss was the guy we worked with from day one. He helps us get all our ingredients properly categorized, and if we have an equipment issue, he’ll work for hours correcting it. You (can) always call him with a question; he’s always available.”
Plant personnel never fail to relate to the rabbi known to most as “Rabbi Norm.” “My father, a salesman, taught me to always relate to the people with whom I am dealing,” says Rabbi Schloss. “He believed, as I do, that no matter what profession one is in, he is in the position of selling himself. I often use an old trick of his if I’m going to a plant in a small town, I make sure to look over the local newspaper to see how the local sports team is doing. I’ll congratulate them on their team’s win that week. (So) when the staff hears I’m coming, they don’t feel they have to button up their shirts and put on their ties.”
Earning His Title
His time in New York set the foundation for his many productive years with the OU. From 1969 to 1974, he held the position of “chief cook and bottle washer” at NCSY. “I rented a van, picked up the food and served it to two hundred people at NCSY conventions,” he reminisces. After attending rabbinical school in Israel, he returned to the United States and majored in marketing at Baruch College in New York. “We called it UCLA,” says Rabbi Schloss, “the University at the Corner of Lexington Avenue.”
Rabbi Schloss soon married, moved South, and, combining his natural sales acumen with his longtime penchant for the culinary arts, he opened Norm’s Place, a combination deli, supermarket and restaurant. “It was the only kosher restaurant in the United States without wood paneling or chandeliers,” he muses. After some time, Rabbi Schloss realized running the restaurant was taking a toll on his health. He closed it and began working in sales. Since the work was based solely on commission, he worked on the weekends as a kosher supervisor with the Atlanta Kashruth Commission, supervising events held at local hotels.
Various kashruth agencies heard about the rabbi and approached him about doing kashruth work around the greater Georgia area. “One of the only people doing kosher supervision in the southeast at the time was Rabbi Nota Greenblatt, head of the Rabbinical Court of Memphis,” says Rabbi Schloss. “He was overextended and gave companies over to me.” Rabbi Schloss soon contacted the various agencies to see if they would be interested in having him cover more terrain. He quit his sales job and went into kosher supervision full time, working as an independent contractor for major American kashruth organizations. In 2001, the OU offered Rabbi Schloss a full-time position, which he accepted.
Have RFR, Will Travel
Before Rabbi Schloss departs on a trip, he does extensive research: will there be an Orthodox shul near his accommodations? Does the area have a supermarket with a substantial kosher food section? If he’s staying at a major hotel chain, can it obtain frozen airline meals? He also familiarizes himself with the local kosher symbols and checks if they are reliable.
With his resourceful kosher recipes for the road, Rabbi Schloss has proven the adage about necessity spawning invention. “Salmon is one type of fish that is easily recognizable as being kosher (having visible fins and scales),” says Rabbi Schloss. “I go to any supermarket and purchase salmon, making sure the skin is still on. I season it with lemon juice, curry, salt and pepper. I double-wrap it in foil to keep the juices in, take the (hotel) steam iron and set it on high, and place the iron on the fish for fifteen minutes on each side. Voila! Perfectly done Salmon à la Black and Decker.”
The wandering rabbi spends two to three nights a week out of town for “local” jobs and fourteen weeks out of the year overseas. Although the absences are tough on his family, Lydia, says it’s worth it. “He’s well respected in his field and [his work] serves a tremendous purpose for the community. He’s very happy with what he does.” And it shows.
Family, friends and work colleagues all agree there is never a dull moment when Rabbi Schloss is within earshot. “He has quite a repertoire of jokes,” says Lydia. “The day of our wedding, my mother-in-law came over to me and said, ‘You know what the ultimate in self-sacrifice is? It’s laughing at the same jokes after twenty-five years.’ [Jokes are] his way of putting people at ease.”
Ken Baker, plant technical services supervisor at McKee Foods Corporation, heartily agrees. “Everyone smiles when he walks in the building,” he says. “He’s a fun guy to be around.” Apparently a knowledgeable one as well; according to Baker, every time Rabbi Schloss comes to the Collegedale, TN, plant the McKee team learns something valuable regarding its production of OU Kosher Drakes cake products.
“He’s very aware of the issues that could crop up and gives us input that always keeps us ahead of the game,” says Baker. “We really like that.” So do the kosher consumers who enjoy OU Kosher Drakes Fruit Pies, Coffee Cakes, Ring Dings, Devil Dogs, and Yodels!
“My parents taught me to enjoy life, to look on the bright side and to greet people with a smile,” says Rabbi Schloss. According to OU Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Avraham Juravel, the OU’s proficient RFR from Atlanta perfected these skills long ago. “I’ve warned personnel at (OU-certified) companies,” he says, “that if someone comes in claiming his name is Rabbi Schloss and he does not tell you a joke, you can be sure he is an imposter.”
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.