His colleagues call him OU Kosher’s West Coast “main guy.” And rightly so. Rabbi Reuven Nathanson, RFR director of the West Coast region, has put in close to three decades inspecting plants in no less than 10 Western states. His fellow RFRs know they can turn to him for his expertise in kosher – and in being a mensch.
“He’s a gentle giant,” says Rabbi Michael Morris, OU Kosher’s director of field operations, referring to his tall stature both physically and noble character. “He’s a friend to everyone including factory managers, quality managers, company staff, and workers. He’s not only knowledgeable, he’s able to explain the OU Kosher requirements in a way that’s easily understood, and does it with an always pleasant demeanor.” Pretty good for a man in a constant state of jetlag.
Rabbi Nathanson’s RFR work regularly takes him from his home in Los Angeles to plants across California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, and even American Samoa. In addition, he flies twice a year to Australia and New Zealand, and multiple times to Hawaii and the islands in the South Seas. He inspects factories producing wine, grape juice, baby food, energy drinks, snack foods, ice cream and more, visiting 14 plants in Hawaii alone.
According to Rabbi Morris, Rabbi Nathanson never complains. In fact, he enjoys flying. He also welcomes his interactions with people of diverse cultures.
“I’ve become a familiar face,” says Rabbi Nathanson. “The more confidence they have in me, the more we are able to work together to make sure the products are 100 % OU Kosher. It’s the relationships we build that become my most memorable moments on the job.”
Because of his friendly manner, no matter where he finds himself, people engage him in conversation. One OU Kosher client approached him and said, “I’m also Jewish.” He also shared the fact that he grew up not knowing much about his religion and that he regretted never having a bar mitzvah. Right then and there, in the middle of the plant parking lot, Rabbi Nathanson helped him rectify that situation. He got his phylacteries (the central theme of the bar mitzvah event) from his car and helped the fellow put them on. Afterwards the client immediately called his mother and said, “Call the caterer. I just had my bar mitzvah!”
On a flight back to LA from an RFR visit in Huma, Arizona, a man across the aisle from Rabbi Nathanson inquired as to what kosher agency he worked for. He added, “There’s no other reason a Jew would be in that part of the state.”
The man went on to tell him about the time he went into an OU Kosher plant in Arizona and told the manager that he knew exactly where his company was buying its anchovies and that he could supply him with better and cheaper anchovies. He offered him a contract and said, “How much are you going to request for your first order?” The manager responded by showing him the companies OU Kosher certification.
“We know that your offer doesn’t meet OU Kosher standards, so we are not going to accept your proposal,” he said. “Once we got
OU Kosher certification, our sales went up and never came down.
We would never do anything to jeopardize our kosher status. You fix yours and we’ll buy from you.”
Keeping it in the Family
Rabbi Nathanson’s love for his job has proven infectious. His son-in-law Rabbi Saadya Kaufman, is an OU Kosher RFR stationed in Houston Texas. When the family gets together the rabbis can’t help but engage in shoptalk. Rabbi Kaufman reports that he has taken his young sons to the plants numerous times. They were thrilled to see the world of manufacturing. Perhaps OU Kosher RFR work will become a family tradition. Time will tell.
“My wife thought she wouldn’t end up marrying someone in this line of work,” says Rabbi
Kaufman. “She said growing up it was difficult for her that her father traveled so much,” But now she’s happy I’m doing work that I enjoy.” His father-in-law heartily agrees.
He views his OU Kosher work as a esteemed privilege. “It’s a great service for the kosher consumer,” he says. “Our job is to make sure it’s kosher to the highest standards possible.” He values the opportunity to be part of the OU Kosher team.
And OU Kosher is blessed to have him.
BAYLA SHEVA BRENNER IS A FREELANCE WRITER AND FREQUENT CONTRIBUTOR TO BEHIND THE UNION SYMBOL.