June 11, 2024
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OU Kosher Marks Another Successful Pesach Season

OU Kosher’s Rabbi Daniel Nosenchuk delivers a shiur at Bais Medrash of Albert, Lakewood, New Jersey.

(Courtesy of OU Kosher) As the Rabbinic coordinators responsible for managing OU Kosher’s consumer hotline and the Webbe Rebbe online forum—an email address where consumers may send in kashrut sheilot that are answered in writing—Rabbi Zvi Nussbaum and Rabbi Chanoch Sofer have fielded some very unique Pesach-related kashrut questions over the years.

The Pesach season—the month leading up to and including Pesach—is consistently the busiest time of the year for OU Kosher. As the world’s largest and most widely recognized international kosher certification agency, it certifies over one million products manufactured in 13,000 plants in 105 countries, and two-thirds of all kosher food in the United States.

OU Kosher Managing Director of Community Relations Rabbi Eli Eleff says that at a time when people have kashrut on their minds, OU Kosher is a primary resource for halachic guidance and communal kashrut education.

OU Kosher Israel Department Director Rabbi Yissachar Dov Krakowski responds to questions following his shiur in Machal at the “Keep your Pesach Kosher’’ symposium.

“When it comes to the Pesach season, it’s all hands on deck at OU Kosher,” he said. “Klal Yisrael has questions and we’re there to help them to the best of our abilities. To do so requires harnessing all of our resources. We offer seminars and advise the community at large, with over 30 rabbanim fielding questions on our consumer hotline alone.”

During the 2024 Pesach season, the hotline was open for extended hours right until Yom Tov, with up to three simultaneous operators responding to calls during peak times. Whereas about 135 daily calls come in during the year, about 300 daily calls were answered during the Pesach season, jumping to about 560 in the week before Yom Tov. The Sunday before Pesach, Rabbi Eleff fielded 75 calls in two hours, and on Erev Pesach, 606 calls came in within three hours with multiple rabbanim simultaneously staffing the hotline.

“We received almost 10,000 phone inquiries about kashrut on Pesach, and we tried to respond to them all,” says OU Kosher Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Menachem Genack. “I’m very proud of our staff. They did a stellar job. They worked far beyond nine-to-five and with alacrity; people received calls at home and availed themselves to consumers. That is something very special.”

Over 125,000 unique visitors clicked on OU Kosher’s dedicated Pesach landing page, oupassover.org, and 95,000 unique visitors checked in the week before Pesach alone. Close to one million pages were viewed on the OU Kosher site during the Pesach season, and 2,427 sheilot were emailed to the Webbe Rebbe.

Of the 166,700 times the OU Kosher app has been downloaded since its launch in 2012, 4,302 new downloads occurred during the Pesach season and 10,200 active users logged on to the app before Yom Tov.

Among the OU’s most sought-after publications is the OU Guide to Passover, of which 70,600 print copies –– 1,000 more than in 2023 – were printed in 2024. The OU Kosher editorial team begins working on the manual around Chanukah time and continues the collaborative process until publication around Purim.

“People truly appreciate the guide for the great resource that it is,” says OU Director of Digital Content Jeremy Chernikoff, its managing editor. “Whether they take it to the supermarket to check our approved products lists or they consult it before kashering their kitchens for Pesach, it’s incredibly comprehensive.”

Rabbi Genack recalls, “When I first came to the OU in 1980, we had a little kosher directory for Pesach. A few years ago, we printed 50,000 copies of The OU Passover Guide, and this past year we increased production by more than 20,000 copies because of the demand. The guide is available online, and was viewed 23,000 times.”

Rabbi Genack is proud of the OU Kosher staff responsible for kashrut education, which is integral to the agency’s mission.

As regular guests on Jewish radio shows and podcasts, OU Kosher staff were particularly busy this past Pesach season. Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi Avraham Juravel appeared on The Kashrus Awareness Project’s “Let’s Talk Kashrus” podcast, where he presented “Hidden Hazards: Chometz In Disguise,” and addressed what might be wrong with seemingly innocuous products that may contain chametz.

Rabbinic Coordinators Rabbi Eli Gersten and Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld were on Nachum Segal’s annual Pesach Products program on JM in the AM, and covered an array of topics, from the kashrus of specific foods to preparing one’s home for the holiday. OU Kosher Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Moshe Elefant was a guest on Talkline with Zev Brenner for several
consecutive Motzei Shabbatot until two in the morning.

“The listeners submit the topics of discussion and they range through every possible question and situation,” says Rabbi Elefant. “How to kasher a dishwasher for Passover, how to deal with a potential situation at a Seder, what medications are permissible during Passover.”

Brenner shared that Rabbi Elefant is a fan favorite. “Rabbi Elefant comes from a position of great knowledge and strength, and is an individual who has received much respect from various segments of our community,” he says. “Listeners really find him refreshing because his knowledge is versatile enough to handle any questions we receive. He cuts across many backgrounds, and has become very popular over the years.”

The agency hosted multiple school visits where students received kashrut overviews and participated in fascinating workshops. Elizabeth, New Jersey’s Bruriah girls‘ high school enjoyed a session on bedikat tolaim, Riverdale’s SAR and New York’s Ramaz, were captivated by a presentation on the mesorah of birds, which included live ones, and Woodmere’s SKA (Stella K. Abraham) girls’ high school went behind the scenes at Manhattan’s Wall Street Grill to see OU Kosher’s certification work in action.

Hundreds of people also benefited from OU Kosher’s Kashrut Education from the comforts of their homes — or in the case of military personnel, from their stations around the world. In partnership with the Aleph Institute, OU Kosher held a virtual pre-Pesach webinar for army chaplains and lay leaders who often lack access to kosher products abroad.

Reflecting on the busy Pesach season, Rabbi Elefant said, “There is nothing that makes the team at OU Kosher happier than to answer kashrus questions from the community. That Klal Yisrael is interested in kashrus education and in doing the right things on Pesach brings us tremendous joy, and we can’t wait to do it all over again next Pesach, im yirtzeh Hashem.”

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