(Courtesy of OU) More than 100 OU Kosher rabbinic coordinators (RCs) and rabbinic field representatives (RFRs) from around the world recently united at the Hilton Meadowlands in East Rutherford for OU Kosher’s two-day annual kashrus conference.
RFRs inspect food production at various plants, and RCs supervise RFRs and work with client companies to maximize the benefits of their OU kosher certification. For more than 25 years, OU Kosher, the Orthodox Union’s kosher certification agency, has hosted RFRs and RCs at the two-day conference. The event offers them a chance to meet colleagues and learn from religious authorities and industry experts about kosher laws, procedures, technologies and trends.
“The conference puts the work and mission of OU Kosher into a broader context and helps RFRs and RCs understand how everything is coordinated,” said OU Kosher Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Menachem Genack. “We discuss policies that will make their jobs easier, more efficient and more effective.”
This year’s event drew about 55 rabbinic coordinators who work at OU Kosher’s head office in Manhattan, and approximately 75 rabbinic field representatives from across North America, Europe, Israel, Brazil and Mexico. Rabbi Genack said the diversity of participants strengthens OU Kosher and facilitates the cultivation of relationships beyond the organization.
According to OU Kosher Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Moshe Elefant, who oversees the operations of OU Kosher’s 850 RFRs, 100 work full time and make thousands of visits to plants in 104 countries, inspecting more than a million ingredients. Many who work in the field spend significant time away from their families.
“Bringing our RCs and RFRs together benefits our kashrus programs,” said Rabbi Elefant. “The conference is an opportunity for them to connect with each other and learn new and important skills and facts about the work that we do. Many attendees communicate all the time, but don’t necessarily get a chance to see each other. That personal interaction is so very valuable.”
Following a welcome from Rabbi Genack and OU Kosher Commission Chairman Dr. Joshua Penn, participants attended breakout sessions on themes such as Conflict and Communication in Professional Settings, Time Management, Easily Overlooked Issues in Kashering and Innovations in Biotech and Ingredients Development. Other sessions included topics such as chavrusa learning, daf yomi shiurirm and yarchei kallah.
Participants enjoyed a dialogue between Rabbi Genack and Rabbi Elefant, who reflected upon their unique visions, collaboration and mutual accomplishments at OU Kosher. Other highlights included a shiur on kosherizing utensils delivered by Merkaz HaRav Kook Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, who flew in from Israel expressly for the conference, and an address by Rabbi Elya Brudny, a maggid shiur at Brooklyn’s Mir Yeshiva and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudath Israel of America.
Expressing the same sentiments of the Novominsker Rebbe at a previous kashrus conference years earlier, Rabbi Brudny noted, “Chazal tell us that consuming non-kosher food dulls the heart and mind.” Rabbi Brudny thanked the OU for being the primary kosher agency in North America and attributed to the OU the growth of Torah throughout the continent.
The annual kashrus conference also serves as a forum for OU Kosher to publicly recognize RFRs and RCs who have worked at the institution for 25 years. Among those honored this year for his decades of hard work was Rabbi Yaakov Luban, one of the OU’s most senior rabbis, who will be retiring in January 2024 after nearly 40 years of service. Rabbi Genack, who has been close with Rabbi Luban since childhood, shared his gratitude for Rabbi Luban on behalf of OU Kosher.
Each year, an OU-certified company is also recognized at the conference. This year Kedem was lauded for its 69-year affiliation with OU and for making kosher staples, including wine and Passover products, available to world Jewry.