Kosher KApers #4
Tuesday January 11th 2011
This week, whilst enjoying long Sydney summer days, we would like to take the opportunity to turn our metaphorical camera around and take some happy snaps of our KA Team.
We want you, our valued kosher consumer, to know and understand the workings of this office and its committed employees. Let’s face it: it takes more than one ingredient to bake a challah, and it certainly takes more than one individual to shape and co-ordinate the running of our Kashrut Authority – an organisation that certifies products in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia Pacific.
Our president, Mr. Baron Revelman, joined the KA Team in early 2004 and became president mid-2005. Baron sees his role as "the convenor of the lay side of activities and oversees the financial health of the KA." Of course, there is so much more, Baron liaises between the rabbinic and lay aspects and found it both educational and fascinating to learn about shechita and visit the beef/lamb and chicken abbatoirs. He saw first-hand the physical and emotional demands shechita placed on the KA’s valued shochatim and mashgichim.
Our rabbinic administrator, Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, is a founding member of the KA since its inception in 1990. He primarily oversees all the halachic aspects of the KA and decides on day-to-day halachic standards and decisions, whereas broader halachic public policy issues are decided in conjunction with the KA’s entire rabbinic board made up of rabbis from the Sydney Beth Din and the Yeshiva. This is currently comprised of five rabbis: Rabbi Rogut and Rabbi Feldman OAM, who have both been members from the beginning; joined by Rabbi Ulman in 1994, Rabbi Lawrence in 2005 and of course Rabbi Gutnick.
Rabbi Gutnick maintains ongoing contact with oversees kashrut organisations, for example, the OU and the OK, always ensuring our standards are recognised best practice. When difficult halachic challenges arise, Rabbi Gutnick consults with world kashrut halachic experts such as Rabbis Belsky and Schechter from the OU and Rabbi Yaakov Blau from the Eida Chareidis in Yerushalayim.
Additionally Rabbi Gutnick visits many food manufacturing and processing plants and in particular is closely involved with kosher certification of companies, especially for export to the United States and Israel.
Rabbi Gutnick describes his most remote destination visited as a tuna processing plant in northern New Guinea … needing to take anti-malaria pills and remaining indoors at dusk was one thing, but observing the locals compulsively chewing a natural narcotic…was quite another! He also recalls visiting a factory seeking kosher certification where they were supposed to be using only kosher certified glycerine with a kosher symbol on the drums (it was not). Rabbi Gutnick informed the company rep that he believed the drums were not kosher. Precisely at that moment, his watch alarm sounded…the company rep replied in astonishment: "Rabbi, do you have a watch with an alarm that rings when non kosher ingredients are present?"
Rabbi Aaron Groner joined the KA team five years ago and has been serving as assistant rabbinic administrator for three years. He is directly involved in halachic matters and in auditing and analysing companies to determine a plan-of-action - with kosher certification as the end goal. Rabbi Groner strives daily to seek solutions, working closely with licensees and companies. As well as managing local kosher concerns, Rabbi Groner recently travelled to China to oversee a fish production used by our kosher caterers. Without one factory worker speaking English, he took on the challenge of maintaining strict kashrut guidelines, despite the obvious language barrier! Reverend Cha’oul Samra is our kashrut co-ordinator and another long-standing valued member of our team (involved since day one … are you noticing a loyalty pattern here?) And like every member of our crew, his portfolio is varied and ever-evolving. Rev. Samra carries out company visits, product investigations and liaises regularly with licensees, companies, the KA office staff, mashgichim, (of which we have 28 full-time and casual) and other kashrut agencies within Australia and overseas.
Together with Rabbi Groner, Rev. Samra has set up mashgiach guidelines and participates in their training and assessment. He also performs unannounced spot checks. Rev. Samra needs to travel long distances to conduct rural inspections. Last January, he drove down a narrow one lane dusty ‘road’ to a farm near Crookwell NSW. His GPS navigation system directed him literally "up the garden path" through the town of Rugby (population 60). Persevering, he reached his destination, the gravel destroying a front tyre. And for which product was this epic journey undertaken? It was all in the name of Alto Olives: Bush Herb, Martini & Natural Table Olives and their range of extra virgin olive oil: Delicate, Robust and Lemon-Infused, approved as mehadrin pareve. All available at Thomas Dux, Paddington and Lane Cove; Harris Farm fruit markets; Woolworths, and selected IGA stores.
When it comes to travelling kosher, Rev. Samra notes "it is wonderful finding products widely available at corner shops, service stations or on shelves in major supermarkets, especially when outside major cities." He noticed that in the town of Cootamundra, they stocked three varieties of Nuttelex, the kosher one at the lowest price point. Or the one litre Del Rivo fruit smoothies found at Aldi, retailing for $3.99; or the chalav Yisrael Munch flavoured milk found at 7ELEVEN. And there are so many more!
On the home front, we have our accounts/office administrator, Girgee Barukh, who has been affiliated with the KA since 1993, she, like each member of our team, is central to the functioning of the KA. Girgee is the personal assistant to Rabbi Gutnick, co-ordinates the kosher product directory, updates the website and is busy! Jessey Barukh, (equally busy) joined the team nine years ago and works at our office and is a vital link in the chain. She is involved with arranging the allocation of mashgichim for functions; is also our receptionist and takes pride in all that she does. Jessey also liaises with venue personnel and caterers to organise the timing for the kashering of venues.
Reverend Amzalak is our senior supervisor and has been directly involved for 20 years with the KA. He spot checks eateries, caterer kitchens and function venues and "kosherises" non-kosher commercial kitchens. For many years, he was the kashrut adviser for Double Bay’s 5-star Ritz Carlton hotel, which had a dedicated kosher kitchen. He smiles recalling the day President Bush stayed, his security detail insisting on a ‘sweep’ of the kosher kitchen, which had one key, held by our Reverend Amzalak. It was the only place in the entire hotel they were unable to clear – until Reverend Amzalak opened up. The KA kosher seal was even secret service proof! Did the president taste any kosher food? We’re not sure…
Of our 28 valued mashgichim, many have longstanding involvement with the KA. Beryl Levitan began as a mashgicha with Cherry Bim back in 1992 and now works at Passion8’s HQ in Lane Cove. Part-time mashgiach Yossi Jacobs has worked for about 20 years and remembers one Yom Kippur where he was needed at Wolper Hospital’s kitchen in the morning. He walked (fasting) from Bondi Beach (and later back to shul) and recalls Rabbi Gutnick’s advice that if the task was approached with the right attitude, it would be a special, holy and fulfilling experience. Armed with that insight, it was exactly that.
The KA is proud to have a long association with its two esteemed full-time shochatim: Rabbi Avrohom Perlow, (20 year involvement); and Rabbi Yehuda Niasoff, (affiliated since 1996). Without missing a beat, Rabbi Niasoff listed his favourite kosher food as: "lamb chops". For others, Weis Sorbets are popular, our president on the other hand, can’t decide between Mountain Bread wraps and Victorian Olive Grove olives.
Each member of our team is integral, assisting one another for the betterment of all facets of kosher living, each member shares a history and combined knowledge. We look forward to working for you and with you this year. Kadimah!
The KA Team