Milestone Achieved: Harry H. Beren ASK OU Kosher Program Graduates Its 500th Student
When the Orthodox Union Kosher Division's ASKOU training program ended in late August, and when the students returned to their communities around the world, a landmark had been reached. With the completion of the program, the eighth in a series held in alternate summers, the OU passed the 500 mark in terms of those who have been trained to be experts in the complex field of kosher certification.
The Harry H. Beren ASKOU 8, as it was known this year, was made by possible by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ, which provides financial support to educational programs of OU Kashrut.
This year's programs drew the largest number ever of participants, with 24 in a three-week internship session and 75 in a one-week training program. The students who intend to go into kosher supervision full-time and have already developed an extensive background in kosher law usually attend the three-week session. They are currently pursuing rabbinic ordination or are involved in a post-ordination kollel -- an institute of advanced Jewish studies. The one-week students include as well synagogue rabbis or members of a community Vaad HaKashrut who conduct kosher supervision on a local level.
According to Rabbi Yosef Grossman, Director of ASKOU and Kashrut Education, "This program has enabled kashrut certification organizations throughout North America and around the world to strengthen their staffs as a result of the expertise provided by OU senior rabbis. We consider this program a service to the Jewish people because the OU is strengthening the kashrut infrastructure worldwide."
Other kosher certification agencies and institutions regularly send their staff to the OU for in-service training. Indeed, a wide variety of organizations were represented this year as in the past, including COR (Kashrut Council of Canada) in Toronto; New Square (NY) Kashrut; Maimonides Hospital, Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Center, and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, all in Brooklyn, NY; the Bialystoker Center in New York; and even the Union Israelita Del Peru in Lima.
Likewise, ASKOU attracts individuals who travel far and wide to OU Headquarters in New York for their training. This year four advanced rabbinical students came from Israel; a food chemist traveled from Manchester, England; and a former director of the Edmonton, Canada Vaad HaKashrut came, joined by Canadians from Montreal and Toronto.
Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, Director of the OU's West Coast Region, who does kosher supervision as part of his job, flew to New York for the one-week seminar to fine-tune his skills.
Questionnaires revealed that the participants considered themselves privileged to hear from the OU's foremost experts on kosher ingredients, kosherization procedures and insect infestation issues, among other topics. They visited factories and restaurants as well as meat processing facilities and the kitchen at Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel, where kosher meals are served to hundreds of people simultaneously at organizational events.
The students were impressed with both the knowledge and dedication of Orthodox Union personnel and admired the fact that the OU was willing to share its expertise with one and all, even from other kashrut organizations.
How did the participants feel upon completion of the program?
Charles Ziontz, formerly of Houston, TX but now living in Brooklyn, NY summed it up this way: "Who could expect to have a week of programs and lectures worth thousands of dollars basically for free? Thank you very much Orthodox Union for the privilege."
"I never went home disappointed from any of the days in the entire three weeks," remarked Yehuda Gras, an ASKOU intern from Brooklyn.