While the rest of us are playing dreidel and eating latkes, the OU Kosher staff is knee-deep in charoses and matzah balls.
Alleviating the inevitable pre-Pesach panic that descends upon kosher consumers takes planning. So OU Kosher thinks marror in December.
“We begin gearing up for next year’s Passover almost the day after this year’s Passover ends,” says Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher. “We also work with new companies to develop products to be certified for the upcoming holiday.”
Thanks to advances in communication technology, this Pesach could very well be the calmest yet for consumers who take advantage of the OU’s expertise. Technologically savvy kosher consumers can access everything they need to know about the holiday via OU Kosher’s homepage (oukosher.org/passover/) as well as via Facebook, Twitter and the OU Kosher App. (This past Pesach season, some 5,000 consumers downloaded the app.) Consumers can also get information from the popular OU Guide to Passover, the OU Kosher Hotline (212.613.8241) or the OU’s online “Webbe Rebbe” (firstname.lastname@example.org). During this most frenzied time of the year, the hotline is staffed by a team of eighteen rabbis and five assistants; a full-time staff of three responds to e-mails and researches answers.
Last year, in the weeks leading up to Pesach, the OU received some 2,000 e-mails and up to 500 phone calls a day.
Our consumers receive updates as soon as we get them,” says Mayer Fertig, chief communications officer at the OU. “We have real-time conversations with them.”
The OU social media channels boast thousands of friends and followers worldwide, with a dramatic spike in traffic in the weeks and days leading up to Pesach.
“We see a 200 percent increase during this time of year,” says Gary Magder, OU director of digital media.
OU Kosher even makes staff available to answer questions on erev Pesach. Indeed, by the time we’re ready to sit down at the Seder to ask the Four Questions, OU Kosher has answered thousands more.
On the cutting edge of kosher education, OU Kosher also presents popular pre-Passover webcasts, where viewers can pose questions to OU posekim via e-mail in real time. OU Kosher rabbinic coordinators also present seminars in various Jewish communities and Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of OU Kosher, and other OU Kosher staff answer consumer questions about the holiday on the radio.
Every January, OU Kosher rabbis convene to discuss the Passover status of the hottest new products. Some of the products this year include chia and flax seed (kosher for Passover) and agave syrup (not kosher for Passover). The biggest news this year is that quinoa, the grain-like seed grown in South America, will bear the OU-P symbol.
Some common questions the OU receives during the frenzied Pesach season: “Does water require special certification for Pesach?” (as long as it’s unflavored, no); “What about frozen vegetables?” (require certification). Other questions concern the kosher-for-Passover status of vitamins, baby formula, almond milk, coconut oil, ground meat, domestic verses wild salmon and lipstick and toothpaste.
Amid the daily barrage of pressing Passover questions, a query comes in that prompts a chuckle—“What can I feed my finicky guppy on Pesach?”
The rabbi ponders, and then jokingly suggests: quinoa, perhaps?
Bayla Sheva Brenner is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department.
Listen to an interview with Rabbi Moshe Elefant, COO of OU Kosher, about the intricacies of Pesach at www.ou.org/life/food/elefant-2/.