Ask OU Advanced Women’s Seminar Explores Intricacies of Kashrut

12 Sep 2011


With participants, from left: OU Kosher Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Menachem Genack; OU Kosher Director of Education Rabbi Yosef Grossman; OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil.

The participants in the second OU Harry H. Beren Advanced Kashrut Seminar for Women, held immediately following Hurricane Irene, proved that they were a force of their own to be reckoned with. From Brooklyn to Quebec, Amherst, MA to Baltimore, they weathered traffic and flooding, using their precious time for one week to expand their knowledge of kashrut from the experts of OU Kosher.

The seminar, part of the ASK OU program sponsored by the Harry H. Beren Foundation of Lakewood, NJ featured lectures on a wide variety of aspects of kashrut, supplemented with industrial plant and hotel kitchen tours.

Reflecting on the week, Rabbi Yosef Grossman, OU Kosher Director of Education, and coordinator of the program, noted, “We were very gratified to be able to serve the kashrut educational needs of the participants who represented a broad spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. They noted the high level of expertise, passion, professionalism and clarity which the program instructors displayed. Plant visitations, PowerPoint presentations, text source handouts and hands-on presentations rounded out the very interesting multi-faceted program.”

OU Kosher Chief Executive Officer Rabbi Menachem Genack stated, “OU Kosher is constantly expanding its horizons in terms of the educational programs it offers to the community. The Advanced Kashrut Seminar for Women satisfied a very real need and attracted a wide variety of participants. I commend Rabbi Grossman and the kashrut staff for their continuing and extraordinary efforts and look forward to the OU’s future efforts in the field of kosher education.”

Sessions included: “Chicken Shaylos Awareness;” “Kosher Wine and Grape Juice Production;” “Out-of-Town Catering, Versus In-Town Catering;” “Keeping Your Kosher Kitchen Kosher;” “The Baking Industry;” “An Ex’salmon’ation of Fish Issues;” “Identifying Kosher Birds;” “The Kashrus of Medications;” and “OU Kosher Marketing;” among others.

Under the direction of Rabbi Moshe Perlmutter, OU Rabbinic Field Representative, and food service kosherization expert, the group was taken for day trips to the Oasis Food Company, the Arizona Tea factory and the Sheraton Meadowlands Hotel Kitchen — all in New Jersey. Special hands-on demonstrations included a live cooking session from Chef Mike Gershkovich of OU-certified restaurant Mike’s Bistro in New York City; and a “hands-on” session of Bedikat Toyloim (checking for insects in vegetables and fruits) with Rabbi Yosef Eisen of Brooklyn, former OU Kosher Food Service Rabbinic Coordinator.

On tour at the Oasis Food Company.

Participants had the opportunity to practice proper techniques of properly checking fruits and vegetables for insects.

Sheera Eisen, Co-Director of the OU’s Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program (JLIC) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, felt it was important to attend the seminar to expand her knowledge of kashrut in order to better serve the students on campus – even if it meant attending the week before the semester began, and leaving early enough on Friday to host 80-100 students at the kick-off Shabbat that night. “My husband I work very closely with students who cook meals at the Hillel House and are constantly asked kashrut questions. I came to this seminar with a strong education in kashrut and kosher law, and I enhanced my knowledge tremendously. I can give information to my students in a much clearer manner — especially regarding bug checking, kashering utensils, and catering.”

Laurie Tansman, a Registered Dietitian at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, coordinated the opening of the hospital’s kosher kitchen in 1990, in addition to lecturing about kashrut at advance level educational institutions. She noted, “Every hospital dietitian should go to a program like this in order to understand the complexities of kashrut to better understand their patients’ requests. Aside from kashrut, in which I have a strong background, this program added to my knowledge of the food service industry in ways that were not included in my training as a dietitian – it should be required as part of the field experience.”

Israeli native Elana Simkin, now of Brooklyn, found the seminar “engaging, clear and very informative.” She, along with others, noted, “I’m highly impressed with the depth of expertise, the specialist approach, the web-savvy-ness, and the ability to communicate vast amounts of complex material so effectively.”

Following the program, Miriam Mund, of Brooklyn, emailed Rabbi Grossman, stating, “I wanted to thank everyone from the ASK OU Seminar for the wonderful week that I just had. It was a fantastic experience that was worth all the difficulties in just disappearing for a week! Besides all the wonderful lectures/lessons etc., and the great respect that I have gained from all the work that you do, it was beautiful to meet so many different people from the entire spectrum of Orthodoxy with the same goals and aspirations.”

The women unanimously agreed that the seminar, encompassing an amazing breadth of information, was a week of informative classes, interesting field trips, and dynamic teachers willing to answer any question, no matter how seemingly insignificant. Evaluations noted, “I was impressed with the scope of topics covered and the fact that everything stayed on schedule;” and “The planning and scheduling were well executed and the program ran smoothly.”

At the conclusion of the course, the women received certificates of completion for the weeklong seminar, but it was only a small, tangible item symbolizing a lot more: A week of new connections and friendships among women, all passionate about kosher food and the laws surrounding it; a week of new discoveries and lessons learned; and a week of Jewish enrichment that is sure to become a regular offering of OU Kosher.

“Ask the Rabbis” panel included, from left: Rabbi Grossman; Rabbi Moshe Elefant, Chief Operating Officer of OU Kosher; Rabbi Eli Gersten, OU Kosher Rabbinic Coordinator; Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, OU Kosher Senior Rabbinic Coordinator; and Rabbi Moshe Klarberg, OU Senior Rabbinic Coordinator in charge of Meat Industry.

Chef Mike Gershkovich of OU-certified restaurant Mike’s Bistro in New York City gave a live demonstration on how to create his signature creamy “creamless” soups.

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