OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack Builds Bridges With Israeli Leaders

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10 Aug 2023

Israeli Chief Rabbinate Keen on Working With, and Learning From, OU Kosher

As the CEO of OU Kosher, the largest and most-widely recognized international kosher certification agency in the world, Rabbi Menachem Genack has an incredibly busy schedule. Among his top priorities, however, are regular trips to Israel to meet with Israeli leaders in order to build and maintain their connections with OU Kosher and to make OU products more easily accessible to Israelis.

OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack delivers a shiur at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh

“In our hearts, these relationships represent a very significant commitment,” said Rabbi Genack. “Israel is the largest kosher consumer worldwide, with Tzahal being the largest single consumer of kosher food in the country. We have met with the Rabbanut of Tzahal in Israel and with its chief rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Weissberg, in New York, with the objective of building a strong relationship with Israeli leaders to enhance Israel’s import of OU-certified products and share information and technology.”

On his most recent, 10-day visit to Israel, Rabbi Genack’s jam-packed itinerary began with a daylong conference at OU Israel headquarters, held in conjunction with the Vaad Rabbanei Yisrael, an organization that unites rabbis throughout the country for social and educational benefits and enrichment. Thirty rabbis from such regions as Mevaseret, Yavne, Or Yehuda and Ariel convened for a chance to learn more about OU Kosher’s valuable work and to discuss how to increase imports of OU-certified products.

OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack delivers a shiur at Beis Hamidrash Binyan Av, a Jerusalem kollel run by Rabbi Moshe Bakshi-Doron in the home of his father, Israel’s former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron zt”l

Israel’s economy has shifted; whereas its primary export was previously food, it is now technology. According to OU Israel’s Deputy Rabbinic Administrator and Director of The Gustave & Carol Jacobs Center for Kashrut Education Rabbi Ezra Friedman, the country currently imports 50 percent of goods — including condiments, cereal, candy, canned goods, raw ingredients and dairy products.

“Israeli rabbis and politicians want to know more about OU Kosher and our standards, procedures and technological advancements,” he says. “They appreciate our organizational skills and are seeking to improve their own kashrus systems and we want to help guide them through the market.”

Sarah Genack and OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack in front of the portrait of Herzl donated by Rabbi Genack’s father, Isaac, to the Knesset

OU Kosher has had a presence in Israel for approximately half a century, says Rabbi Genack. In June, the agency welcomed an Israeli delegation including the CEO of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate Yehuda Cohen, Rav Eliezer Simcha Weiss, a representative of the Rabbinical Advisory Council of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, Religious Services Minister Rabbi Michael Malkiel, and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s senior advisor Omer Rachamim. The group visited OU-certified companies and learned about OU Kosher shechita and the agency’s state-of-the-art software which facilitates the management of several million ingredients.

“The contingent was very impressed with it,” says Rabbi Genack. “I reaffirmed our offer to the Chief Rabbinate to share parts of the software with them (while respecting companies’ confidentiality) and they are interested. I also committed long ago that any income we generate in Israel, stays in Israel.”

Religious Services Minister Rabbi Michael Malkieli greets OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Mechachem Genack on the Knesset balcony

Rabbi Genack also had the distinct pleasure of viewing a special gift that his father donated to the Knesset. As Rabbi Genack recounts, in the 1960’s his father, Isaac, was friends with then Minister of Finance Pinchas Sapir. Sapir knew that Isaac owned a portrait of Herzl painted in 1895 by Austrian artist Gustav Wertheimer, and told Isaac that the portrait belonged to the Jewish people. An ardent Zionist, Isaac donated the portrait to Knesset.

“This portrait is the only one that Herzl ever posed for,” notes Rabbi Genack. “It’s displayed in a VIP lounge for visiting foreign dignitaries, and when I saw it, I was so moved; it brought tears to my eyes. I returned to see it again a few days later with my wife, Sarah, and granddaughter, Shoshana Schiowitz, who is doing Sherut Leumi in Israel.”

OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack delivers a shiur at Shaarei Shmuos, a yeshiva in Beit Chilkiya

In appreciation of his father’s generous donation, Rabbi Genack and his wife and granddaughter were offered a private tour of the Knesset. Upon entering the plenum hall where a session was in progress, Religious Services Minister Rabbi Michael Malkieli, who was speaking from the podium, noticed Rabbi Genack on the balcony. Rabbi Malkieli went up to greet Rabbi Genack with a warm welcome, which was captured in a photo from the Knesset floor by Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Moshe Abutbul.

“I was so touched by Rabbi Malkieli’s gesture,” says Rabbi Genack. “He is a fine person, a talmid chacham and a tremendous asset to the Knesset.”

Rabbi Genack’s trip included meetings with numerous rabbanim, including Petach Tikva’s Chief Rabbi, Micah Halevi; Netanya’s Chief Rabbi Kalman Ber; and Mercaz HaRav’s Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yaakov Shapira, who recently flew to the U.S. to attend OU Kosher’s kashrus conference. Rabbi Genack also delivered shiurim at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, at Shaarei Shmuos, a yeshiva in Beit Chilkiya, and at Beis Hamidrash Binyan Av, a Jerusalem kollel run by Rav Moshe Bakshi-Doron in the home his father, Israel’s former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron. The visits were especially meaningful to Rabbi Genack, who deeply values his connections with each of the rabbanim and their institutions.

Reflecting on Rabbi Genack’s latest trip to the country, OU Israel Executive Director Rabbi Avi Berman noted that as more Israeli food importers and company managers learn more about the OU’s work, their esteem for the organization grows.

“Beyond recognizing the strength, popularity and transparency of the OU, these providers have a greater appreciation for the OU’s work and value once they learn that OU Kosher applies all of its profits, combined with donations, to activities worldwide that benefit Am Yisrael. The chance to learn more about OU’s incredible initiatives from Rabbi Genack – a man who has built OU Kosher for the last 40 years – is always wonderful.”