OU Passover 2014 Wrap Up: Shared Effort, Big Numbers

13 May 2014

Even as the 50-day sefirah countdown to Shavuot (June 4-5) proceeds, OU Kosher has released a different set of holiday-related numbers, reflecting the performance of the Orthodox Union during the recently concluded Passover festival.

As always, Passover was a gargantuan effort for the Orthodox Union, but the work was organizational rather than departmental, and shared over a period of many months leading up to the holiday.

“Passover was a combined effort of different departments of the Orthodox Union, working together with Kashrut to produce the materials we disseminated to the kosher consumer,” declared Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher. “Working with Dr. Samuel Davidovics, chief information officer of the OU and his team; Mayer Fertig, chief communications officer and his team, including Carrie Beylus, director of design and branding, and Gary Magder, director of digital media, and their staffs, the materials were produced in the various formats needed to deliver our message.  The entire effort was overseen by Rabbi Moshe Zywica, executive rabbinic coordinator and director of kashrut operations; and Rabbi Eli Eleff, rabbinic coordinator and consumer relations administrator of OU Kosher.”

The most direct contact between the kosher consumer and OU Kosher was through the oupassover.org website which recorded 130,000 visits, with the busiest day being Sunday, April 13, the day before the first seder, when 15,000 visitors logged on. The iconic OU Guide to Passover, which was also available online, had its 100,000 printed copies snapped up by synagogues, yeshivot/day schools, kosher stores and individual consumers.  The OU Passover App, available for iPhone and Android, had almost 45,000 users in just its second year of existence.

There were more than 1,300 emails to OU Kosher received prior to the holiday, averaging about 100 a day; a full-time team of three Kashrut staff researched and responded to these messages. In addition, social media users interacted with OU Kosher on both Twitter and Facebook.

Experts from OU Kosher were busy on the radio dispensing Passover wisdom.  Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of OU Kosher and the OU’s world-renowned Daf Yomi maggid shiur, appeared every night for a month on Zev Brenner’s Talkline Show, responding to a wide variety of questions with his limitless knowledge and his ability to clarify even the most complex aspects of the festival. Rabbi Yoel Schoenfeld and Rabbi Eli Gersten made their annual appearance on JM in the AM, the morning radio program hosted daily by Nachum Segal; Rabbi Eli Eleff was a guest on That’s Life, with Miriam Wallach, on the Nachum Segal Network; and Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz appeared on an online program on JRoot Radio hosted by Rabbi Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus Magazine.

Rabbi Yosef Grossman, senior educational rabbinic coordinator, arranged three ASKOU programs for varied constituencies that together attracted an audience of more than 500. Rabbis Akiva Tendler and Zvi Sobolofsky (of Yeshiva University) went to Riverdale; Rabbis Abraham Juravel and Moshe Klarberg spoke in Lakewood; and Rabbis Elefant and Juravel led the program in Boro Park.

There was an online pre-Passover webcast for rabbis only, with Rav Hershel Schachter, OU Kosher posek (halachic authority) and Rabbis Dov Schreier, Gavriel Price and Eli Gersten answering questions related to their specialties.

Perhaps the largest effort on the part of OU Kosher was the Passover Hotline, which fielded almost 5,600 calls —  550 a day, on average, with the highest call volume on Tuesday, April 8, when 741 calls were answered. The hotline was available Sunday, April 13 and Monday, April 14 to accommodate last-minute Passover questions. It was also available Chol Hamoed, the intermediate days of the holiday.

To answer these calls, a team of 15 rabbis and three assistants was assembled, with as many as three of these experts responding to calls at peak times.  The team consisted of the following rabbis: David Bistricer, Eli Eleff, Shaul Gold, Jay Goldberg, David Gorelik, Yitzchok Gutterman, David Jenkins, Yaakov Luban, Daniel Nosenchuk, Zvi Nussbaum, Gavriel Price, Nachum Rabinowitz,  Dov Schreier, Leonard Steinberg, and Akiva Tendler. Assistants who provided coverage were Aviva Gottesman, Debbie Kaufman, Aliza Levinger and Chana Raizel Segal.

The leader of the group was Rabbi Zvi Nussbaum, who provided primary coverage Monday-Friday, throughout the day, and also was on the phone on Monday, April 14, Erev Pesach and on Chol Hamoed.  In total, he worked about 100 hours prior to and during Passover.  The others on the team filled in when call volume was particularly heavy or for lunch coverage.

Since November, Rabbi Nussbaum has been “the Voice of OU Kosher,” as the “Kosher Hotline Rabbi,” so it was an easy transition to be the “Passover Hotline Rabbi.” Under Rabbi Nussbaum’s direction, the team prepared intensively for the holiday, receiving updates from colleagues on latest Passover developments, including of course OU Kosher’s certification for the first time of quinoa as Kosher for Passover. “We discussed not only products but medications, vitamins and probiotics,” Rabbi Nussbaum said. “We went over calls received in past years and halachic decisions.”  Among the texts Rabbi Nussbaum used in his preparation was the OU Guide to Passover 2014, which he essentially committed to memory.

Even after the sedorim were finished, calls came through on Chol Hamoed. “We dealt with all the crises,” Rabbi Nussbaum said, particularly if products without OUP certification were really kosher for Passover.  Among the callers was the Chief Chaplain of the Israel Defense Forces with a question that must remain a military secret.

As might be expected, throughout the holiday period, there were questions on quinoa. “We got calls on quinoa from the entire spectrum of the Jewish community – modern, chassidic, yeshivish,” Rabbi Nussbaum said. “Everyone wants to know about quinoa.”

There is one more number that must be considered – the number of products bearing the OU-Passover symbol: 8437.

Meanwhile, planning for Passover 2015 is already under way. The dates are April 4-11.