Original Article in Chabad.org

It is a common practice for middle- and high-school children to “do” community service. Through their work with people who are elderly, homeless or poor or who have disabilities, students learn empathy and compassion for those “less fortunate,” and they learn to better appreciate what they have. Bar- and bat-mitzvah age students are similarly encouraged to complete a “mitzvah project”. Now that they are becoming Jewish adults, they are expected to take greater responsibility for fellow humans. While helping others and showing lovingkindness is important, it may inadvertently come at cost. The “doer” of the kind act may come to view the “recipient” as being in a “lower,” perhaps even pitiable position. The following story suggests it may be time for a new approach to how we teach our children about chesed, “doing mitzvahs” and voluntarism.

Several years ago, I was asked to represent the Jewish disabilities inclusion camping program I direct at a “Mitzvah Fair” for a large synagogue religious school. I was to sit at a table with literature and slides on my computer, showing the children with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities having fun at camp. The children would walk the aisles and learn about my program, as well as such fine US- and Israel-based programs, which help people “in need.” After the fair, children would decide which organizations they would elect to get more involved with in conjunction with their bar/bat mitzvah. They might decide to ask guests to donate money, or they might elect to work directly with the organization and its participants.

Something didn’t feel right about this approach. There was something uncomfortable about neurotypical students raising money for or “helping” children with disabilities. I was picturing well-intentioned 7th graders planning a Purim carnival for children with disabilities, or perhaps taking them on a special outing.

It didn’t sit right. I kept hearing in my head the title of an op-ed written by Jewish comedian and educator, Pamela Rae Schuller, who happens to have Tourette’s syndrome. Her article is entitled, “I’m Not Your Mitzvah Project.” Were the campers inadvertently becoming “Mitzvah Projects?”

I called a few parents of my campers for input. Was I overacting? Perhaps the students were simply doing a “good thing?” The parents also felt uncomfortable with the Hebrew school students doing something FOR their children. They suggested that, perhaps a better, more collaborative approach is for a group of children without disabilities (the Hebrew School children) and a group of children with disabilities (their children), get together to jointly “do good” for an organization that “does good.” Through their joint efforts they would get to know each other and form relationships. While members of the two groups would clearly have differences, they would also have a lot in common. Everyone would benefit from the experience.

This joint venture would replicate the approach and experience we have been having at camp for decades through various buddy and peer mentoring programs. While the older neurotypical campers, ages 14 to 16, have the opportunity to interact on a daily basis with campers with disabilities, it is not by “volunteering for;” rather, it is through “doing an activity with”—like swimming, sports, baking challah or making up rooms in the guest house. They work, play, laugh, and get to know each other—as people—with both strengths and weaknesses.

Volunteering together is a wonderful way for people of all abilities to get to know each other. And to do good TOGETHER!

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Original Article Published On The Chabad.ORG

Chabad House serves as a central address for Jews in Denmark

COPENHAGEN—Walk down the block-long Ole Suhrs Gade Street in Copenhagen—from the Botanical Gardens at one end to Sortedams Lake at the other—and there is a certain old-world charm. Neighbors engage in quiet conversation or sip coffee at corner cafes, with dozens of bicycles parked in racks or leaning against the long rows of similar-appearing, walk-up apartment buildings that line both sides of the street. It is therefore easy to walk right past #10 Ole Suhrs Gade without noticing anything special.

A careful observer may spot a green door with a mezuzah—and a gold sign overhead that reads: “Chabad Huset.” Welcome to the Chabad House of Denmark: home of Rabbi Yitzchok (“Yitzi”) and Rochel Loewenthal, and their nine children; and the central address for anyone in search of a Shabbat meal, Jewish-studies class, guide to Jewish sites and kosher products, a Chanukah menorah-lighting, a sympathetic ear or just a place to hang out with friends, old and new.

The Loewenthals have learned much about the country’s rich history since arriving in Copenhagen in 1996 to serve the Danish Jewish community, and they have gotten to know local Jews who can trace their history in Denmark back to the 1600s.

In their 20 years in Denmark, the England-born Rabbi Yitzi and United States-born Rochel have learned Danish (while still speaking to their children in English and Yiddish, and a little Hebrew). The rabbi proudly displays two pieces of local history on the wall of the main room of the Chabad House: a 400-year-old coin from King Christian the Fourth, bearing the Tetragrammaton in Hebrew; and a yellow Jewish star from the Holocaust.

Ferried to Safety

Jews came to Denmark at different periods of history and for various reasons. In the early 1600s, King Christian IV founded the town of Glückstadt and allowed Albert Dionis, a Jewish merchant, to settle in the city. He later extended this right to a few other Jews in 1628. Jews were offered protection, and the right to hold private religious services and maintain their own cemetery, which they founded in 1693. Since 1900, another Jewish cemetery has been used as the burial ground in Copenhagen for more than 6,000 Jewish people.

By 1780, approximately 1,600 Jews lived in Denmark. At this time, the king instituted a number of reforms that helped Jews integrate more fully in to Danish society; they were permitted to attend university, join guilds, build schools and own real estate. In 1814, Danish Jews were granted civic equality; they received full citizenship rights in 1849—one of the first countries in Europe to do so.

Nearly 3,000 Jews came to Denmark in the early 1900s as they escaped such events in Russia as the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

In 1940, Nazi Germany overran Europe and occupied Denmark. For three years, the Jews were left alone, but in October 1943 this changed, and the Nazis prepared to round them up. At this point, the Jewish community experienced what could be considered a Rosh Hashanah miracle. Rabbi Marcus Melchior—the great-grandfather of the current rabbi of the main synagogue, Jair Melchior—warned the community to go in to hiding immediately. He was tipped off to the upcoming (Oct. 1) arrest and deportation of all Danish Jews. With this advance warning, only 202 were arrested.

Approximately 7,000 of Denmark’s 7,800 Jews, plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, fled to Sweden, ferried across the Øresund strait. Approximately 500 Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, though most were freed about a month before the end of the war and driven in Swedish Red Cross white buses to Sweden. There are subtle reminders of the Holocaust throughout Copenhagen, including a law-firm building that once served as Nazi headquarters and was rebuilt after a bombing by the Allies. In fact, the Chabad House building was also used as a Nazi headquarters.

The Loewenthals have the important responsibility of helping to look after the Danish Jewish community, which now numbers approximately 7,000. While there is one kosher shop in Copenhagen, few kosher-certified products are available in local grocery stores, challah does not sit on the shelves, and kosher meat is hard to find and expensive, mainly because of Denmark’s anti-shechita (kosher slaughter) laws. Thus, all kosher meat must be imported.

The Loewenthals seem to take the complexities of daily Jewish life in Copenhagen in stride. Even during the busy holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, the Chabad emissaries projected both a sense of calm and excitement.

On the quiet Thursday morning between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Yitzi did what he does every morning: He goes to minyan. If enough men are lined up next door at Machzikei Hadas—the synagogue at Ole Suhrs Gate 12—then he davens (“prays”) there. On days when a minyan next door will not be possible, he walks 15 minutes through the Botanical Gardens or up Gothersgade Street, or even past the Rosenberg Slot (“castle”), the Danish National Gallery or Copenhagen University on his way to daven Selichot and Shacharit at the Copenhagen Synagogue. The beautiful shul, on Krystalgade 12, was built in 1833.

Rabbi Yitzchok (“Yitzi”) and Rochel Loewenthal, and their nine children.
Rabbi Yitzchok (“Yitzi”) and Rochel Loewenthal, and their nine children.

After prayer, the rabbi greets and has a private word with some of the 20 or so people in attendance, then heads off to do the many “ordinary,” behind-the-scenes duties a Chabad rabbi does to keep Judaism alive. Rabbi Yitzi may stop into shops, offices or homes of community members—or perhaps the hospital, senior-citizens home or even prison. He may stop by a local Danish school to teach about Judaism or lead a more advanced class at the Jewish school. He also visits companies where he oversees kosher supervision.

Back at the Chabad House, Rochel Loewenthal is finishing up baking brownies with two young children (whose faces are still covered in chocolate), supervising daughters in another room learning Torah and Hebrew online with the children of other Chabad shluchim from around the world, and fielding a call from a woman from New Jersey—due to arrive in Copenhagen in a few days from the United States for the 20,000 person European Society of Medical Oncology Conference—still in need of a place to stay.

With Shabbat dinner still a day away, the Chabad House is surprisingly quiet. Prayerbooks sit atop the piano in the large room lined with posters of beautiful destinations in Israel. Maps of Jewish Denmark, and flyers advertising classes and Sukkot events, sit neatly in racks. The kitchen will soon be churning out Shabbat dinner for more than 100 local residents and visitors, with foods such as fresh challah, Israeli salads, chicken soup, roasted chicken, rice and dessert.

When Shabbat arrives, many of the dinner guests pray at the shul next door, led by Rabbi Yitzi, who delivers a d’var Torah. Back at Chabad, the Loewenthals and a few visiting Lubavitcher yeshivah students put the finishing touches on dinner and table preparations. After Kiddush, hand-washing and hamotzi, the rabbi invites guests to share a thought or asks visitors what brought them to Copenhagen.

In Copenhagen, as in many Chabad centers around the world, children keep up with their studies and their peers around the world as part of an international online school.
In Copenhagen, as in many Chabad centers around the world, children keep up with their studies and their peers around the world as part of an international online school.

Guests With Stories to Tell

Each visitor has an interesting story. A group of religious female college students from France sits with a local Moroccan Jewish man, conversing in French. Another group of students from various universities in the United States and Canada discusses their semester abroad at the University of Copenhagen—and their plans for later in the evening. A particularly colorful graduate student in urban planning at Hebrew University in Jerusalem is here for Shabbat and Yom Kippur—on his way from Sweden to Berlin. From New Zealand, he is happy to answer questions about his kilt and special tartan pattern. Locals at dinner include a man who arrived in Copenhagen from Uruguay, via a long stint in Israel, and others who are becoming more observant. All speak with the cancer doctors and researchers in town for the oncology conference.

Rabbi Yitzi publicly acknowledges the six oncologists and researchers for the work they do, and he shares the story of his father-in-law’s amazing recovery from advanced cancer, thanks to the therapy he received. The rabbi then invites Israeli archaeologist Oren Gutfeld, spouse of an Israeli radiation oncologist, to speak and offer updates on Israeli archaeology. The audience becomes mesmerized as he describes his excavations at both the Tiferet Israel Synagogue and Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem’s Old City.

A number of the Friday-night guests prayed Shabbat morning at the Copenhagen Synagogue, where they experienced a Danish bat mitzvah and were treated to an outdoor kiddush. Many returned to Chabad for more delicious lunch food. Some of the Shabbat guests, including some from the oncology conference, even stayed in town for Yom Kippur a few days later. Following a relaxed seudah mafseket at Chabad on erev Yom Kippur, guests went off to the shul next door or the main synagogue.

The Copenhagen Synagogue still brings to mind safety issues, and visitors seem aware of that. A Danish police officer, after questioning those seeking to enter, uses a special key to open the shul gate. Flowers outside the synagogue serve as a reminder that in February 2015, Jewish security guard Dan Uzan, 38, was killed in a terrorist attack as he stood watch outside the synagogue, as inside people were celebrating a bat mitzvah.

Kol Nidre in Copenhagen is an extraordinary communal event; there is almost a festival-like, upbeat atmosphere. Some stay for a short time (just the Kol Nidre prayer or the rabbi’s speech), while others remain for the entire service. They’re overjoyed to see friends they likely haven’t seen the entire year.

After Musaf on Yom Kippur day, many people find their way to the Chabad House for an inspiring Minchah and Neilah service. The beautiful davening by the two young Lubavitcher yeshivah bochers was accompanied by user-friendly teaching and discussions led by the rabbi. Everyone enjoyed a “break fast” meal of bagels (baked by Rachel herself), lox, hummus, vegetables and cake.

As the guests prepared to leave the Chabad House after a long Yom Kippur day, many paused to acknowledge that Sukkot was around the corner, and that the Loewenthals would soon be at it again, serving the community during the eight-day holiday with the mitzvahs of lulav and etrogsukkah and hachnasat orchim (“welcoming guests”).

‘An Oasis of Judaism’

Dr. Marissa Dolled-Filhart of New Jersey, one of the oncology researchers in town for Shabbat, notes: “Chabad of Copenhagen was extremely warm and welcoming, despite it being a very hectic time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—whether it was via multiple emails back and forth in advance of my arrival [they responded at all hours] to suggestions on helping make my stay in Copenhagen comfortable during the conference. Their assistance ranged from invitations to join them for meals, recommendations of beautiful local gardens to walk through and nearby historic sites to visit if time permitted, contact information for a local taxi driver if needed, and even personally walking me to the Great Synagogue to experience davening at this unique and historic synagogue. They are a very selfless couple, caring the utmost about the safety, security and Jewish experience of their visitors any time of day or night in Copenhagen.”

Lucas Em, 36, a photographer and anthropologist originally from Colombia, South America, and now living in Copenhagen, echoes Dolled-Filhart’s words.

“Chabad has been an oasis of Judaism in a place where Jewish life is not lived much at all. Yitzi and Rochel have been some of the most open-hearted and welcoming people I have ever met,” he says. “They open their house to everyone; they open their ears to questions, doubts, stories, and they share their thoughts and words when necessary. The Chabad House is a meeting place for the Danish Jewish community. Each Friday night is a mix of locals, regulars, tourists, students and even non-Jews, who gather together under their hospitality for a night of great company, learning and food.

“For one of their daughter’s bat mitzvahs, there were—and I underestimate—about 400 people who either stayed or passed by to congratulate her and her family.

“I am not Orthodox (for those who prefer labels). There might be things I don’t understand about the ways of Chabad. But if there is something I have learned from the Loewenthals, it’s that everything starts with respect. Respect for each other and for what others believe. While you might not agree with all that’s said in the course of a conversation, you can still listen and be respectful. It is this model of respect that the Loewenthals contribute to the atmosphere of love and warmth that permeates this Chabad House.”

On Chanukah, a large menorah will be placed on Rådhuspladsen, Copenhagen’s main square. There will be a large celebration when it is lit, with hundreds of people participating. Despite the fact that many local Jews prefer to keep their identity under wraps, the annual menorah-lighting and celebration of Jewish identity attracts a large and enthusiastic crowd—proud and excited to be able to celebrate Chanukah in this public fashion.

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Original Article at The Jerusalem Post

Every November, the entire kosher food industry descends on the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, for two exhausting, invigorating days of Kosherfest, the central kosher food event of the year, which attracts 6,000 industry professionals.

Caterers, distributors, chefs, restaurant, camp, nursing home and hotel owners, kosher supervision agencies, and companies of all sizes selling products ranging from gefilte fish to Matzola to pistachios to grills and aprons work their way down seven long aisles featuring 325 exhibitors.

They taste dozens of food and beverage products, view cooking demonstrations, exchange business cards and get new ideas for the upcoming year.

Kosherfest is truly unique among trade shows. Which other trade show cautions visitors to sample carefully, as both dairy and meat products are on display, and reminds them of times of morning and (nearly continuous) afternoon minyanim? Kosherfest features small booths and larger displays of both old favorites and newcomers. Streit’s and Manischewitz, best known as matza companies, display such relatively new matza-derived products as Matzola (matza granola) and matza s’mores. A & B Famous has proudly evolved from just a gefilte fish company to one that features new items such as tricolor gefilte fish (original, salmon and spinach!), parve kishke and salmon and trout franks.

Gabila’s Knishes, a four-generation business that has sold over a billion knishes in 90 years, displays sweet potato and several varieties of cheese knishes, alongside classic potato knishes.

While newer companies such as Paravella (high-quality Italian chocolate spread), Nongshim (minestrone and classic chicken cups of soup and mushroom alfredo), DumaSea Surimi (fish cakes) and Katz’s Gluten Free (doughnuts and bagels) are examples of the yearly increase in numbers of kosher products hitting the shelves, several booths in Aisle 700 offer a clue to a very important development in the global kosher world.

Kosher products (photo credit: Courtesy)

Aisle 700 is home to pavilions of Japan, the Czech Republic, Korea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India. How and why have companies and trade organizations from these countries, as well as from Turkey, South Africa, Argentina and Chile, come to Kosherfest? “The reality is that kosher is expanding!” observes Rabbi Moshe Elefant, executive rabbinic coordinator and chief operating officer of the Orthodox Union. Faraway countries are grasping that reality. “We reach 9,000 plants and certify products in over 90 countries.”

Joe Regenstein, PhD, professor of food science at Cornell University and head of Cornell Kosher and Halal Food Initiative, observes, “If you are going to export to the United States, where 40% of goods are kosher certified, you can’t get into the market without mainstream kosher certification.”

Many of the products certified kosher by the OU are not ready-to-eat foods consumers will find on the supermarket shelves. Rather, they are ingredients from abroad. Rabbi Menachem Genack, administrator and CEO of the Orthodox Union, notes, “Thirty-five years ago, all ingredients were produced in the United States. Now, most ingredients come from abroad – sodium caseinate, citric acid from China, even yak’s milk from Tibet!” The OU has invested millions of dollars in a registry of ingredients which is continuously updated.

To Genack, it is clear that “the biggest trend in kashrut has been the globalization of the economy.”

Importing raw ingredients is big business. While the use of such products in mainstream food production has generally helped bring food prices down, Genack notes, “We wonder whether the Trump victory will affect trade in the United States. We have to see.”

For now, foreign countries are hopeful.

Representatives from many countries offer unique stories of how and why their companies have discovered the world of kosher and the Kosherfest trade show.

Winemaker Jean van Rooyen is here from Paarl, South Africa, to introduce his OU-certified line of Unorthodox Wines to the US market.

Trevor Shevil, CEO of Sally Williams Fine Foods, is here with his honey nougats and Belgian chocolates and is looking to expand his market. “We export to 22 countries, and the kosher market is hugely successful. We have been kosher for all 20 years of our existence – and we give back to the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack (left) and Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the Orthodox Union (photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)

Rasmin Narin, vice chairman of a company in Mersin, Turkey, which produces Okka brand tehina, playfully notes, “The market brought me to Kosherfest!” Ten years ago, Narin had never heard of kosher. “Customers approached me and told me I need to be kosher. They liked my tehina a lot and told me they couldn’t use it unless I was kosher.” Narin offers a lesson in tehina production and distribution, explaining that most of the world’s tehina comes from Lebanon, Greece and Israel.

“Turkish tehina is not well known in the trade. It is like us supplying sushi from Turkey to Japan – it is very difficult!” Narin remains hopeful and is proud that his family business’s use of high-quality Ethiopian humera sesame seeds has led to contracts with Sabra Dipping Company.

Several Japanese companies sat at the Kosher Japan booth, eager to introduce fine Japanese foods to the American market. Joseph Edery, nephew of Rabbi Binyomin Edery, the current chief rabbi of Japan and Chabad rabbi who came to Japan 15 years ago, explains, “The Japanese have a very disciplined culture. They are devoted, particular, and their products are very healthy and high end.”

Rabbi Yehuda Benchemhoun, also at the Kosher Japan booth, is a scribe, shohet (kosher slaughterer), a botanist (currently working on koji, a filamentous fungus which provides a fragrant taste in the making of miso) and a professor of French at Brooklyn College in New York. Benchemhoun travels to Japan two or three times a year for two weeks at a time. At Kosherfest, he serves guests sake and a delicious sweet-potato dish, offering careful instructions on how to warm the sake glass with two hands, and where in the mouth to get most enjoyment from the sweet potato. “The Japanese have a very strong connection to nature and a strong natural pride.

Nature feeds us and we have to have respect. This is very Jewish!” Benchemhoun reports, “Without kosher certification, it is hard to enter the US market – it is better to have it.”

He and his colleagues at Kosher Japan are working hard to help Japanese manufacturers export their products.

Alexander Stevenson, manager and professional engineer for Lequios Japan, is an enzyme specialist and former US marine who lives in Okinawa, Japan.

Stevenson is wearing a traditional Japanese shirt as he mans the All Zen company booth and hands out samples of vegan soup and Matcha green tea.

“When we would go to the fancy food shows, buyers would ask us if we were kosher. When we said ‘no,’ they would walk away.

“We went home and saw there were other products which were halal certified but not kosher, so we went kosher. It was consumer driven!” The company started with soups and teas and has now expanded to matcha powder and ramen powder – with no monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that many believe causes headaches and feelings of discomfort in large doses. Stevenson reports proudly, “We found the Orthodox Union and they give us a lot of support.”

In the nearby Korea pavilion, the Dong Bang company displays many varieties of sesame oil and perilla oil.

Manager Kang Mu Ku explains, “It is our first time here. We believe kosher certification opens opportunities for other markets.” Others in the Korea pavilion note, “Kosher has strict management and people believe kosher is a more high-quality product.”

The Chongga company is offering samples of kimchi, a Korean dish consisting of fermented chili peppers and vegetables. Korean-born Bongja Ziporah Rothkopf, CEO of the KOKO Food Kosher Korean who converted to Judaism 36 years ago, offers samples of her Kosherfest 2016 New Product Winner, Koko Gochhujang (fermented red hot pepper paste). Rothkopf manufactures in Korea and splits her time between Lakewood, New Jersey, and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Nearby, the Betula Pendula company, from the Czech Republic, is enthusiastically showing a most unique product, goat colostrum – the first milk secretion of the goat – which comes in both capsule and cream form. Company consultant Andrea Jelinkova notes, “It is good for health and skin rejuvenation.”

Ladislav Smejkal, COO and co-owner, reports, “Some customers had the idea that we would be wise to make our products kosher certified. We did and we are now trying to enter the Israel market.”

Fromin, another kosher-certified company from the Czech Republic, displays a more conventional product – bottled water – in gorgeous glass bottles of various shapes and sizes.

Todd Bentley, overseas trade director for Fromin (and himself based in Thailand), proudly notes, “Kosher is our new market. In January, I am going to Israel to negotiate.”

Rabbi Aaron Gunsberger, born in Prague and a lifelong resident of the Czech Republic, supervises 65 factories in the Czech Republic. He answers questions from curious visitors and hands out a “Catalogue of Czech Stand at Kosherfest 2016,” featuring write-ups, color photos and contact information of the seven Czech companies at Kosherfest. “Our goat products are very rare and unique,” reports Gunsberger proudly, “and they are halav Yisrael.”

Thushara Rajapakasha, director of SRS Fruit N Spices Ltd., exporters of dessicated coconut and spices, traveled a very long way from Negombo, Sri Lanka, to get to Kosherfest. “I first heard about kosher in 2000. Customers and distributors asked if we are kosher. They told us we needed to be kosher. His products are now under the supervision of the Star-K, the Baltimore-based kosher supervising agency.

Tonette Salazar, county manager of PS Kosher Philippines, tells a similar story of why companies in her country are seeking kosher supervision. “Reaching potential markets is a major key.” She has been working with Rabbi Joel Weinberger of Star-K for more than 15 years. “I wanted someone to help the Philippines, someone who is global, someone with a fine reputation.” She proudly hands out an 18-page spiral bound “Kosher in the Philippines” directory of kosher certified products and other activities that aim for kosherkeeping Jewish travelers.

Menachem Lubinsky, founder and co-producer of Kosherfest and the CEO and president of Lubicom Market Consulting, understands exactly why so many companies from around the world have discovered Kosherfest.

“If you produce an ingredient and want to sell to the US market, it needs to be kosher – otherwise, companies like Danon and Coca-Cola won’t buy from you. Kosher is a $30-billion business between the US and Israel alone. Around the world, they want to get a piece of the kosher food industry.”

This year, more than a dozen countries, from Argentina to Sri Lanka, discovered Kosherfest. Perhaps next year, even more countries, including representatives from the Arab world, will attend. A crazy idea? Not really.

“This year, we gave supervision in Saudi Arabia,” notes Elefant. “An ingredient company approached us, and a rabbi in our office traveled there. That story says what kosher is – when a company in a non-friendly country realizes they can’t succeed without the OU!” 

Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey (photo credit: HOWARD BLAS)

The business of being kosher

Restaurants and companies producing ingredients, edible products, beverages, foil and other kitchen products, vitamins, medicines, even medical marijuana have many national, regional and local options if they choose to seek kosher supervision.

According to the Brooklyn-based Kashrus Magazine, there are 1,371 Kosher supervision agencies worldwide listed in their 2017-18 guide.

Kosher certification is big business. In the United States, companies may apply for kosher supervision from one of the “big four” kosher certifying agencies which operate throughout the country and the world, or from local, regional or country-based certifying agencies.

The largest agencies include the OU (Orthodox Union), Star-K (and Star-D, the Star-K dairy division), KOF-K, and OK (Organized Kashrus Laboratories).

These symbols are registered trademarks of kosher certification organizations, meaning they cannot be placed on a food label without the organization’s permission.

Most states in the US have one or more kosher certifying agencies. Kashrut supervision operates in countries ranging from Argentina and Australia to Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. While most communities hold by the kosher standard of the “big four,” support of local agencies varies by community. Nearly all are under Orthodox auspices, though some operate under supervision of the Conservative movement (an example is KINAHARA, Kashrut Initiative of the New Haven Area Rabbinical Assembly in Connecticut).

In all countries except for Israel, the process of certifying kashrut takes place apart from the government. In Israel, where many feel kashrut has become political and divisive, the High Court, in June 2016, ruled that businesses can present themselves as kosher only if they have a certificate from the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.

Most major American supervision agencies have user-friendly applications on their websites in languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian and German. This is an acknowledgment that so many ingredients and products are produced around the world.

The process of obtaining certification through a major kashrut certifying organization usually involves first completing an application online (including information about the company and plant, as well as a list of the products to be certified and their ingredients).

A rabbinic coordinator, who will serve as point man throughout the process, is assigned, and a rabbinic field representative then visits the plant and works with the certifying organization to determine if products are eligible for supervision. Kosher certification organizations charge manufacturers a fee and a contract is signed by all the parties, and the company can begin placing the kosher certifying agency symbol on its products.

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Original Article at The Jerusalem Post

The last time Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” rolled through New York City, Yitzhak Rabin was Israel’s prime minister, Ephraim Katzir was president, Mordechai Gur was chief of staff and Rina Mor, Miss Israel, became the first Israeli to win the Miss Universe pageant. And Stevens was one year away from embracing Islam and changing his name to Yusuf Islam. It’s been a long journey for Stevens/Yusuf who last appeared in New York City in 1976.

Stevens’ long-awaited return to the Beacon Theater was a true lovefest.

“We love you, Cat,” “Why did it take you so long?” shouted fans in the sold out, 2,800-seat Beacon Theater. The fans, mostly of the over-40 set, wore suits and jeans, Hillary (Clinton) buttons and Neil Young concert T-shirts and sang along to every word of the 33-song set. At least one fan wore a black suede kippa.

Stevens is playing select US and Canadian cities over a three-week period in September and October as part of the “A Cat’s Attic” tour. The show features “a limited run of strippeddown, introspective performances which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Yusuf/Cat Stevens’ first hit single, ‘I Love My Dog,’ which was released in 1966.”

Stevens opened the first show of his two-night run at the Beacon standing in front of a curtain, which soon opened to reveal an old house, framed pictures, a record player, a blue sport team jersey and other memorabilia from an earlier era. Two musicians, Eric Appapoulay on guitar and vocals and Kwame Yeboah on bass and percussion, stood far back right of the stage, allowing Stevens to remain central throughout the two hour-long sets. Stevens alternated between standing and sitting on a stool as he played acoustic guitar. At times, Stevens surprised the audience, playing The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” on an old record player and playing a song on the piano.

The audience sat attentively as Stevens recounted nearly his entire career in story and song.

“It was so intimate, like we were in a small café,” observed a 50-something female fan from Westchester County, 45 minutes from Manhattan.

Is it possible that this gentle, likable man can also have a controversial, notso- peaceful side? Jews are keenly aware of Steven’s well-documented but not easily verifiable bottom-line stance on Israel and terrorism.

“I don’t know what is true or not,” notes the 50-something fan, who has heard various reports of past support of Hamas. “I went there for the music of my youth. The first album I bought was Tea for the Tillerman (1970) – the only album of mine my parents also enjoyed!” Stevens began the show by recounting his yearly years, his parent’s café in London and his desire “to draw and paint and be an artist.” He mentioned the impact of Bernstein’s music – and the Beatles – on his musical development and appreciation. Stevens saved up to buy his first guitar and started writing music.

“I didn’t have a band – I was born to be solo,” he said, then played “The First Cut is the Deepest.” Stevens described being on tour with Jimi Hendrix (and alluded to his involvement in the drug culture of the times). In 1969, he reported, “I collapsed with tuberculosis, and began to reassess my life… I had to get some answers.” He began playing “Trouble.”

After the set break, Stevens focused more on the music and spoke less between songs. He described a particularly dark period of “not finding what I was looking for” and his experience with numerology. A near-death experience in 1976 when he went swimming “too far out” at Malibu Beach in California was a turning point in his life.

“I realized in that moment what I believed in – I called out to God to save me and he did.”

He then treated the audience to an acoustic cover of the Impressions classic “People Get Ready.”

Stevens’ brother, David Gordon, bought him a copy of the Koran as a birthday gift from a trip to Israel. Gordon was reportedly married at the time to an Israeli woman with family in Tel Aviv. Stevens was very taken by the Koran and the story of Joseph. Stevens converted to Islam in December, 1977 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam in 1978. He auctioned off his guitars and stopped performing for nearly 30 years. He devoted his time to various philanthropic and educational causes in the Muslim community of London and around the world.

Perhaps this was the moment in the concert where Stevens would shed light on his conversion to Islam and perhaps set the record straight on Hamas and Israel.

“I have journeyed endless miles, seen many harbors, and learned I must give up what you are. When I finally did make it out, I didn’t get the reaction I expected. There was misunderstanding – almost anger at the choices I made.”

No further details offered. An audience member shouted, “We are sorry!” It is unclear what exactly Stevens was referring to. Perhaps he was alluding to his 1989 comments in London which seemed to suggest support for the fatwa calling for the death of Salman Rushdie, author of Satanic Verses. Or to his alleged support for Hamas, which, according to an ABC News report, led to denial of entry to Israel. Stevens, who had been in Israel earlier in his career, was held at the airport for several hours and sent back to Germany.

Members of the Jewish community have long memories for significant historical events. And they remain passionate and divided on Cat Stevens. Opinions range from ongoing love of his music and minimizing or dismissing reported anti-Israel or antisemitic views, to refusal to even listen to his music.

Amy Cohn of Manhattan wishes she could have seen Stevens in concert. “I love his music. I tried to get tickets but it sold out so quickly!” Pati Doyle Weber of Florida strongly disagrees. “I wouldn’t give a penny to this antisemite. I haven’t listened to a song of his since his radical change.”

“He is hardly the first talented musician to hate Jews,” says Bruce Abramson of New York City. “Were we to eliminate all music – along with books and art – whose creator disliked Jews (or committed some other offense we may deem equivalent), we would find ourselves aesthetically impoverished.” Nevertheless, Abramson avoided going to the show – “a small price to pay for an important principle.”

Back in the Beacon, the female fan from Westchester felt that Stevens may be having a “metamorphosis – sort of.” She notes that he no longer seems to be using the name “Islam,” choosing to go by both Cat Stevens and Yusuf. “Perhaps he is more mature.”

Stevens mentions the 27-year gap in performing “which I am not going to tell you now. You will have to wait for my book.” But Stevens offered, “When I saw how terrible things were going, I still had a job to do. My dreams never stopped.” And “real life is messy. We all make mistakes. We have a lot in common.” “Try to make the world a better place.”

Stevens seems to be doing his part and on September 24 participated in the Global Citizen Festival in New York’s Central Park. And a portion of every ticket sold on the current concert tour “will benefit the most vulnerable through long-term support to build sustainable futures for children and families. Through Small Kindness, Yusuf’s UK-founded charity, donations will be made to both UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee to help children affected by the current refugee and migrant crisis.

When the trancelike peacefulness of the two-hour lovefest lifts for the concertgoers lucky enough to see Cat Stevens/ Yusuf Monday or Tuesday night in Manhattan, they may still be left with the question of just who the true Cat Stevens/Yusuf is. They will need to wait a bit longer for an answer.

Requests for interviews with Cat Stevens/ Yusuf were turned down. Live Nation returned my inquiry and reported, “He is not giving any interviews this tour.”

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