By Margie Pensak
Samy Weill, who has been in the kashrus field for 26 years, traveled the farthest – 3808 miles from Amsterdam – to attend the 16th Annual STAR-K Training Program held July 22-25 in the kashrus agency’s Baltimore offices. As an administrator for the Chief Rabbinate of Holland, he oversees the initial inspections and annual visits of hundreds of companies in Holland, Belgium. Germany, France, and Spain. “I came to the training program to make contacts and bring back new ideas for improving our agency,” mentions Mr. Weill.
David Eshkenazi traveled only 2103 miles from Panama City, where he learns in kollel, to attend the program. He signed up because he aspires to work in the booming field of Kashrus in Panama.
“It’s one thing to learn about Kashrus in the Shulchan Aruch, and another thing to learn it, hands-on,” notes Mr. Eshkenazi. “Having experienced mashgichim and rabbis – who have seen things with their eyes – pass their knowledge down to us, is a wonderful experience. I think the program is really great!”
The annual seminar attracts Rabbonim, as well. Rabbi Shimon Silver, who has been the Mara d’Asra of Young Israel of Greater Pittsburgh, for the past 15 years, didn’t have quite as far to travel to attend. As a member of The Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh, which serves as the local kosher supervision agency in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, he helps supervise local establishments, institutional kitchens, and commercial enterprises.
“Recently, the Vaad became much more organized and transparent, and I was put in charge of “The Kashrus Project”, shares Rabbi Silver. “I came to the training program to see what is going on in the industry. There were a lot of things that I saw that were eye-opening, such as the certification of large plants, but the vast majority of what was taught I already knew. Mainly, I’ve gained a lot of chizuk being together with a bunch of other people doing the same thing.”
The youngest STAR-K Kashrus Training Program participant was 21-year-old Menachem Mendel Blank, of Antwerp, Belgium, who is presently learning in Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch in Crown Heights. He is the son of Rabbi Michoel Zalman Blank, who does extensive hashgacha work throughout the EU, for STAR-K.
“I learned Kashrus with my father, and in Israel by the Rabbanut Harashit, but I wanted to get the practical knowledge,” mentions Mr. Blank. “I’m not sure if I will do this as a full-time job in life, but it’s always good to know the material, in case I do, for the future…The people are very friendly here, the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful, practically, the way they teach. I found my first-time shechita house experience, with HaRav Heinemann, most interesting.”
Participants enjoyed the lectures given by STAR-K Rabbinic Administrator HaRav Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, STAR-K President Dr. Avrom Pollak, and STAR-K Kashrus Administrators, with intriguing titles such as, “SOPs to BOLs: More Than Looking at Ingredients”; “Case Study-Sha’ah Chamishis at the Eleventh Hour”; and, “Kosher Accountability: Who Does Teshuva When a Product is Mislabeled?”.
Behind-the-scenes tours of the Marriott Waterfront Hotel kitchen, Seven Mile Market, candy and flavor factories, and a slaughterhouse, in addition to hands-on treiboring and vegetable checking practicums, rounded out the Kashrus training experience.
The wrap-up Q & A, giving the participants the opportunity to ask HaRav Heinemann and the STAR-K staff panel questions, was an additional program highlight. Questions included: What are the criteria for bishul akum? Is induction cooking considered bishul akum? Where did Rav Heinemann learn shechita? Is (kosher) gelatin considered fleishigs?
“During the week of the course, there is always a great amount of energy in our office,” remarks STAR-K Kashrus Administrator Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, coordinator of the seminar. “There is so much material to give over and we try to give a serious overview of almost every topic in Kashrus. It is a lot of work on the part of our entire staff but well worth it! Kashrus education is at the forefront of our goals and we will be very happy to continue, iy”H, until Mashiach and beyond.”