Published Fall 2011
In the beginning of 2009, Rabbi Haim Levy moved from Israel to Panama to continue the work of his then recently deceased father, Chief Rabbi Sion Levy, z”l, rav of Congregation Shevet Ahim. When his father arrived in Panama City from Israel in 1951, the country was affluent, yet spiritually poor. Building the community from scratch, it is to the late Rabbi Levy’s credit that of the approximately 10,000-12,000 Jews living in Panama today, about 90% have a kosher home (of which a large percentage eat only kosher outside the home, as well), and Shabbos observance is on the rise. Presently, Panama boasts one of the largest and strongest Jewish communities in Central America.
STAR-K was honored to have Rabbi Haim Levy, shlit”a, participate in its Eighth Annual Kashrus Training Program July 25-29, in its Baltimore offices.
“Because of my position, I have the responsibility that all halachic issues should flow and be at their best; that includes kashrut,” said Rabbi Levy. “We have expert shochtim — about 600 heads of cattle and about 25,000 chickens are shechted every month. We have two big, modern kosher supermarkets, more than a dozen kosher restaurants, about 20 caterers, and a fleet of 20 mashgichim. All of this is relatively new in Panama, and that is the main reason I wanted to visit STAR-K when I heard they had a program. We need to know about kosher products and how a kosher Vaad organizes itself. The program met my expectations by showing in detail the various challenges that a hashgacha has and how to go about solving them.
“I am thankful for having the opportunity to have met a staff of rabbonim who are experts, each in their own subject, and together under the leadership of Hagaon Harav Heinemann, shlit”a, who is an example of yashrus, chochma and a very high level of middos,” continues Rabbi Levy. “With G-d’s help, I plan on contacting them in the future in order to have a share of their expertise.”
STAR-K’s Kashrus Training Program also had the privilege of hosting Rabbi Eli Reingold, a rebbi and Rosh Kollel in the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, who is also involved in psak for the yeshiva and the community. The Rosh Kollel’s interest in attending the program was based on the information offered in the classes and the feedback he heard about the program from those who had attended over the years.
“I viewed it as an opportunity to really understand halachos which I may be familiar with from the halacha end, but not really understand how to apply it lemaaseh,” explains Rabbi Reingold. “The program met my expectations very much. Obviously, there is always so much more to learn, but every opportunity is very important. They did an excellent job, presenting intelligent and informed speakers, talmidei chachamim, on many different issues. I am very grateful to the STAR-K for developing and implementing such an important seminar, allowing us to interact and learn from individuals with significant experience in many different fields of Kashrus. The experience was extremely enlightening, and the connections made are invaluable.”
Rabbi Shaul Rappeport, rav of Congregation Ohev Sholom in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a town of only a few hundred Jews, had his own reasons for attending the STAR-K program.
“A lot of what I learned is very relevant to me, as the only rabbi in the region,” says Rabbi Rappeport. “Being able to hear firsthand from people who share their professional kashrus expertise is very helpful. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry. It was a delight to meet both the other participants and all the presenters.”
By the way, STAR-K is no stranger to Rabbi Rappeport, a native Australian. “I recall the big to-do in town as a young boy, when STAR-K came all the way to Australia to train mashgichim that would work in the Far East. I knew all the STAR-K people well, and I remember the very interesting stories they told us about their adventures in China and India.”
How does STAR-K recap this year’s program?
“After presenting the course for eight years, one might think that the STAR-K rabbis find it somewhat monotonous,” says Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, STAR-K Kashrus Administrator and coordinator of the seminar, “but it’s really not so. They find it invigorating to teach the participants who listen and participate fully in the sessions, and sometimes question our approaches. As chazal point out, ‘mitalmidai yoser mikulam’–one can learn more from his students than anyone else.”