OU Kosher CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack builds bridges with Israeli leaders

“Israel is the largest kosher consumer worldwide with [the Israel Defense Forces] being the largest single consumer of kosher food in the country.”

New kosher-for-Passover pastry dough and foods on display at the annual Kosherfest trade show in November 2022. Photo by Faygie Holt.
New kosher-for-Passover pastry dough and foods on display at the annual Kosherfest trade show in November 2022. Photo by Faygie Holt.
Rabbi Menachem Genack. Credit: Courtesy.

As 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 are regular trips to Israel to meet with leaders in order to build and maintain their connections with OU Kosher and to make OU products more easily accessible to Israelis.

“In our hearts, these relationships represent a very significant commitment,” said Genack. “Israel is the largest kosher consumer worldwide with Tzahal [the Israel Defense Forces] 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, 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 to learn more about OU Kosher’s valuable work and to discuss how to increase imports of OU-certified products.

Israel’s economy has shifted; where its primary export was previously food, now it’s 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% 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. We want to help guide them through the market.”

OU Kosher has had a presence in Israel for approximately half a century, says Genack. In June, the agency welcomed an Israeli delegation that included 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 Genack. “I reaffirmed our offer to the Chief Rabbinate to share parts of the software (while respecting companies’ confidentiality) with them, and they are interested. I also committed long ago that any income we generate in Israel stays in Israel.”

Israel’s Religious Services Minister Michael Malkieli in the Knesset on May 20, 2019. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

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

“This portrait is the only one that Herzl ever posed for,” notes 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.”

In appreciation of his father’s generous donation, the rabbi, his wife and their granddaughter were offered a private tour of the Knesset. Upon entering the plenum hall, a session was in progress. Religious Services Minister Rabbi Michael Malkieli, who was speaking from the podium, noticed Genack on the balcony. Malkieli went up to greet Genack with a warm welcome, 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 Genack. “He is a fine person, a talmid chacham and a tremendous asset to the Knesset.”

His trip included meetings with numerous rabbanim, including Petach Tikvah’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 United States to attend OU Kosher’s kashrus conference. Genack also delivered shiurim at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh at Shaarei Shmuos, a yeshivah 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.

Reflecting on Genack’s latest trip, OU Israel executive director Rabbi Avi Berman noted that as more food importers and company managers learn more about the OU’s work, esteem for the organization grows.

“Beyond recognizing the strength, popularity and transparency of the OU, these providers have a greater appreciation for its 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.”

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