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By: Machla Abramovitz

JSOR has exciting news.  It has taken transformative steps to upgrade its infrastructure and policies. JSOR stands for Jersey Shore Orthodox Rabbinate, and it is the kashrut organization that Rabbi Isaac Farhi started over thirty years ago. It was founded in order to service a handful of establishments in Deal, NJ, primarily over the summer months. Since its inception it grew to service over sixty establishments year-round throughout the Jersey Shore and Brooklyn.

JSOR’s New Direction

"Over the past four months thekashrut organization took on a new, higher dimension,” says JSOR administrator Rabbi Hayim Arking. He is excited to share the changes made and the new direction JSOR is taking.

Rabbi Arking is one of several individuals who was asked to strengthen the organization and to bring it to a more sophisticated level in every aspect. Together with JSOR rabbis, they restructured the organization to accommodate the community’s developing needs.

Until now, Rabbi Shmuel Choueka and Rabbi Farhi ran JSOR together with local rabbis, who worked with kosher establishments on an individual basis.  Today’s Rabbinical Board expanded considerably:  Rabbi Rahamim Aboud, Rabbi Saul Kassin, and Rabbi Edmond Nahum now decide JSOR policy. Rabbi Isaac Farhi acts as Kashrut Coordinator, and Rabbi Arking is the administrator of the organization.  Deal's finest laymen comprise of a board of:  Steven Eddie Safdieh, Mark Massry, Sammy Saka, Edgar Cohen, and Steven S. Safdieh. Additionally, Joey Tobias, Ike Barnathan, and Jeremy Sultan have joined to assist in with many tasks.

Strengthening Kashrut from Different Angles

Mrs. Farhi has always been an integral part of JSOR, especially with her chat “JSOR Is It Kosher.” Her chat reaches a couple hundred people, and provides answers to questions about kashrut, and offers information about kosher products. People always comment how helpful Mrs. Farhi’s chat is. Her long time experience helps many navigate a wide array of products and symbols. This chat can be joined by requesting an invite link. A recent addition to JSOR is our Woman’s Auxiliary, which was established to upgrade the consumer experience and to make eating in restaurants more palatable, especially for those who find eating kosher challenging. The Women’s Auxiliary  also arranges wonderful events and ladies’ classes.

Rabbi Farhi envisioned JSOR as a community-based organization that strengthens kashrut availability to the community as a whole. JSOR has now moved to a whole new level, as it is now collaborating and working with national standards and subsequently serves an entire dynamic spectrum – from Bnei Torah Kollel to those who are not yet committed to eating kosher. 

“Over the past six months, we worked closely with the OU, CRC, STAR-K, KCL, and other kashrut organizations to standardize and bring a stronger sense of protocol and a more standardized system to a growing, centralized organization," Rabbi Arking says. “In this regard, we can give greater assurance to community members for whom kashrut observance is fundamental.”

Game Changer – New Vegetable and Meat Supervisors

In previous years Rabbi Farhi and other mashgichim, including Rabbi David Condiotti, Rabbi Reuven Cohen, and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Friedman, would supervise the many kosher establishments.A current game-changer was the hiring of two supervisors. One specifically  oversees how produce is handled and cleaned, and the second is  a mashgiach who supervises butchers and meat restaurants on a daily basisProduce supervisorRabbi Meyer Safdieh will spot check all establishments for the cleanliness of produce.  This additional service provides a double layer of supervision.

Every mashgiach is now trained to check vegetables for insect infestation.  “Many people prefer fresh produce to the pre-checked Bodek variety, as it is fresher and more palatable," Rabbi Arking informs.

You may ask, doesn’t checking every leaf of lettuce take hours to do? "We have a streamlined method via the thrip-cloth that allows for a sure process that meets national standards and can be done in minimal time,” Rabbi Arking says. “The new standard is this:  every establishment that wants its produce checked in-house, must have a mashgiach that is trained by our new administration, and be spot checked by our Produce Supervisor.”

JSOR also hired Rabbi Yehoshua Domosh to oversee the butcher shops and meat restaurants.  “By adding a meat supervisor to our staff, we upgraded the auditing of establishments:  inspections take place on a daily rather than weekly basis, and Rabbi Domosh carries keys to the establishments," Rabbi Arking confirms 

According to Rabbi Arking, “JSOR is more affordable for local establishments than most kashrut organizations; their certification alone is double the cost. The Executive Board is keeping JSOR fiscally responsible, and is subsidizing what needs to be subsidized, according to the rabbis’ vision.”

New Women’s Auxiliary

Deal resident Kim Cohen is one of six volunteers who comprise the newly established Women's Auxiliary.  They have already gotten the word out through social media – check out their Instagram (JSOR_ Deal). They are working on a new website, in addition to the “JSOR Is It Kosher chat,” to offer information, to let people know what is available in the Jersey Shore in restaurants and establishments, and to substantially upgrade the JSOR brand.

“JSOR always had a beautiful reputation, but they are trying to bring it to the next level to attract more followers who will choose JSOR as opposed to other hasgachah organizations,” Mrs. Cohen says.

One of the Auxiliary’s goals is to help establishments upgrade their environment and services – to make restaurants more exciting, cleaner, and more comfortable for consumers.

“We are trying to update the restaurants to give them a fresh new look, and to help them move with the times so that consumers won’t feel that they are going to the same restaurant they frequented for the past twenty years,” Mrs. Cohen asserts.

Since August, the Auxiliary compiled a list of “mandatory” improvements, as well as “highly suggested” improvements for implementation in kosher establishments. Many restaurants were informed of what the Auxiliary wanted them to do and are on board with the Auxiliary’s recommendations.  The women are also seeking customer input – what changes would customers like to see in their restaurants and establishments?

These improvements, they hope, will help attract community members who currently don’t eat at kosher establishments. “These individuals often talk about ambiance.  We want them to see that kosher restaurants are as physically beautiful as non-kosher restaurants, and that there is no reason for them to frequent non-kosher restaurants.  Our goal is to bring many people back to their roots.”

WhatsApp Chat Room

Unquestionably, more and more families are interested in upgrading their kashrut standards.  Mrs. Cohen is excited about the WhatsApp chat room run by Mrs. Shoshana Farhi, wife of Rabbi Isaac Farhi.  Kashrut questions come in 24/7.  Can I buy this coffee?  Can I go to this restaurant?  A variety of kashrut symbols from Canada, Argentina, and Europe are popping up in general supermarkets that are new to many consumers.  Mrs. Farhi is familiar with all these symbols, and which are acceptable based on one’s particularkashrut standard.

Users also want to know how to kasher utensils, and what to do when mistakes are made, such as using a dairy utensil in place of a meat utensil, for example. These and other halachic questions are dealt with the rabbanim on the chat.

"Questions come in throughout the day and into the night. Mrs. Farhi gets back to every person on the chat.  She’s amazing.”

Mrs. Cohen is equally thrilled about the produce cleaning and checking classes that Rabbi Safdieh held in her home and by others. This is a new service offered by JSOR. Rabbi Safdieh teaches the ladies, both young and old, how to check their lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, and cauliflower properly.

Mrs. Cohen enthused, "He showed us the right tools and equipment to use.  Checking for insect infestation doesn't need to be so confusing and time-consuming.  Many people eliminate these foods from their diets when they don't need to do that.”

Mrs. Cohen says that the changes taking place at JSOR are fast in coming, and already showing results. “JSOR is reaching more and more people and bringing them back to eating kosher.”