The Highest Standard
September 7, 2023
Old-Time Ideals, New-Age Enhancements
As the food market shifts dramatically, the old is renewed and KCL steps up to the plate
Facilitating the highest level of kashrus for Lakewood’s discerning consumers has been KCL’s mission for over 30 years.
Today, the hechsher brings updates and upgrades to accommodate its rapidly expanding consumer base.
Tzibbur of kashrus
“The Lakewood kehillah is unique in its meticulous attention to detail when it comes to kashrus,” says Rabbi Shulem Thumim, a rav, dayan, and posek who is a chaver beis din at KCL.
KCL’s phone call volume—a whopping average of 350 calls a week—is proof of a committed hechsher with equally devoted consumers.
“How do you know if a kashrus is reliable?” asks KCL’s head mashgiach, Rabbi Shloime Perl. “If there’s an address to turn to that cares, that will call you back and investigate your concern, you’re in good hands. That’s KCL.”
Rav Yosef Fund, rav of Bais Ahron of Clearstream, dayan, posek, and KCL chaver beis din, agrees. “We’re zocheh to work with a tzibbur of bnei Torah, a tzibbur that really cares. This creates a conducive environment for high kashrus standards.
“And it’s going to be even better. We have new rabbanim and new mashgichim joining who will ensure that people always have someone to talk to so they know they’re getting the best kashrus in town.”
“The more people demand higher standards, the better kashrus we can deliver,” explains Rabbi Avrohom Shloime Katz, rav of the KCL Catering and Events Division and a baki in shechitah.
As the community demands higher kashrus standards, KCL continues to more than meet the challenge.
Old and improved
Established in 1989, KCL has faithfully facilitated kashrus in Lakewood for over three decades. As the Lakewood community evolves, demands change and standards shift. KCL isn’t resting on its kashrus laurels; the organization is committed to constant improvement and is growing right alongside the hamlet-turned-metropolis.
To keep on top of the rapidly expanding community and its needs, KCL has developed groundbreaking technology that brings transparency, accountability, and efficiency to an all-time high.
Tech Master PCs is a reputable IT service in Lakewood. Its owner, R’ Mechel Thumim, shares, “When my brother Rabbi Shulem Thumim approached me to help KCL with software, I felt it would be a zechus to help improve Lakewood’s kashrus. We have customized a software system that tracks KCL mashgiach visits. Each store has a unique barcode which automatically identifies which mashgiach is there. The mashgiach’s device displays a checklist tailored to the establishment he’s at. On it, he can check off tasks and take notes on what he’s seen and what needs to be addressed.
“On the back end, KCL rabbanim can view all the establishments at a glance, making sure all visits are recent. Rabbanim can also read notes and see what was checked.”
This easy-to-track system allows rabbanim to stay on top of the many establishments under KCL hashgachah and to know, in detail, what is going on in each one.
KCL’s Vaad Hakashrus, which includes Rav Yaakov Efraim Forchheimer, Rav Osher Chaim Lieberman, and Rav Avrohom Moshe Weisner, guides KCL kashrus decisions. In its mission to raise the bar on Lakewood’s kashrus, KCL has brought on new rabbanim and staff members as well.
“We’re also honored to welcome kashrus renowned expert Rabbi Yechezkel Auerbach, whom readers have come to know in these pages, to our exceptional team as administrative coordinator for the hechsher,” says Rabbi Thumim.
“I’m a staunch supporter of community-based kashrus organizations,” Rabbi Auerbach says. “They generally have the kehillah’s best interests in mind and are less controlled by financial considerations. It’s easier to feel confident that decisions are made with the best for the community in mind. It’s for this reason that I chose to join KCL.”
What exactly is an administrative coordinator?
“My role is to make sure all the pieces work together,” says Rabbi Auerbach. “The more things we can forecast and put in their proper place, the fewer emergencies we’ll have to deal with. We drew up an administrative architecture and carefully parceled out the tasks, delineating who is responsible for which steps. As Moshe Rabbeinu did in the midbar, we’ve created layers to make sure tasks don’t go astray.
“For example, with the organizational task list, mashgichim can do their jobs correctly and establishment owners can meet their goals. In addition to mashgichim’s constant visits, the team of rabbanim visit establishments each week to ensure, on the ground, compliance with KCL’s policies and procedures. The intention is to show our involvement and to stay on top of what’s happening.”
One current project is updating KCL’s written protocol.
“The written protocol is many years old. It’s from a time when Lakewood’s food establishments were few and much of KCL policy was orally transmitted. With our client base growing, we saw the need to put more into writing, and with much more detail,” says Rav Fund.
You won’t find anyone checking greens at a KCL restaurant or catering service.
“In food establishment kitchens, mashgichim are busy with hundreds of details. They don’t have the menuchas hanefesh to properly check greens,” says Rabbi Perl. “Our food facilities carry only pre-checked produce, which is on a much higher standard than produce checked on-site.”
“To facilitate carefully checked greens, we have kitchens where dedicated bedikas tola’im professionals are constantly engaged in the task,” says Rav Weisner. “It’s their only job, and they do it with 100 percent focus. We have an employee who checks produce off the shelves to make sure we’re meeting our exacting bedikas tola’im standards.”
Another important component in ensuring high-quality kashrus is discretion with regard to which establishments are granted the hechsher. “We only certify businesses owned by shomrei Torah u’mitzvos,” Rabbi Weisner says. “These proprietors have an interest in keeping kosher and won’t try to trick the hechsher. It’s impossible to monitor a business when there is no foundation of yiras Shamayim and mutual trust.”
“Because we care”
From initiation and on, KCL holds establishment owners’ hands through each step of kashrus.
“When a new establishment joins KCL, we bring in prominent kashering specialists. We explain the rules and systems and approve the full-time ne’eman kashrus,” Rabbi Perl says. “I teach the mashgichim to be helpful to the business owners. I explain that a hechsher should serve both the establishment and the consumer. If an establishment can’t use one item, we work to help them find another item they can use.”
As he recounts a recent interaction, the pain in Rabbi Perl’s voice is evident.
“A while ago, there was a new brand of greenery in Lakewood groceries. We checked the packages; they were crawling with bugs.
“I stopped people with this lettuce in their carts and asked them, ‘Do you know if this product is kosher?’
“‘Look, there’s a hechsher. And it’s being sold in a kosher store,’ the shoppers told me.
“Through a bit of research, I learned that the hechsher isn’t an Orthodox one—and this product was being sold by tens of frum stores. Baruch Hashem, Lakewood supermarkets took it off their shelves when we explained that the lettuce was crawling with live creatures. Sadly, when I spoke to mashgichim outside Lakewood about this issue, some told me, ‘The lettuce is not under my name. It’s not my responsibility.’ Their inaction caused people to be oiver on a lo sa’aseh.”
Managing it all
How does KCL accommodate the sprawling city that Lakewood has become?
Rabbi Perl says, “Every KCL establishment has a shomer Shabbos and shomer Torah u’mitzvos ne’eman kashrus who is on premises all the time. We divide the greater Lakewood area into five sections. Each of our mashgichim gets a zone, and each spot-checks his establishments at least once a week.”
Rabbi Perl, Rav Fund, Rabbi Thumim, and additional KCL rabbanim visit establishments at random times, too, providing an additional layer of supervision.
The future is here
As Rabbi Auerbach sees it, the future of KCL is already here.
“KCL was originally envisioned as a small advisory and caretaker organization. Lakewood’s first pizza shop wasn’t allowed to have chairs—no one ever envisioned our town becoming home to a huge population of food-service providers, a panoply of gourmet ice creams and meat boards. In its new formulation, KCL is recognizing its responsibility to be engaged with and representative of a larger cross section of the community in a way that more effectively and accommodatingly responds to the Lakewood community.”
Good kashrus, Rabbi Auerbach often says, is really about good administrative execution—exactly what KCL upgrades aim to accomplish.
“The technology we’re bringing to bear on kashrus will ensure consistency. The administrative structure we’re establishing will ensure efficiency as we tackle tasks, preclude problems, and provide an address that’s always available to handle every issue,” he says.
What are you eating?
The key for consumers is to know what they are eating.
“If you see food with a symbol that you don’t recognize, don’t eat it; you don’t know what kind of hechsher it is. It may even be a forged hechsher—we’ve been seeing some fake symbols lately,” Rabbi Perl cautions.
“How is it that people are living on a high level of Yiddishkeit, yet when it comes to eating out, hat-, frock-, or bekeshe-wearing Yidden have the same standards as Modern Orthodox or traditional Jews?” he wonders.
“When people ask if a specific hechsher is good, I tell them, ‘That depends on your standards.’ I explain that although you can find a kosher esrog for $50, people spend $300–$400 to get a beautiful one. Why? Because their level in Yiddishkeit makes them ask for more. The hechsheirim we eat hinge on how many precautions we want to take when it comes to issurim of kashrus.”
As Rabbi Avrohom Shloime Katz puts it, “Ultimately, KCL is shlichei tzibbur;we’re messengers of the community. When you demand, we can deliver.”
KCL by the numbers
170 establishments certified by KCL, including stores, restaurants, caterers, and home-based businesses
130 full- and part-time mashgichim and KCL-approved kashrus supervisors
6 hours to kasher a typical hotel kitchen
350—average number of phone calls and inquiries KCL receives each week
Praise for KCL
“The ir haTorah deserves and expects the highest standards of kashrus from its kashrus commission. KCL has set as its goal to meet and exceed this expectation. B’siyata d’Shmaya, an ever-improving KCL will continue to earn the community’s admiration and trust.” —Rav Uri Deutsch, rav of Forest Park and an active adviser of KCL
“I’m grateful that Lakewood has a central hechsher, that KCL makes a continuous effort to service and improve, and that I can trust the people behind this hechsher.” –Rav Chaim Meir Roth, rav of Sterling Forest
A night out
Rabbi Perl: “Eating out isn’t as simple as it seems.”
“‘I would eat at his house; why is his eatery any different?’
“With restaurants and home-based food establishments popping up all over the place—some that don’t have a hechsher—I’m asked this question all the time. The key difference between a person’s home and their restaurant is that once someone is making money off the meal, he loses his ne’emanus.He wants to serve the best food at the cheapest cost to him. What will he do when, say, the $8,000 chicken order looks questionable?”
“Here are a few of the many kashrus issues that can come up at a restaurant without a hechsher monitoring all activities:
- “Bishul akum: Even in establishments that rely on pilots (eish m’eish) so their workers can light fires, there are dangers. The pilot can go out, and if there’s no mashgiach, the non-Jew will turn it back on. Now all the food cooked from that pilot is bishul akum.
- “There’s no more wine, and they need it for the sauce. A worker runs out to buy more—from the closest shop, which is non-Jewish. If there’s a missing ingredient, employees might go out and buy it on their own. The super-kosher meat can be cooked in nonkosher wine.
- “Employees can warm up their personal food in restaurant equipment, rendering the utensils treif. Similarly, they can use their own equipment on restaurant food if no one catches the mistake.
- “There’s a famous distributor that ships on three standards—mehudar, average, and nonkosher. We’ve experienced some hair-raising near-misses with this distributor. Without a full-time ne’eman kashrus,subpar or evennonkosher deliveries might be accepted.”
“A café opened in Lakewood. Although there was no hechsher certificate to be found, the place was packed with frum patrons. When one of our mashgichim visited and asked to speak with a supervisor of kashrus, he got the runaround.
“He asked customers, ‘Do you know what the hechsher is?’
“They said they didn’t, but they’d seen frum people eating there and assumed it was kosher.
“Here’s another example of unreliable presumptions: buying side dishes in a milchig place for a fleishig meal or vice versa. Don’t assume they’re pareve. The mashed potatoes likely have butter in them; the pareve-looking vegetable soup may be made with meat stock. Even if there aren’t actual milchig or fleishig ingredients, the foods were made in the same keilim as the rest of the restaurant’s menu, and they can’t be eaten with the opposite meal.
“Realize, also, that workers know what you want to hear. When you ask if a food is pareve, they may tell you it is whether or not that’s true. In general, when you ask secular workers about yashan, shechitah, or other kashrus information, they know what you want to hear.
“When I was a mashgiach at a restaurant, a waiter once asked what Hamotzi and Mezonos mean. ‘When I tell customers that the food is Mezonos and not Hamotzi, they buy it,’ he told me.
“My message to everyone is to assume nothing. The Yiddishe way is to verify what we’re eating before we put it in our mouths. When it comes to kashrus, we can’t go acharei ha’eider,like sheep following the flock.”
What can you do?
“When you go to a restaurant, there are two things you can do to ensure that you’re eating kosher.
“First, look for the kashrus certification. Make sure it’s reliable (up to your standards) and current (not expired). Also make sure there’s a mashgiach or ne’eman kashrus who is on-site all the time.
“Eatery owners can feel that they’re paying for kashrus on behalf of customers who don’t care about kashrus. ‘If you don’t renew my certification, no one will notice,’ they tell me.
“It’s a painful sentiment to hear, one I know is not true. People want to eat kosher, it’s just that they assume that in Lakewood, everything is kosher. They feel safe; they think they don’t need to be careful.
“When you ask about the hashgachah or the mashgiach, you show the business owner that his investment is worth it. Klal Yisrael cares.”
Not everything in the kosher supermarket is kosher
Rabbi Perl: “Keep your eyes open in the grocery aisles.”
“While supermarkets do their best to offer only what’s kosher, our eyes must always be open. You check everything at Costco; do the same at kosher places. Look for a kashrus symbol before you buy something. If you don’t see it, don’t think we ran out of label paper. The hechsher may have been removed, the product may be infested with insects—there’s a reason the symbol isn’t there. Anything that doesn’t have a kosher logo isn’t covered by a hechsher.
“Customers know to call us when they see something questionable. They know KCL will investigate. When I find something problematic on the shelf, I make sure it is taken away immediately, whether or not it’s certified by KCL. I care about the customers, and I don’t want them to be nichshal.
“Here are some areas of concern on grocery shelves:”
“Grocery stores sell corn, Brussel sprouts, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries—all of which may not be eaten fresh as they can’t be easily checked in the right way.
“We recently removed the hechsher from snow peas. We tried many times to clean them, but we keep finding baby thrips, which are very hard to get rid of.”
“The issur of shevi’is was relevant this year. Many Lakewood supermarkets had produce from Eretz Yisrael, which baruch Hashem we were able to remove before most stores sold them. Many non-Jewish stores carry Israeli produce, so be on the lookout.”
“There are innumerable stories of people who mistakenly bought, and sometimes used, chametz instead of kosher l’Pesach products. Stores work to keep chametz and Pesach products separate—they have mashgichim walking around—but we have the responsibility to always check for the kosher l’Pesach symbol.”
Rising to the occasion
Rabbi Avrohom Shloime Katz takes on events
“A new KCL card system is being implemented to inform guests of the kashrus of a simchah. A KCL mashgiach comes in before the simchah starts. He gets detailed spreadsheets from the caterer and party planner that list all the foods and utensils. He carefully checks all the orders and approves their contents. He also goes over a thorough checklist with the caterer’s mashgiach. The mashgiach then fills in, signs, and dates a certificate with his name and the names of the hall, the shechitah, and the caterer and other relevant information.
“Last-minute orders and down-to-the-wire changes can cause caterers to take jobs without the proper hashgachah. Aside from relaying important information to guests, these cards ensure that caterers always operate with a hashgachah, as attendees will get used to seeing these certificates placed on tables and at sinks, and they’ll ask questions if they aren’t there.”
“Shabbos simchos present their own challenges. Each Shabbos, we have 20–30 simchos in Lakewood, Jackson, Toms River, and Manchester. A KCL mashgiach visits on Erev Shabbos to look over everything from the food’s placement on the blech to the wine, which must be non-mevushal. During Shabbos, he walks over to help oversee the simchah.”
The home chef
Rav Fund helps home businesses
“People are not sufficiently attuned to the nuances of kashrus. The issues that often come up in home businesses—proper hafrashas challah and the use of non-mehudar ingredients, to name two—drive home the need for hashgachah.
“KCL works with home-businesses owners who want to keep kashrus of their own imperative; they want the hadrachah.This creates a very conducive dynamic for kashrus, one where both parties want to do what’s right.”
The wild card
Rabbi Perl on party planners
“An uncertified party planner is an uncontrollable element. They can order things that even the mashgiach doesn’t know about until the last second. They can get keilim from milchig rentals for fleishig meals, purchase non-mevushal alcohol, order food from non-certified vendors, and wreak much unintentional havoc.
“Only two people can control the kashrus at a simchah: the ba’al simchah and the owner of the hall. Both are serving food to shomrei Torah u’mitzvos;both have the responsibility to make sure everything is kosher. When we only use hechsher-certified halls and party planners, we are doing the proper hishtadlus in kashrus.”
Visit KCL’s new website at kclkashrus.org.