Perspectives: Rabbi Basser. You have been acting as the CEO of the COR for a few months now. How has it been going? What have been some of your biggest challenges thus far?
Rabbi Basser: I started my position the day before Chanukah. When people asked me, a week later, how it’s going, I told them: ‘It’s just like the miracle of Chanukah! I’ve been here 8 days and I didn’t burn out.”
The reality is, that I am working with a very talented team of people. They are experts in their fields. They are insightful people of high integrity, very committed to Kashrus and to the community. And COR is the vehicle for that commitment.
Yes, there were some challenges just before I came. But my timing was perfect – Rabbi Felder, working with excellent support, had already dealt with the hardest issues. I come from a major for-profit Industry – I was Director of Engineering at Nortel Networks. I know what an organization is supposed to look like. COR was doing a fine job at ensuring kashrus before I came; my contribution will be a senior perspective on organization.
So the greatest challenge when I came was organizational: there were missing or understaffed functions. For example, there was no Marketing and Sales being done within the organization. Without marketing and sales reaching out to industrial companies interested in kosher certification, we will ultimately see diminished revenues to COR which undermines our financial base and hence limits our ability to serve the interests of the Toronto Jewish community.
Another function that needs more focus is Human Resources. Dr Sholom Horowitz contributed his time generously to COR, and continues to contribute, on issues such as structuring and other staffing needs. But every organization needs constant attention to matters such as employee satisfaction, salary structure, roles and responsibilities, communications and so on.
Naturally there are challenges or COR would not have engaged a CEO. But I must observe that the positives, the wonderful people in all functions, the interesting issues that arise, the opportunity for liaison with the Toronto community and to work with other kashrus agencies worldwide, vindicate the efforts involved.
P: Sounds like you are enjoying the challenge. What have been some things that have surprised you about working at the COR?
RB: I was frankly surprised to realize that COR had not yet done more to accommodate the Sephardi community, for example with regard to Bet Yosef shechita. Baruch Hashem, COR Bet Yosef shechita is now available for the first time in Toronto.
Many of the surprises have been pleasant ones. I once asked a meeting of the ‘route mashgichim’ whose job is to check on food establishments, what they like best about their job. The answers were basically variations on how they felt privileged to spend their time on the mitzvah of ensuring kashrus for the Toronto community. Beautiful!
P: That is beautiful. It sounds like you are enjoying yourself. What would you say is the best thing about working at COR?
RB: It’s hard to pick one ‘best-thing’ because it keeps changing weekly. Naturally, when I considered accepting the position, I was focused on “Oseik b’tzarchei tzibbur” (engaging in community work). After a long career in the for-profit sector, and a short career as Principal of a specialized methodology Talmud Torah, COR provides an opportunity to serve the broad Jewish community. If I can reply with only one “best thing” it is that – serving the community. However, as I mentioned before, I really enjoy working with a stimulating team of bright and knowledgeable people and that also is a serious contender for “best thing”.
After that, I must list the ongoing interesting experiences, especially for someone like me, new to the world of kashrus certification. I recently toured a kosher slaughter house and finally saw many of the things I had learned about years ago, such as shechita and bedika. I have met with a world-renowned leader of the Sephardic community in Brooklyn, with irate businessmen, and with foreboding government officials. I was in Rabbi Heber’s office recently, photographing duck eggs being cracked open. I also enjoy the creativity and energy of the new Marketing and Sales organization.
So, the final answer to, “What is the best thing about working at COR? “ is, in fact, how much I do enjoy myself here.
P: One final question. Is there anything else you think kosher consumers should know about COR or COR’s services to the community?
I think people should know that the COR is the implementation arm of the Rabbinical Vaad Hakashrus, a council of local rabbis who are qualified to provide halachic guidance that reflects the values of the community.
COR has a staff of about 85 people. Most of those are kashrus supervisors, skilled in ensuring kosher products and services, while others are administrative and managerial staff. Most important, I want people to know that COR provides the community with a variety of services. We have a kashrus hotline to answer your questions, and a highly informative website at www.COR.ca with kashrus alerts, articles, updates, and the ability to search for kosher products and restaurants. We provide classes on a variety of subjects to help the public keep high standards of kashrus at home, and to understand the complexity of issues that industrial processes present. We will also help those who wish to initiate kashrus observance in their home, to kosher their kitchens. We also publish our informative Kosher CORner magazine at Pesach and Sukkos.
And finally, there is now an opportunity for the community to send suggestions for improvement directly to me, at [email protected]
P: Rabbi Basser, this has been very informative. Thank you and we wish you continued success as CEO of COR.
RB: Thank you very much.