By Richard Rabkin
The Jewish National Fund’s Negev dinner honouring Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rightfully received much attention. But what has received less attention are the details of the dinner itself, and specifically of interest for us – how does one go about providing kosher supervision for what was reported to be the largest kosher dinner in Canadian history?
To sum it up in one word it: preparation.
COR’s Rabbi Tsvi Heber together with Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Over a year ago, Rabbi Tsvi Heber, Director of Community Kosher at COR-Kashruth Council of Canada received a phone call from the talented folks at PR Creative Caterers informing him that at the end of 2013 they would be catering a function for approximately four thousand people at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC). We knew that this would require a herculean effort and therefore needed to begin planning immediately. A year in advance.
A meeting was set up at the MTCC between PR, COR and the MTCC staff. Many of the MTCC staff didn’t even know what kosher was, so Rabbi Heber gave a “Kosher 101” seminar explaining the basics. Can you imagine – these people have never had a good piece of brisket. So sad.
Three months before the event, Rabbi Heber, COR Senior Mashgiach Rabbi Mendel Brogna, and COR Event Specialist Moshe Meyer Mrvic had another meeting with the PR and MTCC staff to map out the entire event from a kosher perspective including: what the menu would be, how many cooking utensils would need koshering and how many mashgichim would be required. At that meeting they also met with representatives from Exclusive Affair Rentals. Remember, it’s not just the food that needs to be kosher; dishes do as well. Event venues don’t have a stock of kosher dishes on hand so the MTCC needed to rent kosher dishes. In fact, due to the sheer magnitude of this event, Exclusive themselves didn’t have enough kosher dishes in inventory so they needed to purchase additional stock. It’s not every day that you have an event for 4000 people.
During the week prior to the event, Rabbi Mendel Brogna set up shop at the MTCC. He had to be organized so he put together a koshering schedule (koshering can be done in most cases through boiling water or a direct flame). In total, he koshered approximately 20 ovens, 50 table tops, 70 warming boxes, 50 Queen Mary banquet serving carts and 4000 plate covers. He also had to supervise five mashgichim, 244 chefs and kitchen staff, and 415 waiters and bartenders. Rabbi Brogna’s koshering schedule was so tight that he had to book a hotel downtown to stay for Shabbat so he could be at the MTCC koshering until candle lighting, and start up again as soon as Shabbat ended. Someone give that Rabbi a raise!
The majority of the (spectacular) food was prepared in PR’s kitchen at their head office prior to the event under the supervision of their working mashgiach – someone who is responsible for their kosher program but also helps in the operations of the business. When the food left PR’s premises, it was placed on their trucks and sealed with special COR seals that can only be opened by the mashgiach at the venue, in this case, the MTCC.
On the evening of the event, the 6 COR mashgichim were placed strategically throughout the venue. Now, there was a room designated for VVVIPs. Yes, that’s three Vs. We weren’t sure exactly what that meant, but decided they deserved a Very Very Very Important Mashgiach so Rabbi Heber “volunteered”. And as he was supervising in the VVVIP Room, Rabbi Heber bumped into…you guessed it…Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself. Rabbi Heber introduced himself as a rabbi from the Kashruth Council of Canada and the Prime Minister responded that he knew about kosher food. Rabbi Heber asked if he could have the honour of giving the Prime Minister a bracha (blessing), and the Prime Minister agreed. Rabbi Heber proceeded to give the Prime Minister of Canada a lengthy blessing that he should have the strength to continue his steadfast leadership of our country and support of the Jewish people around the world.
Perhaps a small offshoot of Prime Minister Harper’s support for the cause of the Jewish people will be a strengthening of the cause of keeping kosher. Who knows, maybe in the future, kosher dinners for four thousand people in Canada will become a regular affair.
This article originally appeared in the Canadian Jewish News