With the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, Poland became the recognized haven for exiles from Western Europe and the cultural/spiritual center of the Jewish people. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, it housed the second largest Jewish community in the world, with nearly 3.5 million Jews. All that changed rapidly following Nazi Germany’s invasion in 1939. A scant 11 percent (369,000) of the Polish Jewish population escaped the death camps. Many fled their native Poland in reaction to anti-Semitic violence or repression under Communism. Those who stayed often turned their backs on Yiddishkeit. Now, Polish Jews are feeling a new sense of tolerance and security in their post-Cold War democracy. An increasing number are returning to their Jewish roots, which in many cases have been discovered only recently.
Rabbi Mati Kos is the first known religious person in his family in the past 200 years. The 35-year-old native of Warsaw had the first publicly held post-World War II bar mitzvah in Poland. To further discover his Jewish roots, he left his home to attend Yeshiva Ohr Somayach in Monsey, New York. He then worked as Director of Recruitment for Yeshiva Aish HaTorah in Passaic, New Jersey. Rabbi Kos recently accepted a pulpit position in Warsaw because he decided it was time to give something back to his community.
Rabbi Kos was one of 28 attendees present at the intensive annual Kashrus Training Seminar, held in Baltimore’s Star-K offices from July 9 through July 12. He joined fellow rabbonim, kashrus administrators, and aspiring smicha students considering careers in rabbonus, kiruv, and kashrus, in expanding their hands-on knowledge of kashrus. Classroom concepts came to life for the diverse group of participants, who had the opportunity to go behind the scenes of a kosher kitchen at a first class luxury hotel in downtown Baltimore. Additional tours of a local slaughterhouse, flavor factory, confectionary, bakery, restaurant, and butcher shop were arranged. Participants also had the chance to check for less obvious thrips and aphids hiding in vegetables.
“Because I am going back to Poland, I need as much training as I can get,” admitted Rabbi Kos. “I wanted to get it from a big kashrus organization with great rabbonim so it would be on a higher professional level. I needed to learn how to put a system in place from an organization that knows the ins and outs of kashrus. The Star-K program is geared to small communities, like Warsaw.”
Rabbi Kos was impressed with the fact that Star-K’s program covers all of the angles. “It teaches kashrus at the micro-level, from the kashering of the kitchen in your house, to teaching about kashrus on the national and international business level,” remarked Rabbi Kos. “My only criticism of the program is that it is too short,” he chuckled. “I hope to put into practice what I’ve learned from the seminar and maintain close ties with Star-K, tapping into its vast resources.”
Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, Star-K Kashrus Administrator, and coordinator of the seminar, attributes the success of this program to a mutual benefit relationship. “I believe it is advantageous for both groups, the participants and the Star-K staff”, remarked Rabbi Goldberg. “The participants gain knowledge of the inner workings of kashrus, and the staff is energized by the opportunity to teach kashrus to a highly motivated group.”