Have you ever thought about why the OK is called an “international kosher organization”? It is not simply because the OK mashgichim fly to Europe or South America to do inspections or supervise productions. Kosher productions occur in the most unlikely places, which is why a couple of OK mashgichim could regale you with stories from the kosher work they did in… Pakistan.
Rabbi T.* is one of those mashgichim. A few years ago he was asked by the OK Israel office to fly to Lahore to supervise a kosher candy production in a small nearby town. Rabbi T. has dual American and Israeli citizenship and can enter Pakistan thanks to his American passport. American citizens are entitled to a visa on arrival, provided they can show an invitation letter from the local company as well as a few similar documents.
Rabbi T. got his visa without any problems and the kosher production started as planned. Everything went smoothly until the weekend. Then, very early on Shabbos morning, Rabbi T. was awakened from his sleep by loud knocking on the door of his hotel room. Sleepily, he asked who was knocking and got the reply: “Police, open at once!”
The shocked Rabbi T. got up and opened the door. No fewer than ten people entered his room: local policemen, secret service officers, and a few security guards. “We know you are Jewish and we have no problem with that,”‘ they informed the obviously chassidish Rabbi T., “but we want to know what you are doing in such a distant location. What is your business here?”
Rabbi T. explained about kosher rules and the candy production, but they were still incredulous. Going so far for candy bars? They insisted on checking his belongings. They opened his tefillin bag and wanted to know what it contained. They went through his suitcase. They took his cellphone and checked the records of incoming and outgoing calls. “Why do you have so many Israeli numbers here?” Rabbi T. explained that he had many Israeli friends. Then they turned on Rabbi T.’s laptop. “Why do you have so many documents in Hebrew, if you are an American?” Rabbi T. told them that Hebrew was the international language of the Jews.
Fortunately, they were satisfied with his answers. (Also, they miraculously failed to find his Israeli passport, which would have been harder to explain.) It turned out that they were not so much suspicious as worried. They simply feared for the safety of the Jewish-looking stranger who suddenly appeared in the small Pakistani town. The Pakistani company had provided Rabbi T. with a security guard, but the police were not satisfied. From then on, they informed Rabbi T., he would be accompanied everywhere by a policeman as well. Also, he should always go back to the hotel by a different road from the one he used to go the plant. Finally, they warned him, “Don’t tell anybody that you are Jewish.”
“It was definitely a Shabbos to remember,” says Rabbi T. And no, he didn’t get to enjoy the close attention of the Pakistani security forces for very long. When the OK Israel office heard the story, the production was halted, his flight was changed and he went back to Israel much earlier than was initially planned.
“I relied on the judgment of the Pakistani security forces,” says Rabbi Aharon Haskel, head of the OK Israel office. “Since they obviously thought he was taking a risk, we took care that he wouldn’t be at risk any longer.” The OK no longer certifies any products in Pakistan because of the security and safety risks involved.
*Name changed for security purposes.