In 2009 the phrase “Swine Flu” brought panic to the residents of Southeast Asia, and later the entire world, with the surfacing of widespread cases and the World Health Organization’s declaration that Swine Flu (also known as H1N1) had reached pandemic status.
Although OK masghichim routinely fly around the world, there was no great concern about the possibility of catching the virus. Despite the initial hysteria following the discovery of Swine Flu, by mid-2009 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that most infections were mild, similar to seasonal flu, and that recovery tended to be fairly quick, so the OK trips around the world continued as planned.
In July 2009, the Israeli office of the OK got an urgent phone call from OK China. (The OK has an office in China, where local rabbis and staff work with Chinese companies to help them understand the laws of kashrus as well as the details of the certification process. They also help arrange transportation and accommodation for the OK rabbis who arrive in China to make inspections or supervise productions.)
This time the call from China wasn’t about the usual issues. “Rabbi B. arrived in Beijing last night and was put in quarantine,” reported the director of OK China. Rabbi B. had just finished a week-long trip in India, and it appeared he caught Swine Flu there. “They check everybody who enters the country, and it seems he is indeed sick.”
As an international kosher organization, the OK must always be ready to cope with an emergency. Flights get cancelled because of storms; cars break down in the middle of nowhere; rabbis sometimes get too sick to work. But, as a responsible organization, the OK has an obligation to its clients to resume the kosher work as soon as possible. Since Rabbi B. came to China to supervise a kosher production, the first thing to do was to send another rabbi to replace him in the plant. The OK, of course, absorbed the additional costs.
However, the OK has obligations not only to its clients but also to its mashgichim. Rabbi B. was in quarantine and it was up to the OK to make sure he got the best treatment possible. Having an office in China was a great help. One of the staff members went to visit Rabbi B. at the hospital, and decided that particular hospital wasn’t the best place to recieve care. Rabbi B. was transferred to another, much better hospital, where he got the necessary care.
Finally, there was another aspect the OK had to handle: Rabbi B.’s family. The families of mashgichim give up a lot of things for the sake of kosher work, but knowing that one’s husband and father is hospitalized in a distant country is an especially hard pill to swallow. Rabbi B. was adamant: his family shouldn’t know about his sickness until he recovered. For the following week, the office staff in Israel had to keep reassuring Rabbi B.’s family that although they were not able to reach him, he was perfectly fine and the office heard from him often.
At the end of the week, everybody involved could breathe a sigh of relief. Rabbi B. recovered and was discharged from the hospital, the production had proceeded as planned and was about to finish, and Rabbi B.’s family could talk to him again, never dreaming what drama he had been through. When we are all under hashgocha from Above and Hashem watches over our mashgichim who watch over the kosher production, then, as the saying goes, “All’s well that ends well.”