Writing about Rabbi Levy is probably the biggest challenge I have; much more than writing reports. English is not my mother language, but words spoken from the heart will enter the heart, and will be understood iy”h by all readers. My first feeling upon hearing of his passing was that I had
lost my father, again.
It all started about ten years ago, when I had just moved from Antwerp, Belgium to Elad in Eretz Yisroel and I was unemployed. My father ז”ל used to learn תמידים כסדרם among other סדרים in a shiur Torah of the גאב”ד בד”ץ עד”ח ירושלים הגרי”ט ווייס שליט”א for decades while Rabbi Weiss was דומ”ץ in Antwerp.
As Rabbi Weiss was our family Rabbi, I called him up and asked the Rabbi if he could help me find a job. I informed him that I had heard from a friend that OK Kosher had a branch in Elad. Without hesitating, he told me to please get Rabbi Levy’s ז”ל phone number. It was my first time calling the OK HQ. I briefly introduced myself and asked for Rabbi Levy’s ז”ל phone number in order to pass it on to Rabbi Weiss. I was told (not sure by whom) that Rabbi Levy was currently in Eretz Yisroel and received his cellphone number after a few minutes. This in itself surprised me a lot; a CEO who feels comfortable sharing his private phone number without ceremony, which exactly described his wonderful character.
After this phone call, I indeed had the merit to begin my work for the OK. I will try to describe my personal relationship with Rabbi Levy ז”ל over the past 10 years. I view Rabbi Levy ז”ל as my rebbi muvhak in all kosher aspects and beyond. It could take 40 years בבחינת אין אדם עומד על דעת רבו עד ארבעים שנה to understand all the things I learned from Rabbi Levy during that 10 years.
Rabbi Levy ז”ל would return my first reports to me with corrections for minor spelling mistakes, just to teach me that kashrus means להקפיד על וצו של יוד. Initially I didn’t understand what was behind this, but I realized that his goal was to teach professionalism and precision כחוט השערה for the benefit of the kashrus world and myself.
In all the years I worked for him, he never gave made me feel like he was the BOSS. He spoke with us at eye level, calm and relaxed, and smiled at us on many occasions just to make us feel comfortable. Several times he started his conversation with me with some sentences in French just to give me a good feeling of speaking my mother language. Nonetheless, we all had יראת כבוד to him due to his enormous truthfulness. Because he was such a truthful person, he would never ask something of his employees that he didn’t require of himself as well. We all simply learned from him, as he was a personal example to all of us.
We all feel like שלוחים of Rabbi Levy ז”ל when we go to the OK facilities and in our trips representing kashrus, Yiddishkeit, and the advancement of the Torah to the entire world. The Middas HaEmes of Rabbi Levy went so far such that even in unimportant areas he was careful to be truthful. Once we talked in front of a few OK rabbis about the speed limit of the TGV (fast train in France) and I said a certain speed limit, which was different than what Rabbi Levy quoted. I just remembered the number as a boy when the train opening was launched. I didn’t pay too much attention, as it was a minor unimportant detail, but Rabbi Levy ז”ל opened an article on the spot and corrected the number. Once again, that was to show and teach us indirectly life guidance on how to work in the world of kashrus.
The last time I had the merit to meet him was on 12 Elul 5779 in his office when I visited him with my family. He received us with a lovely reception and made sure not to have a conversation about work. He was only interested if we were able to find our way around while in New York, caring and making us feel comfortable.
Yet again, once more I had the merit to have another lesson on what it means to be precise. Rabbi Levy ז”ל always had pictures of the Lubavitcher Rebbes זיע”א around him בבחינת והיו עיניך רואה את מוריך . He showed us one painting of the Tzemach Tzedek, saying, “You see, the painting of the clothes isn’t authentic, as the outer coat should be buttoned right over left as the Tzemach Tzedek did and not opposite, left over right.
I specifically bring this “simple” example to express on how precise Rabbi Levy ז”ל was even in simple things in his life, just to teach us all how we must behave in whatever we do—to go on the right path, not left, not right, just straight ahead.
Another point that impressed me a lot in that meeting was his dedication to kibud av v’eim. Rabby Levy ז״ל, excused himself and told us, “I’m going to visit my mother.” (At that time his mother ע”ה was in a recovery home in Boro Park and he used to visit her almost daily for about a year.) It was the end of the office day, but he went like he had just woken up …בבחינת ויקם אברהם His attitude was that if one is not honest in the simple things in one’s daily life, how could one expect oneself to be honest without any נגיעות when you come to deal in the kashrus world? Rabbi Levy ז”ל was straighter than a ruler. I once discussed several companies with him in which future production would change and would not be exactly as the OK guidelines required if we continued certification. He then immediately gave me the order to stop all OK certification of future productions with those companies, effective immediately. He never entered into discussion about the amount of fees the OK would charge or what loss it could cause. He never cared about fees when it came up to kashrus rules. And most of all, on that occasion he literally thanked me
very much for finding this out!
I have worked for several kosher agencies in my kashrus career. With Rabbi Levy ז”ל, I was impressed each time from the start how he personally invested time in reading of the initial reports and wanted to make sure that all the guidelines for the specific facility would be implemented by all parties involved in the kosher program for the facility. The facility personnel, the field representative, account representatives, the Rabbinic Coordinators, all the ingredients, products, guidelines, labels etc… each one had to be entered in the KCert database to guarantee the highest kosher standards at all times. Every year, before renewing the kosher certificate, all the above details had to be updated before issuing the renewed certificate.
All these requirements not only made the kosher certification more professional, it impacted our personal lives as well. It taught me a lesson on how to learn a sugya in Chumash, Halacha or Gemara in a totally different way. Rabbi Levy taught us to think in depth, in kashrus and in all areas.
To conclude, the very short OK slogan —“Kosher without compromise”—these few words summarize everything about Rabbi Levy’s ז”ל special and unique personality. מי יתן לנו תמורתו. Rabbi Levy, iy”H we will continue your legacy, exactly like you have taught us.
ה׳ ירפא את שברינו, שנזכה בקרוב לביאת משיח צדקנו
ובתחיית המתים בב”א
אוריאל שלום ישראל בן לאאמ”ר עמרם זצ”ל
Rabbi Ouriel Serfaty is a Rabbinic Coordinator at OK Israel