I write about Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, a”h, from a privileged perspective. My great-grandfather and namesake, Abraham Goldstein, a”h, created the Orthodox Union’s kashrus division in 1923. He subsequently founded the Organized Kashruth Laboratories (OK Labs), now OK Kosher, in the mid-1930s.
In 1968, my grandfather, George, a”h, sold the OK to Rabbi Berel Levy, a”h, Don Yoel’s father. Our family knew Rav Berel, who davened in Simpson’s, the Lubavitcher shul a block from our home in Borough Park, Brooklyn. I had numerous opportunities to discuss kashrus with Rav Berel, usually on Shabbos. A warm individual, he was always generous with his time.
In 1988, shortly after Rav Berel’s passing, I was asked, in an outsourcing capacity, to run the Jewish Homemaker, the precursor to the Kosher Spirit (the JH ceased publication in 2002). Interacting with Rav Don Yoel, I saw a gentle man; I don’t think I ever heard him raise his voice. But he was also unbending when it came to kashrus. I was once privy to a remarkable interaction. A veteran OK mashgiach erred grievously in supervising a certain facility. I could sense Rav Don Yoel’s broken heart as he was forced to let go his longtime friend.
In 1998, after a year away, I was asked to work directly for the OK, running the Jewish Homemaker and the OK’s nascent website from the Crown Heights office. I was fortunate to participate in the OK’s weekly staff meeting (always begun with a dvar Torah), and I witnessed a man who knew so much about kashrus, yet humbly delegated authority to his rabbinic coordinators. The term “team effort” is so apropos for the OK.
Two vignettes are in order. One summer Friday, an employee’s car broke down on her way to the Catskill Mountains. Rav Don Yoel arranged for a car service to pick her up, footing the considerable fare to transport her to her destination before Shabbos. I was not surprised, because Rav Don Yoel’s largesse was part of his fabric.
Another story. The OK’s original name was Organized Kashruth Laboratories, reflecting the fact that Abraham Goldstein was a chemist (he would analyze products to determine their ingredients, often catching companies in a lie!). One day, Rikal Fogelman, Rav Don Yoel’s daughter, told me that the company wished to update its name to OK Kosher, but the family first wanted to make sure that I, as Abraham’s descendant, did not object. I was so touched by this sensitivity.
I cried at the news of his passing. I cried for his wonderful wife, Malka. I cried for their children, treasured friends of mine. I cried for Klal Yisrael, which has lost a fierce advocate for kosher standards. And I cried for myself, having lost a friend and mentor.
Three years ago, Rav Don Yoel paid a shivah call after my mother’s passing. Perhaps I recently repaid this chessed. Shuls were closed at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, but I was part of a safe, ongoing, outdoor minyan in Far Rockaway. During shivah, I told one of his sons that I would say Kaddish for Don Yoel ben Dovber. I continued to do so until his son was able to attend a minyan.
I was especially touched that during Rav Don Yoel’s hospitalization, leaders at other kashrus agencies studied Torah in his merit. What a profound effort for a profound man. I am gratified that the Levy family has been a part of my life. Abraham and George Goldstein would be immensely proud.
Yehi zichro baruch; may his memory be a blessing.
Avi Goldstein was the editor of the Jewish Homemaker for fourteen years. He currently works in the automobile industry, but he admits, eighteen years later, that he still has recurring dreams about the OK!