“The consumer is the ultimate winner,” MK Kosher says as it expands in SA
In what could be a game changer for kashrut in South Africa, MK Kosher, a global kosher certifier, is expanding its operations in the country.
“In a way, it has expanded itself as we have had an increase in calls from companies looking to outsource their kosher certification and get an internationally-recognised hechsher which could open the door to exports,” MK Executive Director Rabbi Saul Emanuel told the SA Jewish Report on a call from Canada.
In a press release on 8 November 2021, the certifier said it had recruited Rabbi Yossi Baumgarten and Rabbi Berel Rodal to lead its rapidly growing operations in South Africa. MK first entered South Africa when South African health-food company The Chocolate Tree and Nu Tree adopted its hechsher around March 2021.
“As the need for our certification is expanding, we need experts on the ground, and Rabbi Baumgarten is a world-renowned expert,” said Emanuel, who is an ex-South African. He worked for the kashrut department of the South African Beth Din for 10 years prior to moving to Canada.
Explaining how he came to take on the new role, Baumgarten said, “Rabbi Emanuel and I worked together in the Johannesburg kashrut department for about a decade. When he heard that I was working as a kosher consultant, he asked me to join the MK team.
“With Hashem’s help, this new venture will enable kosher consumers locally and internationally to have a wider range of kosher-certified products as well as giving South African companies new export opportunities. I enjoy finding solutions to the challenges involved in kosher certification, and there is great satisfaction when a needed or desired product becomes available to either consumers or manufacturers.”
Said Emanuel, “Rabbi Baumgarten, who will be our senior regional co-ordinator for Africa, has been the leading expert for kosher certification in South Africa for more than four decades and has written extensively on the subject. Rabbi Rodal, who will serve as our rabbinic co-ordinator for the South African region, worked in the kashrus field in his native Italy for a decade before moving to Johannesburg in 2003.”
Emanuel said Baumgarten had extensive experience in visiting companies and guiding them in securing kashrut accreditation, and would bring this expertise to this role. He will co-ordinate a team to conduct ongoing spot inspections and to work hand in hand with manufacturers regarding their kosher certification.
He said enquiries had come from some companies which had been kosher-certified in the past and some which had not. “Various companies are showing interest, and we are answering those calls.”
He emphasised that MK was looking to work only in the manufacturing sphere, and wouldn’t be involved in restaurants, butchers, shechita, or other enterprises, and he hopes consumers will benefit from increased competition. MK would be happy to work with the United Orthodox Synagogues (UOS) kashrut department, Emanuel said. “If the company requests that we work together, we would be very glad to do so.” This includes dual certification.
Meanwhile, the managing director of the kosher department of the UOS, Rabbi Dovi Goldstein, said it was also offering international certification.
Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from the United States where he had just arrived for Kosherfest, Goldstein said, “We have partnered with the world’s largest hechsher, the OU [Orthodox Union], with the launch of Kosher Arabia several months ago. We are offering all our manufacturers the ability to be dual certified with the OU hechsher on their products, which was rolled out two weeks ago. This improves the ability of South African companies to export their product across the globe, where the OU’s brand is well known.”
The kosher food market is the fastest growing segment of the food industry, expanding by more than 10% every year. A key reason for the growth is that consumers know that kosher food is produced according to strict quality control guidelines. In addition, those with allergies and intolerances know they can trust the ingredients listed on kosher-certified products.
“I’m proud to be joining the MK team because they share my commitment to working hand in hand with food manufacturers and producers in order to meet the highest possible standards of kashrut,” said Baumgarten.
“To be working with Rabbi Baumgarten is a real honour,” said Rodal. “He personifies kosher certification in our community and with good reason, is respected and acknowledged by consumers and kashrut agencies across the globe. He fully understands the halachic questions which may arise at facilities, and has carried out thousands of inspections across Africa and internationally over the years. The big winners are consumers. When they see the MK brand, they are assured that the item is of a gold-standard kashrut.”
Said Goldstein, “The kosher department of the UOS will continue to innovate to ensure more people eat more kosher more often. The UOS is a non-profit organisation that ensures all aspects of Orthodox Jewish life and halachic observance are of the highest standard in South Africa. To this extent, we ensure the community has a well-respected Beth Din, kosher mikvahs and eiruvs, halachic supervision of marriage and divorce, and importantly, the highest levels of kashrut.”
“We could do much more together,” Israeli ambassador tells Ramaphosa
Israel’s new ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotsercovsky, rubbed elbows with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa when he presented his credentials to him on Tuesday, 25 January, at the Sefako Makgatho Presidential Guest House in Tshwane.
Ramaphosa was courteous and smiling as Belotsercovsky told him about how the relationship between their countries could improve and how Israel could help South Africa.
“We believe there’s tremendous potential in us working together,” the Israeli ambassador told Ramaphosa. “Together, we can share dreams and together, we can fulfil them.”
Belotsercovsky said that South Africa was a shining example of a peaceful and dignified transition under the enlightened and courageous leadership of Nelson Mandela. He said the country’s democratic transformation took place with an independent judicial system and a free press.
But most importantly, he said, it was achieved through dialogue and “Israel is looking forward to upgrading our bilateral dialogue. There’s so much we can do together in the future in science and technology, education and training, food security, and climate change.”
He used the example of South African and Israeli scientists working together to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak as an example of successful co-operation.
Israel’s government is based on “a rainbow coalition” Belotsercovsky said, which represents an excellent example of partnership between religious and secular Jews and Arabs, people of European and African origins, politicians and technocrats, all united in the task of fulfilling the dreams of the next generation.
He went on to tell the president about the phenomenal ways Israel is already using its technology and knowhow to work successfully in South Africa, and said he hoped there was much more they could do together.
Legal amendment puts Lithuanian citizenship in reach
Thousands of Litvak Jews around the world stand a much better chance at getting Lithuanian citizenship based on ancestry since the law was amended last week.
A bill to amend Lithuania’s Law on Citizenship was unanimously passed in Lithuania’s Seimas (parliament) last Thursday, 20 January. It will have far-reaching positive implications for future applicants, many of whom had unsuccessfully tried and lost hope of obtaining citizenship.
This follows a year of extensive lobbying efforts from many quarters. It involved various iterations of a draft bill which was revised and redrafted several times, according to those involved, leading to last week’s vote, in which 110 members of parliament from across Lithuania’s political spectrum supported the bill.
Lithuanian Ambassador to South Africa Dainius Junevičius said the bill clarified that anyone who was a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania before 15 June 1940 was eligible for reinstatement of their citizenship on condition that there were no decisions adopted on their loss of citizenship.
This is a huge relief to many whose applications were rejected by the Lithuanian migration department, some pending indefinitely with others being placed on hold.
The application jam stemmed from a Lithuanian Supreme Court decision a few years ago which opened the law up for interpretation, making it much tougher, and which dramatically slowed down applications, causing enormous frustration.
In addition to what was always accepted as sufficient proof of Lithuanian citizenship, applicants were also required to provide proof that their Lithuanian immigrant ancestors actively sought to maintain their Lithuanian citizenship once in South Africa (or their new country of residence) until 15 June 1940.
This was a dramatic departure from the original position, which never required proof that citizenship was actively maintained after leaving Lithuania.
“This was a major obstacle for applicants as in almost all cases, no such proof exists. It also had far-reaching implications for all future citizenship applications,” said Lithuanian emigration consultant Nida Degutienė from Next Steps. Her company assists South Africans and others to obtain Lithuanian citizenship by helping to source the required documentation for reinstatement of their citizenship. She told the SA Jewish Report many of her clients’ applications had been declined by the migration department because of this.
In some cases where families had applied at different times using the same source documents, some had been granted citizenship, while others had been rejected.
However, this will soon change, said an elated Degutienė, who believes last week’s vote will pave the way forward for many South African Jews to successfully apply for citizenship.
“Less than a year ago, I was telling a story of a ridiculous court ruling which was applied to an unlucky Litvak family whose application for Lithuanian citizenship was rejected. Now I’m so happy to announce that the law has been amended, and this particular family, as many more, will be free to receive their passports.”
Degutienė and many others including politicians and lawyers in Lithuania and members of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies campaigned tirelessly for the amendment.
“I was really frustrated about the grey zone in the citizenship legislation which was used by Lithuanian institutions to create rules and obstacles that made many South African Litvaks ineligible for a Lithuanian passport,” said Degutienė. “The only way to solve this impossible situation was to change the law as any other solution would have been too temporary, and we would have had to depend on court procedures which are lengthy and costly.”
She said it had been a tough road.
“Not many colleagues or competitors believed I would succeed, but now as you see, if you put all your heart and effort into something, sooner or later it results in positive developments.”
Said Junevičius, “As we welcome this move by the Republic of Lithuania, removing many barriers to apply for the reinstatement of Lithuanian citizenship, we anticipate deepening connection with ancestral land and fully expect an exponential growth in economic relations and tourism.”
The director of AccessEU, Nicole Marcus, said this week, “AccessEU looks forward to overturning the negative decisions and restoring our 100% success record. Over the years, we’ve experienced changes to the requirements and process, at times becoming very difficult if not near impossible, and at other times easing somewhat. We urge everyone who is eligible to use this opportunity to apply for Lithuanian citizenship before any new interpretations might close the doors once again.”
Before the bill becomes law, Lithuania’s president will need to sign the bill into effect, and this is expected to happen soon.
Once enacted into law, the effect of this amendment will be to remove the requirement that one’s Lithuanian ancestor must have actively maintained their Lithuanian citizenship until 14 June 1940. That requirement was strictly enforced by the migration department since December 2020 following the Supreme Court decision in November 2020, when an application for citizenship with no supporting Lithuanian documentation was brought, causing serious ramifications for many other applicants.
Many applicants were refused citizenship on the basis that their Lithuanian ancestor had naturalised prior to 15 June 1940. Now the prospects of success for those applicants have been revived.
According to insiders, many hundreds of applications are believed to have been waiting for years for a decision following various procedural and then interpretative changes. Hundreds of applications which are currently held in suspense pending queries from Lithuania’s migration department which had been almost impossible to satisfy will now need to be reconsidered.
The migration department will probably take some time to work through the backlog, and applicants shouldn’t expect immediate results. They should keep in mind that the change in the law doesn’t mean that every applicant will be successful as each application will depend on its own supporting documentation which varies from one family to the next, insiders say.
Applicants are still required to prove that their Lithuanian ancestor left Lithuania after 16 February 1918 (the Republic of Lithuania’s initial date of independence) and must still prove with Lithuanian documentation that they held Lithuanian citizenship and departed from Lithuania.
One of the questions still being asked is whether those whose ancestors arrived in South Africa prior to 1918 will be able to apply for a passport.
“The answer is no,” said Degutienė. “This law does not extend the right of applying to those who emigrated earlier than the State of Lithuania was established, and it’s unlikely this will ever change.”
Degutienė said the amendment wouldn’t have been made possible without the help of Lithuanian Member of Parliament Dalia Asanavičiūtė. “Without her persistence and resilience against huge pressure from the migration department and opposition, and her deep understanding and respect for Jews, this change would never have been possible.”
Junevičius said the amendment was a very positive development, and would probably ensure the success of many pending and future applications.
He encouraged prospective passport holders to show an interest in Lithuania, saying that amongst other things, the country offered a broad range of international study programmes taught in English in its 19 universities and 22 colleges at a highly competitive price.
Nearly 8 000 students from 127 countries in the world including South Africa and Israel studied in Lithuania in the 2020 to 2021 academic year, Junevičius said. “The reasons to choose Lithuania as your study destination are multiple, but the main ones are high quality world-class education for an affordable price in an attractive European country.”
As for business opportunities, Junevičius said that for the past 20 years, Lithuania had been the fastest growing economy in the European Union in terms of gross domestic product per capita, with a “highly favourable business environment” with top rankings and ratings.
“Things here get done quicker and better because the doers – from students and engineers to the go-to advisors at Invest Lithuania – are agile, ambitious, and driven by big ideas. And when it comes to big ideas, we don’t dabble, we explore, from gene and cell therapy to the latest in machine learning.”
Terror accused in court
Brandon-Lee and Tony-Lee Thulsie appeared in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday, 26 January 2022, where live broadcasting of proceedings and the setting of a court date were discussed. The twins are accused of terrorist activity targeting Jewish institutions in South Africa, amongst other targets. They have been in custody since their arrest in July 2016.
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