By Sharon Szmuc
It’s not every day that one gets the chance to sit down with Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz, a very loved, kind and successful man who has created great reform within Jerusalem. He is responsible for redefining Kashrut in Jerusalem, serves as chair of the Nahalaot Community Council, he is part of the Yerushalmim party and Jerusalem City-Councilman. I had the honor to sit down with him and be able to get know all the amazing things he does for Jerusalem.
Rabbi Leibowitz was born in Berkeley, California and his family made Aliyah when he was just fourteen years old. He moved to Jerusalem fifteen years ago when he became the Rabbi of Kol Rina in Nahalaot, the neighborhood he now lives in and loves dearly. He is also the dean of Sulam Yaakov, a leadership training program for community leaders in the neighborhood. During the 2011 Housing Protest in Nahalaot he became involved in a civil action group initiative to improve Nahalaot and then joined Yerushalmim, a coalition founded by Rachel Azaria and others from the Reform and Orthodox streams who want to strengthen the pluralistic relationships in Jerusalem. The organization works to improve areas of education, women’s rights, and children’s rights by working with the municipality. Rabbi Leibowitz is involved in all these areas because he realizes that the pluralistic community is becoming stronger, saying that “more and more people are realizing that this could be a city of spirituality and a pluralistic environment.”
Of his many activities, Rabbi Leibowitz is most proud of his Kashrut system, Hashgacha Pratit, or “private supervision”. This system is an alternative to the process of getting a Kashrut certificate for a restaurant through the chief Rabbinate, a system known to be difficult and with incidents of corruption. Hashgacha Pratit, on the other hand, is a grassroots alternative that is becoming a new way restaurants are obtaining their Kosher certification. This is actually a play on words because Hashgacha Pratit in Jewish philosophy means to “divine providence”, as if God is the supervision of the world. It is replacing the longstanding hegemonic model and becoming a signed covenant of trust between businesses and the consumer becoming socially sacred. According to Rabbi Leibowitz, “a lot of restaurants want to learn what it is to be Kosher and the Kashrut focuses on the objective voice and not just the owner.” The Kashrut has been signing on average a restaurant a week and they are proud of the progress it has made.
Pictured: Rabbi Leibowitz with owners of Georgie restaurant in city center, with their Hashgacha Pratit certification
As our conversation came to a close, Rabbi Leibowitz left me with a wonderful story of the Kashrut project affecting not only restaurants, but people of the community that have thanked him for taking into account every aspect of a restaurant and making it Kosher. Rabbi Leibowitz explained to me that often the process of making a restaurant Kosher is by teaching restaurant owners how to pre-stock lettuce and fixing the bug infestation on lettuce. A vegan waiter thanked Rabbi Leibowitz for finding a way to be more aware of this because though he wasn’t Kosher, consuming bugs went against the waiter’s beliefs, and with that the Rabbi and the waiter had found a shared value.
Pictured: Nocturno Cafe, also in city center, a local hot spot which also has gotten on board with Hashgacha Pratit
Rabbi Leibowitz left me with some beautiful words of what Jerusalem means to him: “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and should serve as a model. Its history is compelling, and some most exciting things are happening in the city: there are grassroots initiatives, Shab-Bus is quickly growing as a public transportation system that operates on Shabbat, there are coalition groups for various causes, and there is a creative and active class “experiencing their own renaissance.”
Thank you Rabbi, for the reform you are bringing to this city and for making Jerusalem a pluralistic, creative, cultural and spiritual environment.
Sharon Szmuc, our fabulous summer intern, is a fourth-year at Florida State University studying Creative Writing and Communications. In the fall she will start writing for Her Campus, an online magazine for US college students.