When it comes to keeping kosher, Allan Lieberman is the law in these parts.
The long-time member of Palm Beach Synagogue has been a mashgiach — a person responsible for making sure kosher events, hotels, restaurants and other establishments adhere to kosher law — for seven years, mostly in Palm Beach and Broward counties.
He’s accumulated lots of stories from the work and details them in his book, “We Want Mashgiach Now! Tales from a Kosher Cop.”
“Cops protect people from being killed,” Lieberman says in the introduction. “Mashgichim protect Jews from eating non-kosher, a very serious issue.”
Lieberman has a reputation as a guy with a well-developed funny bone — he writes songs-made-to-order for special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries — but he takes keeping kosher to heart. That’s something Palm Beach Synagogue Rabbi Moshe Scheiner realized when he saw Lieberman nosing around during events, checking out food preparation and presentation.
“I’m a snoop,” Lieberman said. “When I came here, I used to go into the kitchen once in a while and I’d see the caterer not doing things, and I’d open my mouth.
“And sometime later I caught them doing something that was not kosher, and Rabbi Scheiner said you know, you’re good that this. You should get a job as a mashgiach. I didn’t want to spend my time checking lettuce for bugs, but I connected with somebody who was a mashgiach, and I decided to give it a shot.”
He works 25 hours in a supermarket kosher department, and gets called out on jobs by caterers and other businesses who want their events to be certified kosher. Sometimes his work is hands-on, for example checking lettuce for tiny insects that are difficult to see; other times he’s looking at the presentation of a meal — making sure dairy and meat aren’t mixed, for example.
Kosher inspection is “extremely important,” Scheiner said. “Many people are under the misconception that kosher means a rabbi blesses the foods. And that’s not the case at all — it has nothing to do with blessings.”
Leviticus Chapter 11, in the Torah, describes what is kosher and what is not kosher. The Jewish kosher inspection and certification system, is “sort of like the Jewish FDA,” Scheiner said.
Lieberman didn’t write “Kosher Cop” strictly for educational purposes, though. “It’s a vehicle for my humor,” he said.
One of his favorite stories, recounted in the book, took place in a kitchen where the help had limited English skills.
He needed to wash some romaine lettuce, but the sink was dirty, so he asked someone to wash it for him. He went into dining area and when he returned 10 minutes later, the person he asked to wash the sink was sitting in a chair by it, staring at it. But it was in the same condition as when he left.
“We’re not communicating,” Lieberman recalled. “I went to a person who was sort of the communicator in the kitchen, and he goes over to talk to the man. Then he starts laughing.
“He said he thought you said ‘watch the sink.’”
Other encounters occurred with diners who had brought their own liquor to events, and were told that they weren’t kosher. In these cases, he packs the non-kosher bottles up and takes them away. When Lieberman told an attendee that her favorite drink wasn’t kosher, she said, “’Honey, let me set you straight about something …. Most people in this synagogue don’t give a hoot about kosher so just put the bottles back in the bar.’
“No can do,” Lieberman said he replied.
After some back-and-forth, he told her she had three choices: let him take the bottle away; have the bartender make her favorite drink in a paper cup and drink it in the parking lot; or “broaden your horizons” by trying another mix.
Lieberman thinks the job might go a little more smoothly if he wore a badge that said: “Kosher Police.”
He’s looking for one, but the cheapest he’s been able to find was offered by a manufacturer in China and it would have cost him $700 to $800, since they required a bulk order.
“It’s not a priority but I’ll keep looking.”
He ends the book by describing his efforts to become the official mashgiach at Mar-a-Lago. He reasoned that President Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would want kosher events, and he envisioned himself “presiding over Passover Seders attended by heads of state, diplomats as well as influential Jews from around the world.”
“I have such grandiose plans, but to date they have yet to materialize.”
He did get one gig at Mar-a-Lago, though, working an engagement party for a family that had booked the Beach Club. He pulled into the main entrance for the job and was stopped by “four burly men with close cropped hair, dark glasses amid expressionless faces.”
He told them he was there to “provide the kosher supervision at the engagement party.”
They told him where to park and asked: “Any questions?”
He writes in the book that he thought: “Yes. Can you tell Donald I’d like to talk to him about hiring me as the official Mar-a-Lago mashgiach?”
“Fortunately, for one of those rare times I was able to stifle myself.”