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(Rebbes and Chasidim)
Rabbi Bernard (Berel) Levy was a pioneer of Kosher certification in the United States.
Bernard Levy grew up in the 1920s, outside of New York City. At the age of ten, a young Berel decided to leave home and move in with his uncle. The move enabled him to attend the Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. He later traveled to study at the famed Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Otwock, Poland.
He arrived in Otwock in 1937 and spent two years studying there. While there, Rabbi Velvel Solovetchik of Brisk befriended him. Most significant of all was his accessibility to the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn and the fact that he was able to go into private audience with him. On the outbreak of WWII, he returned to America and in 1940 he was among the first students who sat down to learn in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in 770 Eastern Parkway.
In 1944, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn sent Rabbi Berel Levy to New Haven and worked tirelessly establishing the day yeshiva.
From New Haven, he moved to Lakewood, NJ where he worked in the day school for three years. There he met Rabbi Aaron Kotler, with whom he would work closely in later years. After Lakewood, he moved to Elizabeth, NJ. Leaving Elizabeth for Brooklyn in 1960, he went to work for Torah U'Mesorah. At that time, he was closely associated with various Gedolim (great personalities) of various factions in Orthodox Jewry. His spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson would speak to him for hours concerning educational issues in America. He served as an unofficial conduit between the Rebbe and Rabbi Aaron Kotler and other Gedolim. He once spent an entire night discussing Torah U'Mesorah with the previous Satmar Rebbe. On this point, he also met and started a long relationship with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
In the mid-1960s, he started working in the field of kosher. At that time, certification was given with very little technical knowledge of the food industry. Often people just assumed things were kosher judging by the ingredients on the label. He took over some hechsherim in 1965. He started out with eleven or twelve hechsherim, and because of his personality and drive, companies kept coming to him applying for certification. He took over OK Kosher Certification in 1968. Until that time, no one had ever bothered traveling to check ingredients and products coming from overseas. Being a real pioneer in the kosher industry, Rabbi Berel Levy always wanted to see how everything was produced. He would check as far back as he could, finding that each ingredient was made up of many ingredients until eventually he saw the need to certify the plants. And so, one thing led to another and international travel for kosher certification became a necessity. OK Labs was the first to begin certifying companies in the Far East, starting with palm oils and chemicals. Today in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Korea, Japan and China the OK is the primary kosher organization in that part of the world.
He pioneered giving certifications, only after totally familiarizing himself with all the mechanical and chemical components of the food industry. He was the first one to make extensive trips to the Far East to inspect the products coming from there. Even countries not particularly friendly to Jewish people, didn't faze him. He was the first to visit Malaysia. The Lubavitcher Rebbe would ask him to perform a particular task in a foreign country he would be in. He always made certain to carry out every detail of the Rebbe's advice. A mikveh was built in the Philippines, a mechitzah was raised in the shul of Kobe, Japan.