Panama: A Tropical Kosher Paradise

STAR-K/Margie Pensak

Looking for a close tropical get-away as the mercury drops? A high of 90 and a low of 76 between late December and April sounds pretty good to me right now! Not only for the Atlantic or Pacific coastal island – or rainforest – experience, but for an equally exciting Kosher culinary experience. Welcome to Panama City, Panama! Its 85% kosher-observant community supports multiple shuls, schools, Yeshivos, and a flourishing Kollel.

With 30 kosher restaurants, two large impressive Kosher supermarkets, and dozens of kosher industrial sites, Panama is a veritable Kosher “paradise” – and a true model of thriving Torah life. Building on the legacy of Rav Sion Levy, zt”l, the founding Rav of the Shevet Ahim Kehilla, Chief Rabbi, Rav David Perets, shlit”a, leads the community. The Rav, along with Rav Avraham Silvera, shlit”a, signs each kosher certificate.

STAR-K Kosher Certification Kashrus Administrator and Director of Special Projects, Rabbi Zvi Holland, was recently invited by Rav Perets to see Shevet Ahim’s extensive Kosher supervision system led by Vaad Hakashrut Shevet Ahim Panama Rabbinic Coordinator Rabbi David Eshkenazi. He had the opportunity to spend quality time with many of the staff members, including meeting with the shochtim and attending one of the local shechitos.

This was not Rabbi Holland’s first visit to Panama’s Vaad Hakashrut Shevet Ahim; Rav Perets first invited him in 2016. Shevet Ahim Kehilla’s connection with STAR–K can be traced back to the many talmidim of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Panama, including Rav Perets himself.  Rav Perets has been in touch with STAR-K and Rabbi Holland for many years.

As for Rav Eshkenazi, on Rav Perets’ direction, Rav Eshkenazi made the 2103-mile trip to attend STAR-K’s 16th Annual STAR-K Kashrus Training Program because he aspired to work in the booming field of Kashrus in Panama.

Notes Rav Eshkenazi, “The Star K has played a crucial role in the extensive journey of establishing the Vaad Kashrut of Shevet Ahim.”

Concludes Rabbi Holland, “A group of six overseers preside over a network that consists of over 50 mashgichim, shochtim and Kashrus staff, to assure that there is a high standard of Kashrus in Panama… I am sure that Rav Perets invited me with the hope that the local Kashrus professionals could learn something from STAR-K; actually, I learned and gained much chizuk from this special Kashrus team.”

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