R-1 visa program helps fill the void at kosher establishments
By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas Kosher has been able to hire mashgichim, certified kosher supervisors, through a visa program that allows workers in religious occupations to be in the country temporarily.
For almost two years, Dallas Kosher has been working with the community’s more than two dozen kosher entities to provide mashgichim services. Hiring and keeping employees has been difficult, though, and the R-1 visa program helps address the need.
“We are able to bring Jews from around the world to our wonderful community. It helps them earn a living and it helps our community’s kosher entities,” said Rabbi Sholey Klein of Dallas Kosher. “Some of them we will be training, and others have been working in this capacity for many years.”
The R-1 visa classification allows a person to come to the United States temporarily to be employed, at least part time, by a nonprofit religious organization to work solely as a minister, in a religious vocation or in a religious occupation.
The R-1 visa program allows participants to stay for 30 months, after which they can apply for an extension for another 30 months for a total of five years on the R-1 visa status. While there is no guarantee from the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, after 24 months of continuous employment, they can apply for a fast track to a green card. The program also allows them to bring their family members on an R-2 status.
“This program truly can change the entire lives of the individual and their family, giving them opportunities here in the United States that they otherwise would not have in their country,” said DK Executive Director Meira Naor.
As 2022 begins, Dallas Kosher has sponsored R-1 visa opportunities to mashgichim — one from Colombia and two from Panama — with expectation for others to arrive from Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico and Spain.
As in many industries since the beginning of the pandemic, hiring and keeping employees has been difficult for kosher organizations. The R-1 visas are sponsored by Dallas Kosher, while the recipients are employed by the entities.
“Meira, David and the rabbis at Dallas Kosher have been rock stars because they’ve dropped everything at times to come help us. While we appreciate that, having someone here whose job it is [to supervise], in addition to all the other help he offers in the restaurant, makes all the difference in the world,” said Jordona Kohn, who with Stacey Clark owns The Market Local Comfort Café.
Kohn and Clark have hired Sammy Schraer to begin work at their restaraunt later this month. “I know Sammy will be a team player, he’ll give 110% and that we will learn from his expertise and certification. We all love him already, and I’m very grateful,” Kohn said.
Schraer, who is originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, and a resident of Panama for the past 12 years, received word of the Dallas Kosher promotion in Panama. He previously owned a printing business and then worked at Chabad, where he learned the laws of kashrut. In late January, he will join the staff at The Market Local Comfort Café and also will support events for other kosher caterers and hotels in the area.
“Jordona and her team are so nice, and kind and they have brought me in like family, and it has been a beautiful experience getting to know them,” said Schraer, who enjoys studying with local rabbis and attending services in the community. “I have hoped for an opportunity to come to the United States and this is perfect. My commitment here is definite.”
Ruthy Henkin expressed the same gratitude and relief for the help. She is the owner of A Taste of the World Catering at the Schultz Rosenberg Campus of Akiba Yavneh Academy and hired Liran Turgeman, formerly of Colombia. “Liran works so hard and he’s just terrific all-around,” she said.
“I could not be happier, because this program is such a relief. It’s been very hard the last couple of years because you interview, you train — and it’s a lot of work — and then people either don’t show up or they only stay for a short time.” said Henkin.
Turgeman, his wife Chana and their two children left their home country due to unrest. They originally moved in with family in Orlando, Florida. Once there, Turgeman read an ad promoting the opportunity with Dallas Kosher.
“Our family has received such a warm welcome, and I am loving working here. Really, it has a feeling of home,” said Turgeman, who previously worked at a synagogue in Cali and had his own kosher meat business. “I enjoy the work and the people, and we are ready to stay here and make our home.”
Dallas Kosher has been awarded an Impact Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas to help with costs associated with the R-1 visas as well as to help with housing and needs for the participants.
“It’s hard to explain, those who don’t keep kosher can’t understand that I can’t serve salads or veggies because I don’t have someone to supervise [their cleaning and preparation],” said Kohn of The Local Market Comfort Café. “There are no words for how difficult it has been to find and keep help. The work of the mashgiach is so important — not just a little bit but critical to our being able to serve.”
For more information, call 214-739-6535 or email
firstname.lastname@example.org, and to help sponsor DK’s R-1 visa program, visit dallaskosher.org/donate.