Hashmonaim is a community in central Israel blessed with wonderful neighbors, and lovely houses and greenery. However, it has few commercial enterprises. It is a typical bedroom community, and most of those with jobs drive out each morning and return home each evening. Some commuters even get on a plane Sunday evening and do not return until the following Thursday or Friday. Yet, those who remain behind each day enjoy some of the most wonderful experiences available. The community is warm and friendly, with a strong social support system. Many families share meals on Shabbat and rotate between the many invitations available each week. The children practically live in each other’s homes and enjoy the community almost as much as the adults do.
Recently, those of us who live here realized that not only does our community have everything, but we now also have Freezees. Besides a wonderful bakery and a well-stocked grocery, we have a delicious pizza shop that installed a Freezee machine. In America, Freezee, an ice-cold, thirst-quenching drink, is known as a 7-Eleven Slurpee – a frozen, slushy carbonated drink that comes in 153 flavors.
It is not surprising that our relatively small community has installed a Freezee machine, because the person who brought Freezees to Israel happens to be a resident and a member of our local governing council. Our neighbor, Joe Offenbacher, assisted by his energetic wife, Aviva, imported the machines, syrup, cups, unique spoon straws and dome cup covers from the US, and they have already managed to distribute several machines around the country.
Joe, Aviva and their family came on aliya in 2004. Joe is a Yeshiva University graduate with a Masters degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He also has 20 years of business experience in the US and he needed his psychology degree to deal effectively with the local red-tape!
It was not easy to start a food business food in Israel. A US factory supplies the Mehadrin-Kosher syrup. Importing flavors into Israel is a major undertaking. Each flavor needs to be registered and approved by both the Ministry of Health and the Rabbanut. The manufacturer produces each lot specifically for Israel and it is not easy to decide which flavors to import. The most popular flavors are cola, cherry and raspberry. Yet, some only want lemon-lime and will travel long distances for that flavor.
The syrup is purchased from a plant in the US under the supervision of the Star-K. Joe reports that Rabbi Tzvi Rosen of the Star-K has been wonderful in answering his questions and those of the Israeli rabbis, assuring that the product will be able to pass the most stringent Kashrut standards. In Israel, each flavor needs to get the approval of the Rabbanut of Israel’s import division. Then, it needs Ministry of Health approval. Once the basic approval is given, additional Mehadrin kashrut approval is requested for each flavor so that Freezee machines can be placed in additional locations. Rav Leff of Matityahu, a respected local English speaking Rav, helped Joe get certification in Modiin under the supervision of Rav Lau. It was not easy and took many visits to Rav Leff’s office. Since Joe’s office is in Hashmonaim, he also applied for the Mehadrin certificate of the Judea and Samaria Regional Council.
Talks are now being help to acquire Badatz certification. Acquiring this next level of Hashgacha will require a huge expense because the Badatz does not trust anyone but its own supervisors to visit the plants and check everything personally. This may ultimately prove to be too expensive.
Freezee sponsors an American Flag Football team. The players wear the Freezee logo, and right before every game, they chant the rallying cry, “One, two, three – FREEZEE!” Frezee also has a Facebook page, “Freezee Israel.”
The most successful machine is in a pizza parlor in Efrat. The owner had the machine for about a week when he called and asked if he could buy the machine because it was doing so well, it didn’t pay for him to rent it. In Ramat Beit Shemesh, a wine shop, Win Vino, dispenses Freezees. Whenever a machine is put into one business, calls come from neighboring businesses that also want one.
Today, there are ten machines in Israel, in Efrat, Netanya, Jerusalem, Hashmonaim and Modiin. Another four machines are on order and that number may be upped to ten as more and more requests are received. Wherever there are concentrations of former Americans, a Freezee machine has been installed. Now Joe’s job is to teach the Israelis how good his product is. Joe is in the process of acquiring secured loans backed by the machines in order to expand.
“It would be great,” he mentioned, “If we could find someone to donate a machine to install in an army base.”