On the last day of Pesach – Sunday, April 4 – Rabbi Zecharia Senter, founder and CEO of KOF-K Kosher Certification, passed away in upstate New York at age 84. He was buried in Jerusalem on Har Hamenuchos.
Harvey Senter was born in 1937 in East New York, Brooklyn. He grew up in Oceanside, Long Island, and attended the local public school. Inspired by his participation in a school release program led by Rabbi JJ Hecht, young Harvey switched to Yeshivas Tiferes Moshe in Queens for 7th grade. He started limudei kodesh in 2nd grade, but, through hard work, was at grade level by the end of the following year.
Rabbi Senter then attended and graduated from Yeshiva University High School for Boys and Yeshiva College and obtained a PhD in mathematics from YU’s Belfer Graduate School of Science. Dr. Senter subsequently became a tenured professor of math at Fairleigh Dickinson University and served as an adjunct professor at Yeshiva University.
At YU, Rabbi Senter was a devoted talmid of Rav Ahron Soloveichik and Rav Moshe Ahron Poleyoff, his wife’s grandfather. While working on his PhD, Zechariah Senter wanted to attend the shiur of the famed Rabbi Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, but his Belfer stipend precluded him from participating in another YU graduate program (in this case, RIETS [the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary]). Yehudis Zidele told The Jewish Press that Rav Soloveitchik granted her father special dispensation to enter his class provided that he attend every shiur, prepare for and review the shiur with a chavrusah in the beis midrash, and take the tests.
Rav Soloveitchik subsequently insisted that YU grant his talmid semichah even though the latter had never been a registered student in RIETS. Subsequently, for the next 22 years, Rabbi Senter attended every single weekly shiur Rav Soloveitchik delivered at Moriah Synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – except the one given on the night his wife gave birth.
Rabbi Yehuda Rosenbaum, director of KOF-K, told The Jewish Press that Rabbi Senter – his brother-in-law – established the kashrus organization in 1967 in his North Bergen house and began with the supervision of a local bakery.
The iconic Howard Johnson’s ice cream was KOF-K’s first major kashrus supervision account. As the organization got bigger, Rabbi Senter gave up teaching math. Rabbi Rosenbaum was employee number four when he joined KOF-K in 1981. Today, it has 100 employees with 32 full-time staff in its Teaneck headquarters.
Rabbi Rosenbaum said Rabbi Senter aimed to maintain the highest level of kashrus and was always very meticulous, letting no details slip through the cracks and not cutting corners. Rabbi Senter also found good quality people to join the organization and mentored them.
Rabbi Rosenbaum added, “Rabbi Senter loved learning Torah, loved making people smile, and loved the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Rabbi Daniel Senter told The Jewish Press that his father was a pioneer in such areas as maintaining lists of acceptable ingredients and formalizing the writing of detailed contracts between kashrus agencies and companies seeking supervision.
“He also hired the first kashrus agency food chemist and was the first to use an outside posek and beis din to set protocols,” he said. “My father sought out truth and insisted on telling the truth even at the cost of lost accounts. He always did the right thing even if it was not popular.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Gornish, a KOF-K account executive, told The Jewish Press, “Rabbi Senter was honest to a fault, unbelievably ehrlich. Everything in his life was above board…. He was very frum and very real.”
Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher, told The Jewish Press, “Rabbi Senter and I were close friends for a long time…. Everything he did was done with meticulousness and with integrity…. He was a truly extraordinary person.”
Rabbi Zechariah Senter married Chana Rosenbaum in 1959 and lived in North Bergen, New Jersey before moving to Teaneck in 1973, where they resided until his passing. Rabbi Senter was also the rav of Congregation Beth Abraham in Bergenfield, NJ, for 16 years, a position for which he took no salary.
Rabbi Senter is survived by his wife; his brother, Stewart Senter (Old Westbury); his children, Rabbi Daniel Senter (Teaneck), Rabbi Ari Senter (Monsey), Yehudis Zidele (Brooklyn), and Rabbi Chaim Zvi Senter (Jerusalem); and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son, Dovid Senter.