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Kosher Con Security may be the defining challenge of the


AIPAC Policy Conference — but food is a close second. “This is probably the largest kosher event in the country,” AIPAC’s Jeff Shulman said, “if not the world.” Keeping kosher isn’t just about serving certain foods; it’s about preparing and storing them in kosher ways, using kosher equipment, in fully kosher facili- ties. That effectively means rendering the entire convention center kosher. “Anything in reference to food has to be either purchased brand-new and used only for a kosher event,” said Vince McPhail, vice president of opera- tions and general manager for Centerplate, Walter E. Washington’s caterer, “or it needs to be koshered.”


Centerplate partnered with Foremost RAM Caterers, a New York City–area company specializing in kosher events that AIPAC retains for the Policy Conference — whose F&B requirements this year included receptions for up to 3,000 people, lunch served from numer- ous food trucks in the sprawling AIPAC Village, and a seated gala dinner for more than 2,000 people. Planning began about nine months out, with an emphasis on how the 13,000 attendees would move from one event to the next. “Food is the center of the whole thing, because that’s where the whole flow of trafic is,” McPhail said. “How are we flowing them from a plenary into breakfast or into lunch?”


Closer to the event, about two weeks out, the F&B team began the serious work of koshering Walter E. Washington. Under the supervision of rabbis from the Washington Vaad — the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington — Centerplate washed everything in the kitchen. They loaded dishwashers with silverware, cups, plates, and smaller cooking implements, and cranked the water temperature to more than 500 degrees, so any food that previously had been cooked on or eaten with the serving pieces was seared away, leaving them sterilized. For anything that couldn’t fit in a dishwasher — trays, cook- ing sheets, larger pots and pans — they set up three-compartment sinks and “started dip- ping,” McPhail said. They cooked off their hot boxes, placing coal inside to get them up to the proper temperature. They removed dairy products from the walk-in coolers, and placed them in their own carefully identified coolers. Once something was koshered, the rabbis gave it a Vaad stamp.


When AIPAC 2013 got under way, so did the real challenges. Because of Sabbath laws, Centerplate couldn’t use electric power for events held the Friday night leading into the conference weekend. Or, actually, they couldn’t start using anything electric-pow- ered. “We’d have to plug it in before dusk on Friday,” McPhail said. “The rabbis go around to


every single coffee pot and they tape the plug to ensure that nobody tampers with it during what they recognize as dusk to dawn.”


Kosher laws also dictated not only how McPhail and his team prepared and served food but how they offered it for sale — a par- ticular concern for AIPAC Village, which each day featured numerous points of purchase for lunch. “If it is a dairy product, it is not mixed with a protein. So you can’t have a candy bar with peanuts at this event,” McPhail said. “Nor can you sell or have dairy around or with pro- tein. I can’t actually have for lunch milk in the same area with a turkey sandwich. Nor could you put cheese in that turkey sandwich.”


And throughout all of that, the U.S. Secret Service might pop in with a few questions. “They’re completely engulfed in your overall plan — how you’re moving hot boxes, how you’re moving attendees,” McPhail said. Agents stop short of actually spot-tasting the food, but “they investigate the hot boxes. Anything that’s going to be positioned around whoever they’re protecting, they will sweep and look at.” Israeli security is even tighter. “The [Israeli] prime minister will usually eat something or drink something, [and] his se- cret service will inspect and taste everything.”


issue, we’ve got to provide a secure environment.” A lot goes on behind the scenes to make that


security feel as seamless as possible — an effect that was smoothed along this year by those ever- present red- and blue-shirted staffers. Peggy Marilley, CEO of Alexandria, Va.–based Precision Meetings & Events, whose work on AIPAC 2013 included recruiting, prepping, and overseeing them, developed a training manual for each staff role and conducted training sessions on site, pull- ing in Shulman and Noa Rabinowitz, AIPAC’s associate director of national events, as needed.


“We did the ‘this is where you need to be and what you need to do,’” Marilley said, “while [Shulman and Rabinowitz] gave the insight into the orga- nization.” She added: “Security was so amazing that you didn’t feel the security. You knew they were there. You could see the uniformed officers. There was a suite for the Secret Service, because the vice president was there. But you didn’t feel


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intimidated. You just felt that they were doing their job.”


‘IT WAS AMAZING TO WATCH’ With so much going on behind the scenes, AIPAC couldn’t afford to neglect the front of the house — a space that’s grown increasingly boisterous and complicated over the last 10 years. “When I started this job, I think we were at about 2,500 delegates [at the Policy Conference] in 2003,” Shulman said.


“We’ve had growth because AIPAC has opened additional offices in communities throughout the country. We’ve got more boots on the ground reaching people, engaging people about this issue.” More people means more programs means


greater potential for confusion. “We started look- ing at staff assignments and job descriptions and so forth,” Shulman said. “We realized, if we’re going to handle this size of crowd, we need a big team.” Marilley had a suggestion: students. “I have


JUNE 2013 PCMA CONVENE 85


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