Calling him an “Orthodox Jewish billionaire,” JTA interviewed Hershey Friedman about why he bought America’s largest kosher meat company, Agriprocessors, out of bankruptcy in 2009.
It was the Canadian packaging magnate’s first foray into the meat business.
The year before, federal authorities carried out the largest-ever U.S. workplace raid at That led to the witch hunt against, and unfair incarceration of, Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, CEO of the company. He was given a preposterous 27-year prison sentence.
After purchasing the company, Friedman renamed it Agri Star Meat & Poultry, restarted the shuttered plant and spent millions on upgrades.
Six years later, Friedman told JTA, Agri Star uses the government’s E-Verify program to ensure its employees are legal and has redesigned the Postville plant to improve efficiency and animal welfare.
Friedman, 65, told JTA’s Uriel Heilman that he didn’t buy Agriprocessors for financial purposes, stating that “it was done to really cater to the Jewish community. During the time Rubashkin was closed, the price of beef roughly doubled. After we acquired it, it came right back down.”
He said that his ownership of Agri has “become a chesed. It’s not losing money, but it’s not a business I’m in to make lots of money.”
As for animal welfare at the company, Friedman told Heilman that “We have a person that comes once a week at random to inspect the plant.
And we give a daily report about how the cattle are treated. The standards are very high. You can’t just whip them and get going. You have to treat them nicely. We do things by the book. Once you get into it, it’s not so hard.”
The company, he says, produces about 50,000 birds a day, primarily chicken, while on beef, they can do up to 400 a day.
He says that he spent about $3 million last year alone on upgrades at the company and that the company makes “very little profit. If I really wanted to make money, I should just double the price…But this is not a business that you’re into to make a killing.”
In a poor jab at humor, Heilman responded, “Well, technically, your business is killing.”
Friedman ignored the barb and simply answered, “We try to make meat affordable.”
Heilman then discussed Friedman’s Israeli real estate company, Azorim, which is building luxury buildings and marketing the apartments to Jews overseas. Heilman seemed to rebuke Friedman for “preaching yishuv Eretz Yisroel” and not having his “own apartment.”
“So you’ll never move to Israel,” Heilman asked.
“I’m there more than any other Jew is,” said Friedman. “Even Israelis aren’t there as much as I. I’m there at least once a month for a week. We’re in touch on a daily basis with Israel.”
Heilman asked Friedman how he got his start as a businessman. His response offered unique insight.
“As a little boy of 5 or 6,” said Friedman, “I started going to stationary stores and buying boxes of pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners and peddling to kids in school. Years later, I’d come home for vacation from Yeshiva Ner Israel in Baltimore and go to construction sites and offer to buy them lunch.
I made money in tips and a little upcharge. When I got older, I put up vending machines at construction sites. I went into business at age 17 and built myself a nice little piggy bank over time. Now the companies I own make me probably the biggest packager in North America.”