Vayikra: 19: 9
Special to the Jewish Link
When you walk into the front office of Heavenly Hummus on Woodbine Street in Bergenfield, there is a strong smell of garlic. At least, there was on the day I arrived to interview Uriel Avichai, the owner of the company for the last thirty years.
“Of course there is,” Avichai explained. “We’re doing a Roasted Garlic Hummus run today. It will smell like Garlic all week. You should see what it’s like in here when we run a Jalapeno batch. Whooowee, it stinks.”
Heavenly Hummus may be a pungent establishment. But what really permeates the place when you walk through its doors is righteousness. That’s what has pervaded this chick pea-laden factory since Avichai announced last week that he was donating ten percent of the company’s stock back to its employees.*
“It’s the least I could do,” the owner stated. “They are the ones who have made this company such a success over the years. They truly deserve it.”
For the over two hundred employees at Heavenly Hummus the stock transfer is a serious piece of pocket change. The stock shares given are based on the employee’s tenure with the company, so the longer someone has been slinging garbanzo beans, the bigger the stake. For the average employee the payout would be around $100,000, but for the earliest workers, the payout could be well over a million dollars.
“Moishe Ben Yosef, the lead project manager at H.H., couldn’t be happier.
“It’s better than a raise,” Ben Yosef said. “It’s the best thing because you’re getting a piece of the thing you helped build.”
For Mr. Avichai the tendency toward sharing the wealth came naturally. “It’s straight from the Torah to be charitable and to treat your workers kindly,” Avichai pointed out.
The stock transfer is just one of many initiatives that Avichai has tried over the years in the interest of social justice. Some have been more successful than others.
“We tried some charitable programs that were mentioned in parshat Kedoshim, in the Torah book of Vayikra,” Avichai said. Our first effort was peya, the practice of leaving a corner of your field for the poor to pick. We left the southeast corner of the factory with lots of tubs of hummus for the local community to pick up, especially the less fortunate. We offered every variety we make, from the Classic Hummus to the Basil Pesto. It was a big hit with the neighbors for about a week, but then interest began to wane. After all, man does not live on hummus alone, although, to be honest, he certainly could. I think people started to get a little sick of it, even our amazing Rosemary with Sea Salt variety. Mmmm, you should really try that.”
But peya wasn’t the only charitable program they tried.
“We also tried to institute a leket program,” Avichai said. “According to the Torah, anything that falls from your harvesting—like stalks of grain--should be left for the poor, so that they can collect it and use it. We tried that in the factory as well.”
“Do you mean that you left hummus around the factory that spilled, and didn’t clean it up, so that others could collect it?” I asked him.
“Well, let’s just say that even though we here at Heavenly Humus use only the freshest ingredients, even hummus goes bad eventually. And on our factory floor, cleanliness is next to godliness. The leket program did not work out so well.”
In the end, H.H. instituted a program of donating hummus to local food pantries and soup kitchens.
“I think that worked better for everyone involved,” Avichai said. “According to the Sefer Hachinuch, the purpose of the charity programs of the Torah, like peya and leket, are not just to help the poor, but to develop a ruach nediva, which means a generous spirit, in the givers. I think that the donations that Heavenly Hummus gives to the community reflect the generosity that our company wants to project, both to our workers and to the town of Bergenfield, and so does our stock distribution program.”
None of the employees of Heavenly Hummus plan to leave the company anytime soon. The stock transfer will take a year to take effect, but even if it didn’t, everyone here feels a strong sense of loyalty to the Avichai family.
Manny Potashnik has been a quality control officer at H.H. for five years.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Potashnik said. “Heavenly is a heavenly place to work. I may not like the taste of hummus,” he said with a conspiratorial wink. “But I like the flavor of this business. Just don’t tell Mr. A. I said that.”
Mr. Potashnik’s statement seems to match the sentiment of most of Heavenly Hummus’ staff. Avichai has succeeded in generating a “generous spirit” at his company, and that spirit looks like it will continue for years to come.
And Avichai was right. The Rosemary and Sea Salt Hummus was rather tasty. Maybe you should try some.
*Based on the story of Hamdi Ulukaya, the owner of Chobani Yogurt who gave 10% of the company’s stock to his over 2,000 company employees, 2016.