My family of origin thinks that I am deprived. I am limited to eating only kosher food, and not any kosher food. If it has a “K” on the box, that isn’t good enough. When I go into the Food Court of the local mall, I can’t eat anything I want. If I should have a craving for an ice cream cone after a fleishig meal, I must wait. I live in a free country, and yet, I have willingly enslaved myself to a lifestyle of scarcity. (They think).
As a recent attendee to KosherFest, where all my senses were flooded with gourmet food of every nationality imaginable, and thousands of fellow Jews elbowed their way to get to the latest sample of delectable and decadent, I wanted so much for my family to witness –it’s never been so easy to be a kosher Jew. Anyone in the busy East Coast of the USA who would complain about kashrus limiting their choices hasn’t really taken a good look at the closest supermarket, glatt market, or any major department store and big-box grocer that provides an array of kosher choices beyond anything our grandparents could have imagined.
I am fortunate to be living in a suburban area with easy access to kosher food. (One of my children asked, “Mommy, how do people who don’t keep kosher ever make a choice about what to eat? There are too many choices out there!”)Not all Jews have it this good –Jews scattered all over this globe, and traveling on business, are sometimes living on a lot of tuna fish and maybe even the dreaded airline meal. But in my universe, it is the rare moment when I actually experience anything close to a feeling of deprivation when it comes to what I put into my mouth.
And so it is that when my family assembles by me one day a year, on the American holiday of Thanksgiving, that I make enough food to feed twice the number of guests, and the side dishes are plentiful. No one who eats in my home will ever see kashrus through the eyes of deprivation. So they can’t have ice cream on their pumpkin pie – that’s what parve ice cream is for. After all these years, I’ve stopped defending my choices to my family, and although they don’t join me in observance, they have stopped trying to convince me otherwise. What lightens my heart is that our children, who were raised in a Torah-observant home, view their secular relatives as being deprived, and not the other way around. “They don’t get to ever have Shabbos rest from shopping and phones?” “They don’t even know what Sukkot is, or Simchas Torah?” And when it comes to food, our children can’t imagine a life without cholent, potato kugel, deli roll, and chocolate bubka, Who is deprived?
The holocaust survivors I interview for the memoirs I write for them all originate from different parts of Europe, and yet each one of them has told me the same story – of a Shabbos of their youth with a simple and savored menu, looked forward to every week, and greatly missed once the Nazis ripped it all away. Now, amidst all the many choices in the local market, each one of them reminisces about the foods of their childhood; nothing currently sold or available holds a candle to their mother’s compote, or chicken soup, or cholent. Kashrus was once a true struggle, a life-altering commitment that required hours a day of preparation, and choices were simple then. Yet, never once has a survivor complained to me about feeling deprived as a child because their family kept kosher. Never once.
The language of kashrus is one of joy, of pride, of commitment, of family tradition, and always, of delicious. Too bad it’s not calorie free.
First appeared in Mishpacha magazine, January 2013.