The Complexities of Eating Kosher at the Family Time Share

I am writing this from the condo, having just polished off the kosher dinner that I cooked and shlepped to the annual time share vacation that we participate in every year with my parents and brothers and their wives and children. The family rents the time share location for a full week but we ( me and the kids) come for the Sunday – Tuesday of the week – after Shabbos, and returning on Wednesday so that a) I have time to prepare for the next Shabbos at home, and b) because it’s too onerous for me to even think about preparing all of the food for the family for longer than three days.

Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to bringing our own kosher food and trying to ignore the non-kosher food the rest of the family brought, or buys, and eats alongside of ours. Over time, I’ve more often elected to cook so much food, everyone can eat kosher and we don’t end up in this weird divided place with the “kosher eaters” and “the non-kosher eaters.” It also gives me a small degree of pleasure to see my family eating kosher food, which isn’t the case the rest of the year.

This year I was placed in a particular dilemma, which I thought I’d share with you, because I bet many of you will relate.

I just celebrated my 50th birthday. At the time share, the family got together and decided to offer me the gift of everyone being taken out for dinner at the local kosher restaurant that was within a few miles of the time share.

Normally, I would have snapped up the opportunity to get a paid-for kosher meal I didn’t have to cook. But this time, before going to this time share, I went online and found mostly very negative reviews for the only kosher restaurant that was a realistic alternative. It was way over priced, and service was notoriously slow. So, now I had a big problem. If we went out as a family (a whole lot of us) and my father treated everyone to the meal ( as would happen), the bill would be enormous. If the food was just okay and not amazing (which is what online reviews said), and the service was terribly slow to boot, I would be feeling responsible for the quality of every bite they ate, and every nickel my father spent, worried that he’d be thinking, “Geez, if I have to spend all this money for it to be kosher, does it have to be this bad?”, or, “You know, if I didn’t have to take the whole family out to a kosher meal, it would have been a third of the price to just order pizza!” Although I appreciated the offer for a meal out, instead, I insisted that I had brought enough food to amply feed everyone ( true) and we could use his money for other purposes.

I wonder about the experiences of others who are reading this essay. Have you ever felt that you were defending all of kashrus when going out to a kosher restaurant with non-kosher eating relatives? Do you shlep along enough kosher food for not just you but for the rest of the family when you go to a mixed family vacation? Do you think there’s anything to be said for the one or two kosher meals that you manage to get your family to eat when the rest of the year they are eating trafe? Does it give you pain to see your family eating non kosher food without a second thought? These are the thoughts on my mind this evening

Fresh from the trenches –


A kosher Jewish mother and wife, and also a daughter, a sister, a sister-in law and an aunt to those who are not. . . . complicated business, isn’t it?

Azriela Jaffe

26 comments on “The Complexities of Eating Kosher at the Family Time Share

  1. My family and I have taken vacations recently similar to Azriella’s. We made the deal that we would eat kosher dinners together as a family, and I undertook the work to organize menu planning and who buys what. I tried to keep the menu very simple — grilled foods, baked potatoes, pasta, etc. Popsicles or sorbet for dessert. While I and the designated griller of the night did most of the cooking, I was relieved of my normal childcare duties for my small children, as they were desanded and changed by other family members. As my father;s birthday often falls during this time, we order specially cut extra thick steaks from the butcher which everyone agreed were delicious. The bonus was, due to leftovers, and the wish to simplify purchases such as types of cereal and bread, even breakfast and lunch end up being quasi kosher. For their non-kosher cravings, the non-kosher family members slipped out to a beach restaurant and stuffed their faces with shellfish with abandon.

    THis would not work without the respect I have from my family members who see that I am much happier as a frum Jew than I was before and generally are loving and supportive. However, my point is that the extra work for me is my avoda — a way to earn brownie points to make up for for all the yomim tovim and simchas we have to miss because they are halachicly too problematic, and because we live too far away in our Torah town far from family. Its something I can do to bring a kiddush Hashem when the food is fun and simple and tasty.

    And BTW I think I know the restaurant you refer to and it was a disaster and embarrassing. I was so ashamed that for the price of one steak, we could have had four extra thick rib steaks from the butcher (on sale….) served with a smile rather than a grimace and served in a half hour rather than an hour and a half.

  2. I’ve had to deal with this issue not just with family but with friends. I feel terrible that when we go out we have to pay exorbitant prices for bad kosher food. They’d much rather come over for a Shabbos meal (and these are my non-Jewish friends and family) but most of them see having to eat the occasional lousy or expensive kosher meal as a part of maintaining our relationship. And for this, I am very grateful.

  3. Just a reminder that hygiene issues are usually tied in to breaches of health regulations.

    And re: Bob’s initial comment – what about “Gee whiz” ?

  4. In my experience, the poor quality, bad hygiene, high prices, bad service, etc. etc. of most kosher restaurants, butchers, etc. (and I live in the New York City area!) is not only a significant chillul H’, it is also a significant barrier to non-frum Jews coming closer to Torah. Ben Moshe’s experience translates all the time to non-frum Jews; they are turned off (disgusted) by the food, think we’re nuts, and that’s that.

    A theme/meme has cropped up in letters/stories in two recent issues of Kashrus Magazine. Frum Jew goes to wedding, has an alcoholic beverage, thinks, “Wow, this is the BEST wine/drink/etc. I have ever had. This can’t be kosher!”

    If that mindset is not revealing enough, lo and behold, they investigate and, of course, it’s not kosher.

    As far as I can tell, the situation has improved greatly in recent years, but we still have a tremendous amount of work to do on this front.

  5. I do not often take non-Jews with me to kosher restautants.

    But when I do, the kosher restautant should not be a source of embarrassment for me.

    Any of these could cause me embarrassment:

    insanely highly prices,
    filthy eating and/or cooking areas,
    non-existent or obnoxious service,
    food that does not taste good or was not cooked properly.

  6. Bob wrote in comment # 16: “However, many communities cannot support more than one or two restaurants, so these can sometimes prosper despite substandard performance if the local people really want to eat out, no matter what.”

    This doesn’t fall into the category of chillul Hashem, but it’s not really a proper business practice either. Knowing that one has a relative monopoly and therefore cutting corners is a breach or derech eretz, even if there is no actual halachic violation. It doesn’t take much to empty garbage cans, sweep floors and clean tables a few times a day.

    I’m not that upset when I bring my friends or relatives to a place that serves fair to middlin’ quality food, but if it’s dirty, that’s a different story.

    This comment is relevant to Azriela’s post; if our relatives are going to “accomodate” us by joining us at a kosher restaurant, no matter who is paying the bill, it should be a relatively pleasant experience. If someone advertises a restaurant as strictly kosher, he or she should make extra efforts to put the Torah world’s best foot forward, in the eyes of patrons and passersby.

  7. I’m Jewish,

    It appears that Nathan was not writing about his own behavior, and I’m not sure from where you infer that Nathan does not believe human beings, even intermarried ones, should be treated with courtesy and dignity. “Full acceptance and praise” is not a euphemism for courtesy and dignity. Your comment was excellent, but quite unrelated to Nathan’s comment.

    Nathan is uncomfortable when socializing with relatives who, while demonstrating humanistic values and open-mindedness by accepting and praising intermarried relatives, do not extend such “open-mindedness” and “tolerance” to Judaism and Rabbis, which they ridicule.

    Rather than offering Mussar to Nathan, which does not seem to apply to his comment, let’s offer a bit of empathy and encouragement. I would think Nathan is also worthy of courtesy and dignity.

  8. “Other problems that I can expect when getting togther with my family include: relatives ridiculing Rabbis and Judaism in general, intermarried relatives being given praise and full acceptance, etc.”

    What would you prefer? That when your cousin’s non-Jewish spouse walks in the room, everyone turns and spits? Surely you can object to the concept of intermarriage without objecting to the person himself or herself being treated as a human being worthy of courtesy and dignity.

  9. Nathan,

    No Jewish enterprise is a Chillul HaShem if it’s honestly and conscientiously run to the best of the owner’s ability.

    Kosher restaurants need to abide by kashrus and health/safety laws and to make a profit. The profit from restaurants in general depends largely on attracting enough customers who like the food and service and can afford to eat there (big families have special affordability concerns). No one is obliged to patronize a local restaurant just because it exists. However, many communities cannot support more than one or two restaurants, so these can sometimes prosper despite substandard performance if the local people really want to eat out, no matter what.

  10. Sometimes it can be worse if your non-frum relatives are somewhat involved Jewishly. For example, they want you to come for Shabbat, but they don’t keep kosher, or even worse they _DO_ keep kosher, but not to a degree that you are comfortable with. Or they don’t live in walking distance of an Orthodox shul or they expect you to attend non-Orthodox services.

  11. I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that kosher restaurants have the ability to commit Chillul HaShem with:

    insanely highly prices,
    filthy eating and/or cooking areas,
    non-existent or obnoxious service,
    food that does not taste good or was not cooked properly.

    Maybe this comment could become the basis for a new Beyond BT discussion?

  12. I once convinced some colleagues, who were attending a technical conference in Las Vegas with me, to try out a local kosher restaurant that served pizza and other Italian dishes. The things we ordered were largely undercooked and had only a passing resemblance to what we expected. The service was nothing to brag about either.

  13. Although my family has developed numerous ways to accommodate my keeping Kosher while continuing to eat non-Kosher themselves, challenges arise frequently in the business world. On my first day at a new job, the boss and a collegaue – both non-Jewish – insisted on going to dinner “at a restaurant where you can eat something.” Despite my best efforts to decline politely (“I appreciate your thoughtfulness, but the nearest Kosher restaurant is 25 miles from here.”), they persisted, and I finally relented. Of course, the Kosher restaurant turned out to be filthy, the service was practically non-existent, and the food bland and overpriced. My co-workers probably thought, “What sort of a weirdo did we hire, that he brought us 25 miles for this?”

    Sometimes challenges arise in business meetings that include other Jews: “So-and-so is Jewish and he is eating from the buffet. Why aren’t you?”

    I remind myself that these “challenges” are really just temporary discomforts and inconveniences, and that bundled with them are gifts from Hashem: That my family and I have each other, and that we can get along in spite of the differences. That I have access to expensive, bland-tasting, poorly-served Kosher food, and that I am not in a situation where, G-d forbid, the only choices are non-Kosher or starvation. That by keeping conspicuously Kosher in a non-Kosher atmosphere, I have an opportunity to uphold Torah and perhaps even have some unseen, positive impact on a fellow Jew. My own observations of other Jews doing those things earlier in my life are part of what brought me to where I am today.

  14. Shalom, O my yes, I do relate. I too just got back from a family vacation with those who eat clean but are not careful to read and make sure what they buy is marked kosher, therefore I too bring food and try to kosher all the meat, and cook. We did find a very fine Jewish Deli near our vacation spot, and the food was very good, what a blessing for me. Elisheva(the Grandma)

  15. Oh boy, I can totally relate to what Nathan wrote. The kosher food situation is not a problem for me since places like Noah’s ark in teaneck and Meal Mart ship double wrapped food to most places. But the loshon horah is hard, because they don’t understand. When I tell them “it’s Loshon Horah” so they say so what else is there to talk about, the weather? And of course all sorts of situations come up with the intermarried relatives that are very difficult. It should all be a kapparah.

  16. If a Baal Teshuvah can truthfully claim that his ONLY problem with his relatives is that they do not eat kosher food, then that Baal Teshuvah is extremely fortunate!

    When I come close to my relatives, problems include: non-stop nibul peh [obscene language], and very frequent Lashon HaRa and Onaat Devarim.

    Remember that it is not only the people who speak nibul peh and Lashon HaRa who deserve punishment; the people who listen will also be punished, and also the people who hear these evil words without rebuking the people who dared to speak them.

    Other problems that I can expect when getting togther with my family include: relatives ridiculing Rabbis and Judaism in general, intermarried relatives being given praise and full acceptance, etc.

    After 25+ years as a Baal Teshuvah, I long ago totally gave up all hope of mekavering any of my relatives, or even having a small positive influence on them. It is futile.

    This is all in addition to the fact that I have nothing in common with my relatives.

    In general, the more I stay away from them, the more fortunate I am.

  17. I had to look twice at the author’s name to make sure I had not written this myself!
    I had exactly the same scenario during the first year of marriage as a young newlywed at the tender age of 21. My husband’s father was dying of cancer and we visited often in the year before he died(including a vacation just like you described). I had to cook food for everyone for the entire week. The rest of the family felt imposed upon in our efforts to have everyone eat only kosher. Even though I was a very accomplished cook and they enjoyed the food, I cannot say they appreciated it. The only difference is that there was NO kosher restaurant for hundreds of miles.

    I continued to cook and shlep, while traveling by airplane, not just meals fully cooked, but also kosher ingredients not readily found in their town 30 years ago.
    The first 2 days of every trip involved kashering, purchasing keilim, etc. and acting as masgiach in the kitchen to make sure none of those keilim were made treif. Over the years the visits became less frequent and the family eventually moved to a larger city and we moved closer, about a 3 hour drive away. It is only easier today because the family has drifted even farther from Torah and it has become too complicated to expose my children. We invite the family for holidays in my home instead, but they rarely come.

    After 30 years as a BT, some things have gotten easier, mostly because I am better able to cope now that I am pushing 50. Unfortunately, there are so many issues (like intermarriage, etc.) that are much more complicated than food. The non-religious family always focuses so intently on the food. But as every BT knows, that’s the least of it. I myself was raised “traditional” and we have the same types of issues with my own family, who live in the same city as us.

    After so many years, the issues regarding non-frum relatives come up regularly. Whenever I get depressed about it, I remember something my husband said when we first got married. Just like Avraham Avinu, we too have to “go out” and build a family. I think of this every year at parshas Lech Lecha.

    Hatzlacha Rabah, Ariella and stay strong.

  18. Did you consider that for a special birthday, your father may have WANTED to treat you? Surely, he must know by now that kosher restaurants are not always the culinary equal of the best non-kosher restaurants. He offered this to you as a GIFT, and you turned it down because YOU didn’t want to feel uncomfortable.

    Now, if he offered to take everyone to a treif restaurant for your birthday (“and you can have the fruit cup, dear!”), then you could feel uncomfortable, insulted, or upset. Such a situation would make for a GREAT blog post.

    But this sounds like it was a sincere offer, and you shouldn’t have declined.

    Even FFBs have uncomfortable family dynamics. Your situation sounds like it could be much, much worse.

  19. yes, yes and yes… yes I shlep the food, yes I am in pain watching others eat non kosher food and yes, it makes me feel “better” to have everyone eat the food I am constantly preparing. And yes, yes, yes, I am daughter, mother, sister, and grandmother juggling the visits and relationships which more often than not, include a meal ( or two or three!). But I have come to realize that this is my avoda, my special nisoyon, to come prepared with the food, the paper goods, etc etc. to remain b’simcha and loving, and to thank HaShem for the koach He gives me to sustain this when sometimes I think I can’t. Being a BT has presented conflict at every juncture. Some conflicts are resolved, others remain… all are a test of my commitment to Torah, while staying loving and close to family and friends. Thank you for writing about a topic I have found too difficult to speak about for almost 2 decades.

  20. In the NY area, given the number of truly first class kosher restaurants, this should not be an issue.

    However, given the facts as presented-look at it this way-if everyone likes and will eat your food enthusiastically as opposed to kvetching about either the poor quality, ambience and/or service in the nearby kosher establishment, then you can at least look at yourself and say that you were a success at maintaining or attempting to maintain a relationship and Shalom Bayis with your family. Insisting that everyone go to a kosher establishment that they won’t enjoy-for whatever reason-IMO strikes me as starting off on the wrong foot and creating unnecessary tension.

  21. My family lives in South Florida, so since there are a lot of kosher restaurants, they don’t usually complain about the quality, but the price is often a big issue. Maybe you could warn everybody about the reviews of the restaurant ahead of time, giving them the option to bow out. You could also suggest to your father that he only pay for you since it is your birthday present, and everybody else who choses to go, can go dutch.

  22. bob, why not say “geez?” I learned that you are never supposed to say “cross my fingers” or “knock on wood” but the prohibition against geez – why is that?

  23. Every mitzvah has some positive short- and long-term effects, so getting non-observant family to eat kosher now and then is not futile at all. That doesn’t relieve our pain of knowing what they normally eat.

    If the restaurant service is ultra-slow but the food is OK, it may be possible to order out for the meal well ahead of dinner time and serve it on disposable plates, etc.

    Note: Jews should not say “Geez” whatsoever.

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