So NOT Deprived

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.

14 comments on “So NOT Deprived

  1. Without over-generalizing, it’s traditional for a man to expect his wife to provide gratification for him in the form of supplying food and marital relations. The Aibershter, by surrounding these two major areas of gratification with numerous halachos, made it necessary for the Orthodox Jewish man to: 1) seek out an intelligent wife with a knowledge of the relevant halacha lmaaseh; 2) live as part of a community rather than alone and aloof somewhere (because mikvahs and slaughterhouses are generally too expensive to be built just for one family; everyone shares in the cost and upkeep of these facilities); 3) marry a woman Jewish by birth or choice; 4) show respect and dignity to his wife, as she is the supervisor in charge of the Kashrus of his food and of his marital relations.

  2. Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, chapter 50:
    Mordechai was worthy of being called ISH YEHUDI ([an important] Jewish man) because he was righteous and of good ancestry, and of royal descent, and studied Torah all the days of his life, and never ate forbidden foods.

  3. RYBS once pointed out that Sefer Kedusha of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah comprises two areas-Maacalos Asuros ( Kashrus) and Isurei Biah( Hilcos Nidah, etc). These Mitzvos Lo Saaseh form a mechitzah of sorts and implant a sense of Kedushsa in how a Jew eats and interacts with his or her spouse.

  4. For many BTs, Kashrus is a major hurdle. Giving up seafood, and the like and hoping for tolerance from people who are tolerant for every other sort of zeitgeist today are issues that every BT has to confront in their religious growth.

  5. IMO food and diet are ALWAYS emotional issues, regardless of whether it is kosher or treif. In many families people have no reservations about telling another family member that he/she has gained too much weight.

    Being kosher is very challenging when one did not learn this skill in his/her childhood home. (I come from a very secular background.) However, I must believe that I can become kosher. I just can’t do it all in one day.

    Thanks for allowing me to think aloud! :-)

  6. Re: #7 “Why does Yiddishkeit have to be reduced to food?”

    The Daf Yomi, Shabbat 118, discusses whether you’re supposed to eat three or four meals on Shabbat.

    The last few chapters of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch that I happen to be studying deal with the blessings on food.

    Last weeks’ Parashah dealt with the manna provided to the Israelites in the wilderness.

    It *is* all about the food! :)

  7. The food, the food, the food!

    Why do the non-observant always make food the singular focus of Orthodox Judaism? This happens in my family & anyone I know who has non-observant relatives.

    Accomodating kosher food is easy! There are so many other issues of importance that are much harder to overcome with non-frum relatives (language, conversation topics, dress, intermarriage, etc.). Why does Yiddishkeit have to be reduced to food?

  8. I didn’t mean to suggest that we all had to become experts, but that we shouldn’t be clueless, either. That way we won’t be misled by the kashrut rumor mill.

  9. Bob Miller, I agree with you on matters of halacha in general, but it takes most people many years before they become truly conversant in yoreh dei’a and its application to modern industrial food preparation. Many people never reach this level of knowledge and I think this is excusable as there are other areas of Torah that are more crucial for many people to focus on (I admit to a bias here since I haven’t reached such a level of knowledge myself).

  10. Is it desirable for a BT to develop a detailed family kashrut standard and a detailed knowledge of which hashgachot are up to that standard and which are not?

    While it’s easy to defer to a particular Rav on these points, it seems that something is lost if the BT is satisfied with just a go/no-go decision without the fine detail and rationale.

  11. Hebrew National is under the hashgacha of the Triangle-K, whose rav hamchshir is R. Aryeh Ralbag, a widely respected posek. It is therefore not appropriate to treat his hashgacha frivolously. If you want to maintain standards higher than those which he employs for his hashgacha, that is your prerogative, but there is no need to “joke” about his entirely reliable hashgacha.

  12. Since I spend so much work time away from home, I really appreciate the large selection of properly kosher-certified packaged and canned goods available at typical supermarkets, and even many convenience stores, around the country. The OU and other big league inspection/certification organizations have done great work.

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