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Making the Transition
to a Kosher Kitchen

Read Part One of "Making the Transition to a Kosher Kitchen".

Part 2

Sara Lonstein Gilbert

Our first step had been no pork products. Our second step was giving up hamburger pizza. One evening my older daughter came home from Hebrew school as I was putting the pizza on the table for dinner and asked, "Mom, how can you do that?" She was right. I no longer could. It was time for one more step: no dairy products would be served with meat. That meant reading the ingredient panels on all packaged foods, looking out for whey and other dairy chemicals in the hamburger buns, and giving up Chicken Florentine, Beef Stroganoff, and Veal Parmigian. What a sacrifice!!

When we visited our friends' homes we' explain, "Only plain chicken for us." No more ordering milkshakes with our Burger King burgers. We were different. Different from the rest of the kids on the soccer team. Different from many of the Jews we knew. But it felt good! And our children were handling it just fine. Occasionally there was some whining about a cheeseburger. Perhaps it was a test. Perhaps it was self-pity. But we all stood firm and I honestly thought that that was as far as I would ever go. Kosher style was fine for me. I defined myself as a Jew out in the secular world. I was not a "far-out" type person. I was different; I sacrificed somewhat. That was right for me at that time. That is how we were for several years.

Then, my husband decided to give up shellfish. No more lobster. No more Oysters Rockefeller. No more shrimp sundaes in Las Vegas. I was very impressed. Of course, it didn't affect me at all. But it was another step.

Our children were serious religious school students. Occasionally they would suggest we try new practices like Shabbat observance, keeping kosher, attending services daily. As a teenager, my older daughter attended Camp Ramah. Upon her return home, she reported that "a summer of kosher eating was just fine! Perhaps we could try it." "No," I told her, "it's certainly commendable, but not for our family or our lifestyle." As a professional volunteer in the secular community, I entertained often in our home or ate out in restaurants. Only one or two of our friends kept kosher at that time.

Then there were the supermarket advertisements for meat. I liked the prices at the new supermarket. How could I possibly give up the convenience of running in to pick up a steak for a quick dinner? How could I give up the terrific sales on turkeys for Thanksgiving? Corned beef for St. Patrick's Day? There must have been some reason I found myself drawn to those full-color meat ads, the quality and sale prices I thought I could never pass up. Deep inside, I was readying myself to do just that.

One cannot make a major transition alone or in a vacuum. I don't remember our friends like Rabbi Eli and Sheli Braun or Linda Sigel-Richman, or others saying anything specific to us. But somehow, they were there. They must have been silent role models. They kept kosher. Others kept kosher. Maybe we could keep kosher, too. United Synagogue's publication on kashrut was extremely helpful. Its philosophy was appealing; it's guidelines doable.

We decided to dive in. We hadn't eaten pork products or shellfish for years. We didn't mix meat and dairy. We were nervous, apprehensive and insecure. But, after seriously considering koshering our kitchen for over a six-month period, we were ready for the next step. I started to shop for new dishes.

Passover seemed to be the best time to make the change, under the guidance of Rabbi Braun. We piled everything from the kitchen onto the dining room table, cleaned fanatically, made piles of plates and Rubbermaid for Goodwill, and then brought in everything new for Pesach. When Pesach ended, we just continued buying everything new for our kitchen. Amazingly, we now had a kosher kitchen! We were members of a self-selected, fun, intimate club. Our kosher friends ate in our home. We joined a kosher co-op to have meat delivered from out-of-town. We complained about meat prices. We shared recipes. It was good.

And what was even better, if we were making such an effort to obtain special food, at a greater expense, how could we not recite a blessing before we ate that special food? Consequently, we began to say ha-motzei before each meal. And that led to bentching when we had finished eating. Our lives became filled with an awareness and sense of God's presence unlike anything we could have imagined.

Nonetheless, our journey was not complete. We continued to eat non-kosher meat outside our home. Given our involvement with secular organizations, that seemed a sensible decision at that time.

Then, our older daughter completely gave up eating treife meat. She had become involved in United Synagogue Youth, attending their conventions and traveling with them to Israel. Our younger daughter spent a summer at Camp Olin Sang Ruby, a Reform camp in Wisconsin. She had elected the kosher meal plan; at mealtime she found herself in the company of the rabbinical students who also ate only kosher. The kitchen was extremely respectful and accommodating of her needs, providing her with the same foods, e.g. chicken, beef, hot dogs, as her friends were eating in the dining hall or on overnights in the woods. When she returned home, she explained that if the camp kitchen could go to so much trouble to provide her with kosher meat all the time, how could she put anything else in her mouth now!. WOW! Were my husband and I impressed! And, we were almost convinced. Two of the five of us were now strictly kosher.

Our oldest daughter provides one more story in our family's journey. When her history class celebrated the completion of a major project with a pepperoni pizza party, her teacher, Mr. Cosby, asked to speak to my daughter after class. Why hadn't she enjoyed the pizza, he wanted to know. Although he had heard about her eating restrictions, she then explained her kashrut standards to him and gave him a brief lesson about kosher eating. He asked her about its effect on her social life. Mr. Cosby must have been impressed with her responses. Our 17-year old's self-discipline and self-confidence to be able to say no to a hamburger was good preparation for adulthood. She had valuable skills with which to go out into the world, to make wise choices for herself in the face of a multitude of temptations and dangers which surely would cross her path. What admiration we had for her!

At their brother's college graduation dinner several years ago, my two daughters sat at the steak house watching everyone else devour large steaks, as they ate salads and baked potatoes. They uttered not one complaint. On the drive home to Denver from St. Louis, we made our usual stop in Kansas City for Arthur Bryant's world famous barbecue. Again, three of us savored our beef sandwiches while the girls munched on French fries, (which they had checked to be sure they had been prepared in vegetable oil). Again, no word of complaint.

That was it for me! I was totally inspired by my children! If they could watch the rest of us indulging with complete peace and equanimity, it was time for me to take the next step. That day in Kansas City, at Arthur Bryant's, was the last time I put treife meat in my mouth. A few months later, my husband came to the same decision no more treife meat.

That is where we are today. Our steps were slow and deliberate. We only made changes when we were ready. Our transition occurred over several years. We didn't always know what the next step would be. But the climb had been fulfilling and worthwhile. A new understanding of holiness and sense of community had opened up to us. It wasn't always easy. We made mistakes along the way. Caution: begin with inexpensive dishes you won't mind tossing when you put a hamburger on a dairy plate, as I did without thinking one evening, rushing to serve dinner.

What has made our efforts so rewarding is our newfound sense of purpose, awareness and accomplishment. Being a Jew means spending one's life learning and growing. Becoming kosher is at once concrete and spiritual, mundane and very special, detailed and expansive. The ties it has created for me to generations past, as well as to those in our community and around the world who sustain themselves with the same awareness and understanding as I, are strong and inspiring. As Rabbi Samuel Dresner writes in The Jewish Dietary Laws (The Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Commission on Jewish Education), "observing Kashrut demands sacrifice, self-discipline and determination, but what is really worthwhile in life that does not?"


Excerpted from a presentation at the JCC of Denver, Colorado, August 1999

Reprinted by permission of Star-K Kosher Certification. Visit: http://www.star-k.org.
For more information about how to make a kosher home, visit: http://www.star-k.org/cons-keep.htm.

 






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