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