I was raised in a Kosher home. My family had separate milk and meat dishes – light ones for milk, fancier ones for meat – and separate milk and meat pots and pans. We shopped at the Kosher butcher for meat, and we read labels like crazy at the grocery store. I learned early to find the K or U on the label. We even had two additional sets of dishes and two sets of pots and pans for Passover. Being Kosher didn’t bother me too much as a child, except there were certain foods that I wanted to try that I couldn’t. I wasn’t allowed to have Campbell's Chunky Vegetable Soup with Sirloin Burgers, something I really, really wanted to try for some reason, nor were we allowed to bring Hostess Twinkies or Cupcakes into the house, which at that time were not kosher. We weren’t allowed to bring leftovers from restaurants home. Our house was very, very Kosher.
Our HOUSE was Kosher. We – the people living in the house – were not.
My family went out to eat frequently on the weekends, and when we ate out, anything was acceptable. We ate spareribs at the Chinese restaurant. We ate steak at the steak house. We ate cheeseburgers at McDonald’s. My family didn’t eat much seafood, but I think that was mostly due to lack of experience with those types of foods rather than any religious conviction. The only thing we couldn’t do was bring the leftovers home, because, as I said before, our house was Kosher. But we were not.
Another irony of the situation was that my dad, who was a Jewish educator, was not supposed to eat out in non-Kosher restaurants. Or rather, he was not supposed to be SEEN eating out in non-Kosher restaurants. We went out to eat in towns far away from where we lived, but we couldn’t go out to eat in our own town.
I’m not sure when exactly it dawned on me that this didn’t make a lot of sense, but as I grew into a teenager, I became aware that my family’s practice of Kashrut seemed very hypocritical. It was okay to eat non-Kosher out of the home, but Kosher in the home? It’s okay to eat non-Kosher at a restaurant away from our town, but not in our town?
As a young adult, I didn’t keep Kosher by default, and later on, as a married woman, my husband and I chose not to keep Kosher. To this day, this decision still makes me feel a little guilty. But not guilty enough to change.
I really love to cook, and I have learned that mashed potatoes really are better when made with milk, and that butter enhances sauces for chicken. I have learned that yogurt makes a sauce creamy, and I love yogurt-based Raita with Indian food. I have learned that sirloin steak tastes a lot better than brisket. I guess I’m weak when it comes to food. But I truly think non-Kosher food tastes better than Kosher food.
It still gives me pause when I see recipes – say in a magazine, or on a television show – and at least half of them are for pork or shellfish, and I realize that this country really doesn’t understand that some folks won’t eat that stuff. I still tend not to cook with pork or shellfish in my home, not because I’m trying to keep Kosher, but because … well…it just doesn’t feel right to me. Which is somewhat weird, because I definitely don’t keep Kosher.
About the only time of year that I actually try to keep Kosher is during Passover. This is relatively easy when we visit my parents, who have an abundance of Kosher for Passover food. Staying with them, there is no food we lack, except maybe bread. My father seeks out Kosher for Passover ice cream, soda, candy, and potato chips. Even Kosher for Passover marshmallows and gum. And if the powers that be figure out how to make Kosher for Passover bread, you can be sure my dad will be first in line to buy it.
When I’m at my home, it’s another story. There, Passover is a real struggle. I buy Kosher for Passover foods, and do my best to keep my family fed while avoiding bread, rice, and pasta, but it’s difficult. Things don’t taste as good. Also, I don’t change my dishes, and I don’t buy kosher meat. So our Kosher for Passover experience is…well…. not that Kosher. But I do try, and it’s the only time during the year that I really try to limit what I eat within the parameters of Kosher for Passover.
My brother – three years younger than me – has taken a different path. A Jewish educator, he and his family do keep Kosher, both inside and outside the home. I admire him for his decision, and for the perseverance it takes to keep Kosher, especially with small children in the home. But I’m still not tempted to change.
I truly wish I could see the value of Kashrut. I know the answers that people give: it’s in the Bible, it’s G-d’s law; it causes us to elevate what we eat to a holier plane; it is another example of a separation, something that Judaism does very well. I took a class once, and the Rabbi there said that he thought keeping Kosher only at home was a good first step, even if you didn’t keep Kosher outside the home. Been there, done that.
My relationship with Kashrut has been a rocky one over the years, and I don’t see it improving much in the near future. With Kashrut, I feel that I have to make an all or nothing decision, and since I feel that I can’t choose all, I’ve chosen nothing. I don’t feel great about it, but I guess I don’t feel that terribly about it either. In the end, we all have choices to make about our behavior. I guess Kashrut is one of the choices that I haven’t made.