Living Kosher

Living an Orthodox lifestyle was and still is very hard for me. It really wasn’t until my children were adolescents that I began to fully appreciate the benefits that this lifestyle provided and provides to the family unit.

 My upbringing was Conservative. We had a strictly Kosher home; but we ate non-kosher meat out in restaurants- not “Glatt Treyf” like pork chops and lobster; but Veal Parmagian, and Chinese food-if you get my drift. We had Shabbat dinner as a family every Friday night. My Mom lit the candles every Friday night at 6:30 PM just as her Mother had done before her. Our group consisted of my parents, myself, my younger brother, and more often than not, my Grandfather  (my Mother’s Father), my Great Uncle Bob -my Grandmother’s (my Mother’s Mother)- brother)  and Aunt Helen (my Father’s Mother’s sister). Unfortunately, both my Grandmothers died when I was six years old. They are sorely missed. My Father (a graduate of an Orthodox yeshiva in Brooklyn) made an abbreviated Kiddush using the gold Kiddush cup he received at his Bar Mitzvah and then we made Ha Motzi on a platter of sliced challah-or a “Twist” as my Mother used to call it. We then proceeded to have a chicken or pot roast dinner at which children were to be seen but definitely not to be heard. My brother and I were not allowed to leave the house on Friday nights. It was Shabbat and family time. I still remember the loud arguments between my Grandfather and my Great Uncle Bob over business or over the ball game. It was noisy but fun.

Dad took us to Temple every Saturday morning. Sometimes we would have Shabbat lunch at home and sometimes we would go to a neighborhood restaurant. When I met my husband, Richard, I had a sense that he was Orthodox. I never really expected the relationship to go anywhere, so I just went along with it -ie. I ordered fish rather than meat in non-kosher restaurants. Yes- he ate and we still eat out in that way. When our relationship progressed to a point that serious matters had to be discussed, he told me that he could not marry someone who would not agree to be Orthodox. I was 21 ½ years old. I knew how to keep Kosher; but there were so many other pieces to this puzzle. Keeping Shabbat in a much more strict fashion, no longer eating meat out in non-kosher restaurants, Yomim Tovim ad infinitum, and what I didn’t exactly understand at the time- the Jekyll and Hyde personality that took over my husband before Passover. I was a young girl/woman who had just finished college eating cheeseburgers and coffee malteds. I loved pâté and canard a l’orange in fabulous French restaurants. These decisions may not seem daunting to those of you who have always lived this lifestyle or an even stricter one; but for those of you who enjoy having a full menu to chose from without restriction at home and while travelling and have never experienced the approximately 12 days of Yom Tov that come around every year to say nothing about the 25 hour observance of Shabbat 52 times a year-this was a major decision. Oh- let me share with you how I learned that I would be observing Shabbat on our honeymoon. When we were packing for our honeymoon, I saw Richard wrapping Shabbat candles, a Kiddush cup and spices. “What are you doing”, I asked? “I’m packing what we need for Shabbat”, he answered. “But we’re going on our honeymoon vacation”, I answered. And it was then I learned that Shabbat was coming with us on vacation and every week of the year. This must sound foolish to many of you; but trust me that to me it was a revelation.

42 years later, I can tell you that I am incredibly fortunate and grateful to have made the right choice in a husband. What does a 22 year old really know? I recognized the kind, supportive and generous person Richard was and is to this day. Despite the fact, he is totally undemanding, in terms of food that is, Richard does enjoy my kitchen experiments and completely throws himself into the entertaining which is so much a part of our lives. He sets the table with care, often does the flowers and makes sure everything around the house is arranged to perfection. I would not be able to do as much as I do without his constant help and encouragement.

Keeping kosher is still very hard for me. It’s hard for people who have never eaten out to appreciate what an incredibly difficult discipline it is. Even when you are able to produce fabulous food at home, you are still restricted from so much food in amazing restaurants around the world. I still miss what I can’t eat. That being said, being Orthodox is not just about being kosher. It is a defining lifestyle. It sets up a family structure like no other; and it is that that I have come to cherish. My family is the focal point of my life. Once I could deal with the time elements and assorted rules-many of which still feel truly foolish and are really annoying, I could focus on the fact that because of many of these rules, my family (many of whom are not Orthodox or kosher) have latched on to the tradition of coming together every week, at my home, for dinner or lunch or both; and for holidays both Jewish and American. We often have four generations sitting at the table with an assortment of friends who are like family. That is the part that makes me very happy.