What bothered my parents most when I became religious in Judaism was the food. I started walking down the path of observance 12 years ago, but only when I met Avy did I get to the point of not eating in the kitchen of someone who did not keep kosher the way we did it. The way he did it.
Until then, I was flexible. I didn’t mix milk and meat, didn’t eat out-and-0ut treife like shellfish or pork, but I sat down to table with non-keepers easily and sipped from their glasses without a thought.
It was because we were getting married and because I wanted to start in the same square moving forward that I took on his stringencies. In particular, I remember the time I rejected the tuna fish my grandmother prepared for a party of relatives because it included bits of chopped hard-boiled egg. I miss the taste of my grandmother’s food – her velvety veal scallopine, her homemade gefilte fish, the little square brownies she dusts with powdered sugar. When I lived in New York, she sent me a Jacobson’s box full of them and I was the most popular person in the newsroom for a day.
Food brings people together as well as it can tear us apart. When you can cook for someone, present them with a beautiful table, a sip of lemon-water, and some hushed-over-shoulders intense conversation, then you are really connecting.
But when another person comes to inspect your pots and boil your silverware in an effort to make them holy enough to eat with, well, that is certainly an intrusion. And it’s an easy way to create distance.
There are many ways to be authentic. These days, I’m fond of the individual definition, the way that each person has her own story, with little details that differentiate her from the crowd.
Religious people around the world often succumb to the giving over – of control, of belief, of the way they walk through their days. But you make your own luck – it doesn’t come as a reward for deprivation or asceticism or turning your back on your sister.
There is good kosher food, to be sure. In April, I ate the best burger of my life at Le Marais in New York, its juices seeping into the bun, its pink flesh sweet as it was tangy. Hell, there is great kosher food. A person doesn’t eat only kosher for culinary reasons; it’s done on faith, the belief that it is the right way to sustain one’s body.
I believe there are many absolute rights, almost an infinite number of paths to higher meaning. I don’t have the license on it, and neither does anyone else. We tell ourselves stories to sustain ourselves – it is the fear of the unknown that drives us to embrace the rules and restrictions, to suspend sensible belief in favor of blind faith.
Today is my first full day as a divorced individual. I’ll drink the same cup of coffee that I drank every day for the past number of years and my hair will curl the same way it has for so long. Tonight, the kids and I will taste a bit of home-cooking at my aunt’s house – she went out of her way to buy kosher meat and I will meet her in her efforts by eating it, its taste enhanced by the people around the table and our ability to fully merge with them, to laugh when they laugh, to eat what they eat.
We are family even in our different contours and shadows, in the different details of our faces. All valid in our choices. I feel the need to offer a toast now though the sun has yet to rise. In Hebrew we say L’chaim, which means to life. I think it utterly appropriate. Cheers!