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Monday, July 5, 2010

eating kosher

Last week a Saudi friend of mine asked me how to say “I want Jewish food” in German. Since my German is practically non-existent, I came up with something that sounded like “ich vil yuden food,” but that struck me as not even close to the right answer, so I asked him if he was joking (in the past he accused me of driving like a reckless Arab, so I had to make sure his question was not one of his latest pranks). He said no, that he was going to Germany and wanted to make sure they didn’t serve him bacon or pork sausage in every meal.

I told him I’d ask my German speaking friend how to say it*, when it hit me that all he had to do was ask for Kosher food. My friend insisted that not every small town restaurant in Germany would know what kosher means, and that he’s been asking for kosher food every time he flies somewhere.

That exchange was a true eye opener. Here I am, a Jewish person who couldn’t care less if what she eats is kosher or not; talking to a Saudi man who worries about kosherness as if he were an observant Jew.

Those who understand Islam’s 'kosher' rules (called Halal) know that my friend’s main concern was the presence of pork in food, not all the other kosher intricacies that complicate the life of Jews, depends on how observant they choose to be.

I, for one, don’t follow kosher rules. I know many of them but I can’t be bothered. I also don't have two sinks, two refrigerators, and different sets of dishes and utensils to serve and prepare dairy and meat. Besides, I have a serious issue with the Jewish higher authority on food, i.e. god, so sometimes I would ‘violate’ a kosher edict only to piss Him off.

In Israel, where I grew up, there was little chance to go unkosher, especially in the non-vegetarian department, since pork products and all kinds of marine bottom feeders were either unavailable or too expensive. Unless you hunted them yourself they were pretty much out of reach. Other instances of adherence to kosher food were followed mostly because all food products in the market have a kosher stamp, even soap and laundry detergent. And don't forget the passover mania, when all things with wheat had to disappear from the shelves for a week (pastry, bread, cookies, crackers, cakes, noodles, in short, anything you ever want to eat) or risk the wrath of the kosher adherents. It’s not like I had much choice in the matter.

Sadly though, there is one kosher habit, if I can call it that, which stuck to me in spite of my honest attempt to shake it off with rational thinking and a strong anti-celestial-authority reflex: Mixing meat products and dairy. I mean, just look at the most favorite foods served in this country: pizza, cheeseburgers, all types of pastas, sandwiches; not only the famous ham and cheese but any other deli creation, including the Reuben sandwich (corned beef and Swiss). How that one became a staple of Jewish-American food is beyond me.

Sometimes I tell myself I don't mix the two because it makes me feel special. But deep down I know it's not the whole truth. It's that indoctrination that refuses to give in. When my daughter orders a cheeseburger I tell her, go ahead, we're bad Jews. She nods in agreement - she knows the code words - and orders the fattest burger on the menu, with cheese, no bacon, to soften up the blow. Then she lets me take a bite and it tastes really, really good.

Most people assume I eat kosher because I'm from Israel, hence I am Jewish, hence I observe Jewish etiquette. But of course that's not the case. If I choose not to eat something it is because I think it is either unhealthy, too weird to be eaten, bad for the environment or fattening. And most important of all, I don't eat "Jewish food" because I happened to be born Jewish. I eat Israeli food which does not have much in common with Jewish-American food (i.e. lox and bagels among other things). But that's a completely different story.

related article:

New York Times: Red, white and kosher

* ich moechte juedische spezialitaeten essen

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