Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Keeping Kosher in a non-observant family

My mother allowed us to keep kosher, for an entire weekend, cooking for the entire family, using her kitchen. Yeah, okay, so what’s the big deal? First, my family doesn’t keep kosher. Second, to call my mother a foodie would be an understatement. She's the kitchen goddess incarnate.

She ground our own peanut butter, our own flour (from wheat berries or rice grains), churned our own butter, made our bread, made pizza dough from brown rice, even ground her own poppy-seeds for her homemade poppy-seed rolls and made her own dough for her own strudel (made from our home-grown pears) etc. etc. etc. all during my childhood. Ask her to please step away from that pot? Uh...no.

So how did we do it without driving her absolutely, completely and totally insane? And still manage to eat on porcelain? Well, it wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t as difficult as one might imagine. For starters, we introduced new food that my mother didn't know how to cook in the first place, then let her help by chopping stuff up. She was happy to learn new, healthy and delicious recipes.

Secondly, my parents live in Texas, where real estate is relatively cheap, so they have space. I had some dishes in the attic I’d never used; Mama had a new paring knife and cutting board; I brought a soup pot from my kitchen, and I bought another soup pot on the way home from the airport, and a second knife and soup ladle.

I told my family that keeping kosher dishes at their place was an investment in our future relationship—a sign that seeing them was a priority. Eventually, I’ll build up enough (maybe I’ll buy a second soup pot and a frying pan next time) so that soon I’ll be able to visit without needing to bring any cookware with me. For now, though, triple-lining a regular baking pan with tinfoil allowed me to bake several lbs of fish (big family).

The second thing I did was to make sure they were included; I shopped for everyone and cooked a simple but delicious and hearty meal for Friday night. My mother lit candles with me. Luckily they like sweet wine. Who doesn’t like challah?

The biggest problem was reserving two kashered burners on the stove top. We’ll need to work on that one. The other problem was keeping my mother from poking in the soup pots with treif silverware.

Finally, be real. No, kashrut doesn’t make sense. It’s not supposed to make sense. Kashrut is NOT about logic. Yeah, it’s somewhat about making sure Jews and non-Jews don’t mix, which is hurtful to mention to my family. I just say that, aside from it being a commandment, it’s also a discipline to keep me mindful and attentive to my actions, my thoughts and the way I treat others, the way I treat the environment. That seems to work.

Also I introduced kashrut gradually, when I lived in Texas; at that time I’d cook an entire meal and bring it over. So it was seen as a treat, not as a weird and cultish habit or punishment I was subjecting them to. I started slow—we ate at first on their dishes, so as not to alienate. Or we ate on paper. And we talked about it. I avoided discussions that involved these words: truth, salvation, sin, right, wrong. And I acknowledged that what I was asking them to do for me seemed completely insane, as well as inconvenient, and I knew it, and I was really, really grateful.

I can’t say that it was easy for them. But luckily, they love me (yeah, I know it’s really all about the babygirl) and want to see us all again. Soon. And lots.


Ilanadavita said...

Very good post and one that might help others to try with their own folks. Why not submit it for kcc?

lsw said...

We went through the same thing with my family. It's so nice how they really, really try. Your mom sounds AWESOME in the kitchen!