November 22, 2006
Kashrut: The things we do for love
When I became a Jewish educator, joining the staff of Temple Israel of Hollywood as the head of the day school, I began to add a new language to my work, which has brought greater balance in my life.
This integration of my Jewish life into my work brought with it both many new challenges and many blessings. Even so, I have been surprised by a new turn that my Jewish life has taken in recent months.
Imagine my delight and surprise when my son announced last summer that he and his family would be relocating to Tarzana from Baltimore. Yet even as I was thrilled, I was also terrified in the same moment. David left home for Israel in the summer of 1994, and, except for vacations, he has lived miles and miles away since then. Like any mother, I wanted him closer to home.
But the distance that David had traveled from his father and me was not just a matter of physical miles. He'd gone a spiritual and emotional distance, too. Raised in our Conservative Jewish household, David has become an Orthodox rabbi.
So when I considered his return, during the conversation I had been awaiting for 12 years, I felt an emotional and spiritual conflict in the pit of my stomach.
I love my son; I love his wife, Carine, and their four beautiful sons, ages 6 to 1 year old. I love the feeling of family around the table eating, talking, laughing, singing and creating memories that will last a lifetime. What I didn't love was the idea that if I wanted to have those family moments in my own home -- now Grandma and Grandpa's house -- my house was going to have to change. We would have to transform our secular, "kosher-style" kitchen to a kosher kitchen.
Actually a kosher kitchen wouldn't do, it was going to have to be a glatt kosher kitchen.
My husband and I had always said that if our son moved back to Los Angeles, we would make the house kosher for them. We both were raised in kosher homes, and we remembered well the multiple sets of dishes for meat, dairy, Passover and Shabbat. We remembered the silverware and storage containers, the glassware and the tablecloths, the foods we could eat and those we couldn't. We thought of the recipes I could never make again. All that seemed, in the imagining, a small sacrifice to make our family comfortable -- until we actually began the process.
First we had to empty all of our cabinets of treif (non kosher food). Our weekly trips to Costco, even for just the two of us, had filled our pantry with canned goods, snacks, condiments and other delicacies we had acquired not only a taste for, but regularly used as staples and quick-meal ingredients.
Examining each one carefully, certain there must be a kosher certification (heksher) somewhere on the packaging, we discovered that most of our food had none. OK, we said to one another, we will do a mitzvah and bring the food to the homeless people in our neighborhood. That felt good!
When we tackled the refrigerator and freezer, we again discovered joy in knowing we would be helping someone else. Next came the dishes, our formal and informal, special serving platters, pots, pans, plastic containers, sets of matching silverware and utensils we had bought for our newly renovated kitchen. Each drawer, shelf and cupboard was scrutinized, first by us and then by our son.
All this was followed by the tearing apart of all our appliances, so that all traces of our previous lifestyle were erased.
When we finished, we were left with a shopping list of new items so long, we knew the only way to be able to make this work was to take a trip to the Camarillo Outlets, where we could replace the essentials as economically as possible. Target soon became my favorite store as daily we discovered something else we had forgotten to put on our initial list. It seemed as though for several weeks our lives were filled with almost daily trips to the mikvah.
Every new item purchased and any previously used item deemed able to be made kosher had to be brought there for a blessing and a dipping in boiling water. Afterward, we brought the items home for a final scrubbing in the proper sink with the right sponge and scouring pad, one for meat and one for dairy. We did all this, because we wanted our kitchen back. We wanted to feel we owned our "new" kitchen, which was beginning to feel as foreign to us as the black hat and the beard our son wears.
The next phase was to begin to cook in the kitchen we had created, to learn where everything went, to think before we just picked something up to use, and to pay attention to what we were doing. As we slowly began to take notice of all the nuances, we discovered that by paying attention to where we bought our food, how we prepared it, what we were eating and how we were cleaning up after ourselves, we felt a new connection to living as Jews.
The transformation gave us what we wanted, and more. Where previously our dinners at home with our son's family had been makeshift -- on paper plates with pre-prepared food -- now we finally could truly share our home with them. The first night we had the family over for Sunday dinner, and our grandchildren ate up everything on their plates and asked for more, we knew we had made the right decision.
Eileen Horowitz has been the head of school at Temple Israel of Hollywood for 12 years and is a previous winner of the Milken Educator of Excellence Award. Her son, Rabbi Dovid Horowitz, is the director of outreach at the Valley Community Kollel.