It’s not just cooking and eating food that brings you closer to God, it’s catching it too. Even when the food is treyf. Sam Kestenbaum, a Jewish lobsterman on Deer Isle in Maine, writes about it in a beautiful essay for The New York Times:
On the island, the name Kestenbaum is often met with this kind of puzzled look, then followed by, “You’re going to have to spell that.” Certain last names fill up pages in the phone book here. The names of old families that have been here for generations, networks of cousins, aunts and uncles — Eaton, Haskell, Hardy, Heanssler and Weed, among others. But you will find only one Kestenbaum family in Hancock County. And you won’t find too many other Jewish lobstermen (perhaps not particularly surprising considering the non-kosher status of the catch).
Despite this, I feel close to my faith when I’m on the water. The work is difficult, but meditative. Fishermen grapple daily with the elements: the wind, the tide, the shifting of the seasons. Jews also keep their eyes on the elements, recognizing the great, sacred powers that are present in the world. And wherever we go, we believe God travels with us.
It is said that when the Jews went into exile, the Shekinah, the divine presence, went into exile, too — hovering over us, around us wherever we were, waiting for us to invite the sacred into our lives. This is one of the great gifts of diaspora: we travel, move, but remain who we are.
Many years a go I spent a spring break on Deer Isle. My college friend Jonathan had a family compound on the water, and he invited me and our friend Doug to visit. At noon my friend said it was time to get dinner delivered. I assumed we’d call for pizza. Instead he got on a CB radio and spoke to a captain of lobster boat. Around dusk a boat appeared just offshore, and a crew member transfered a couple of live lobsters from the deck to some cages attached by rope to my friend’s dock. We hauled in the cages, and there was dinner.
The end of the story turned out to be fateful: as we plunged the lobsters in a vat of boiling water, I was sure I heard a scream coming from the pot. Even then I knew it was likely steam escaping from their shells. Didn’t matter. Starting the next day, I became a complete vegetarian for 14 years.
Very instructive lobsterman video below…