I just came from a beautiful, moving wedding that reminded me once again of everything I love about this observant Jewish life we are living. It is a privilege to have the warmth and spiritual richness that it provides and I understand that more every day. Sometimes though, even after nearly four years, the process is a pain. I wrote this a couple of days ago and haven't posted it because it's so cranky; now as I recall the beauty of Jewish ritual, I can balance that grouchiness with a gratitude for all I have gained. So read it with that in mind.
I had a long conversation a couple of days ago with a close friend. He wanted us to come to dinner, and when I explained that, because we eat only kosher food and use utensils that have only dealt with kosher food, it would be better if he came to us, it came as something of a shock. All he wanted was to extend hospitality to us, and I had to refuse it. A very troubling experience.
I have had, and continue to have, a real sense of peace and meaning and connection since we've been living this life, and wouldn't trade it for anything, but as you know, I've written plenty about my battle with keeping kosher. Initially romantic about the whole thing, I started to get angry when facing (as opposed to all the great cooking that goes on in this community) the inedible stuff that passes for kosher food on airplanes, and sometimes at conferences.
Because I've only been living a really observant life for the past four years, it's still anything but automatic. Because I've only been living a really observant life for the past four years, I know what Pho tastes like, and ham sandwiches, and lobster. And the great feeling of discovery when you wander into a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and it's just fabulous. All gone now. And most of the time, I'm fine with that. But here are some things that sometimes continue to be difficult:
- Packing for a week at the beach(that's half of what we took in the photo) and needing to bring utensils and pots and kosher ingredients or pre-prepared meals that have been frozen. (Although I admit that once you get there, it's great that there's so little work left to do!)
- Having to take your own grill no matter how nice the one in the rental house is because non-kosher meat has been cooked on that one.
- Going to a good-bye party for a friend and, while the rest of the guests eat Chinese food, eating a (very considerately provided) salad.
- Not much access to great ethnic foods because there are so few kosher ethnic restaurants around here. We go to a vegan Chinese place that's pretty good but some of my friends believe that even that is unacceptable.
- Conference meals.
- Airline meals (I know I already said that but they are God-awful -- at least in the U.S.)
- Accidentally getting milk in the meat Tupperware and, because plastic can't be kashered, having to throw it out.
- More important than any of this: assuming the separateness that comes with these rules. I can't eat at my friend's house unless he serves cold salad and canned tuna or something else that has not been cooked - and then only on brand-new or paper plates. With brand-new or disposable utensils. And he feels bad. And so do I. And group events like Thanksgiving are tough unless our hosts are willing, as our older son and his fiance (and her mom) were, to buy kosher turkey etc and serve us on paper plates.
They call it the "yoke of heaven" and I have accepted it, mostly with equanimity. The kosher stuff gets easier and since we live in a fairly self-contained community since you need to walk to services, I don't encounter these problems all that often. When I do, people are more than happy to arrange something that's kosher for me. Really.
I told my friend that if I had food allergies (remember how Carol Channing brought her own food to a White House dinner?) they wouldn't be hurt. This is kind of the spiritual equivalent: keeping kosher supports my quest for spiritual health.
We live in an amazing community and, as I'm fond of telling people, following some of these tougher rules is the "price of the ticket." And many of the rules add to our spiritual center. To be part of what is being built here spiritually, ethically and socially, we share the adherence to the rules that enable it all. And the rule is that you're not supposed to say "Pork is horrible, I'm glad I'm not allowed to eat it" but rather, "I'm sure it's very good, but my observance prevents me from eating it." In other words, I choose this life, these rules. I choose to work toward understanding G-d's role in my life and the sense of peace that comes with it. I choose to find new ways to be with people I love who don't live this life. And sometimes it really is hard. And that's that.