Could I say God conned me into it? Or maybe it was my mother.
The bottom line is there I was, Vallejo, California circa 1994, 15 years old and the only Jewish girl in my school.
We’d just come home from our first visit to Israel, where my religious uncle had moved and taken my grandmother with him. So to see Bubbe, Chicago was no longer an option, and Israel was our new destination. After a three-week trip of living a totally different kind of Judaism than anything I’d ever experienced in our Reconstructionist synagogue in Vallejo, Mom and I returned home. And I thought nothing had changed—well, not nothing. I knew I felt different, more connected Jewishly than I had felt in a long time.
And then my mom sprang it on me: We were going to keep kosher at home. Out of the house, I could do what I wanted, but in the house things were going to change.
And that was all right—we never ate at home anyway so what did it matter? Things were fine until that night in an Italian restaurant when I tried to order a fried calamari steak and Mom decided she wasn’t going for it.
“But you promised,” I said, annoyed.
“I know, honey, but it doesn’t feel right.”
I had to respect her decision, though I didn’t like it. And then the transformation happened. We started keeping kosher everywhere, inside the house and out.
Now keeping kosher in the middle of nowhere has its down sides, like the fact that we had to drive six hours each way to Los Angeles to buy meat and milk and anything else that Safeway didn’t carry. So once a month, my single mother had to take a day off of work to avoid driving on Shabbos. We put packed coolers in the trunk—we cranked up the music and took a road trip. I will never forget these trips with my mother. The lengths she would go to for what she believed in.
I mention the single mother thing because money was tight—I mean ridiculously so—and kosher meat was expensive (not to mention the gas and taking off a day from work). But you can’t put a price tag on conviction. If you asked my mother why she started keeping kosher in circumstances anyone would have said were insurmountable, she would tell you, “There’s a certain energy about it I can’t explain. I just know it’s what I need to do.”
Fast-forward 22 years. Now I live in Jerusalem, and the kosher meat here is so much more expensive then the kosher meat in America, and our salaries are probably a third of an American salary. But I don’t want to become a vegetarian, and I wouldn’t dream of giving up keeping kosher. What’s a girl to do?
Make more money—that’s one option (though easier said than done); or I could eat a vegetarian meal every once in a while. Yes, we’ve instituted meatless Mondays. But there is so much more to kosher then these considerations.
When I think of why I started keeping kosher for real all those years ago, not because my mom made me, but when I made the choice, and I why I keep making that choice, nothing has really changed. When I started keeping kosher as a teenager, it wasn’t an intellectual process. It was about a feeling, a feeling that this was something good for my Jewish soul. All these years later, that feeling is still with me.
It’s expensive. It’s inconvenient. Every Friday night I still think about the old days before we kept Shabbos or kosher and used to order a Domino’s pizza. And there is a part of me that longs for it. But I don’t do it.
For me, being Jewish isn’t about the convenience of Domino’s pizza, or the price on meat, or how hard it is to be a Jew sometimes in the crazy world we are all living in. For me, being Jewish is about so much more than the stress of getting ready for the holidays. Being Jewish is about the glow of the candles on Friday night and sitting down with my family even though sometimes It’s exhausting because I know these moments, the ones that I work hard for, are going to benefit my family for years to come.
In the future, when my kids sit down to a kosher Shabbos dinner with their families one day, and when the generation after theirs does the same thing, maybe they won’t remember that I kept kosher in the middle of nowhere, or in Jerusalem for that matter, but that isn’t what will matter. What will matter is that they are Jewish, and our family and religion has offered them continuity.
For me, keeping kosher is about giving our kids roots in a tradition that has held us, comforted us, and propelled us to greatness since it’s inception.