Saturday, September 19, 2020 -
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How to keep kosher in a small American city

Phyllis and Larry Stahler

If you live in a big city such as New York, Miami, Los Angeles or Denver, you will find it easy to keep kosher.

Colorado Springs, on the other hand, poses a challenge.

One cannot find a kosher meat market on every corner. Foods in a restaurant that are vegetarian or vegan diets do not a kosher restaurant make, not to mention that a typical Jewish meal contains meat. You can picture the pastrami, chicken soup, flanken (short ribs) and brisket that typify the Jewish table.

The dairy side, including cream cheese and lox, gefilte fish, blintzes and latkes with sour cream are more easily accessed with a hechsher (kosher symbol) these days, but continue to necessitate close attention when purchasing in the store.

Most Jews know the basic tenets of kashrut: not mixing meat and dairy foods; keeping utensils, dishes, towels, sponges, and cooking equipment separate depending upon their use; and only eating kosher species and have been ritually slaughtered by a shochet.

In smaller cities it can be a struggle to maintain a kosher lifestyle, especially when it comes to buying meat.

Larry and Phyllis Stahler have lived in Colorado Springs, with a four-year break, since 1986. Larry has kept kosher all his life, having been brought up in an Orthodox home. Phyllis has kept a kosher kitchen since her marriage to Larry.

The Stahlers had an adjustment to make when they moved from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs. In LA they lived across the street from a kosher meat market. They had to find other methods of obtaining their meat when they moved to Colorado. In the late 1980s, the Stahlers remember ordering from the East Side Kosher Deli in Denver for delivery to Colorado Springs.

The deli provided an inventory list to participants, who checked off the items they wanted and ordered them by phone. The Stahlers would either take two coolers up to Denver to pick up their meat or the deli would deliver a large order of frozen meat, shared by others in town, to Temple Shalom as a central pickup place.

Since the meat was less expensive when ordered in larger quantities, the participants would arrange in advance how to divide the cartons when they arrived and calculate the price each paid accordingly.

Manny and Karen Weiss have also lived in Colorado Springs since 1986. Years ago, they ordered by phone from several different kosher meat sources, including Auerbach’s in Denver.

Manny recalls one instance in which a friend had picked up a large meat order for him and others and delivered it late at night to Manny’s downtown office parking lot. The meat customers met in a group in the parking lot and began shuttling boxes of meat from car to car.

They all expected to hear the police arrive, as the scene resembled a late-night drug deal.

Marvin and the late Shirley Strait lived in Lamar, Colo., from 1960 to 1973. They were, to Marvin’s knowledge, the only Jews in a five-county radius at that time. Shirley decided that the family would keep kosher, as she considered this to be the only connection with Judaism open to them in town.

The Straits put in orders for kosher meat by phone, initially from a Denver company. However, they thought that the quality was not good for the price they were paying, and Marvin complained to his friends in Kansas City about it. The friends suggested that they order their meat from Kansas City.

The meat came by the Santa Fe train that ran through Lamar. The train would stop in Lamar and the Straits would pick up their meat at the train station. For Passover, the Straits ordered kosher-for-Passover foods from Denver, at great expense.

Marvin relates that he once wrote a letter to the Manischewitz company thanking it for supplying southern Colorado with pesachdig foods for only twice the regular price. The letter was printed in the Denver Post.

Another similar system for buying kosher meat existed in Colorado Springs in the 1980s. A co-op was formed of interested people who chose the items they wanted from an inventory list. The meat was freighted in to town from Sinai Foods in Chicago via refrigerated truck. Temple Shalom was the central delivery site.

When the meat arrived, the administrator at Temple Shalom would call the customers, who would come to the Temple to pick up their meat. The meat was packed frozen in boxes with the customers’ names written on them.

If the customer could not pick up his order in a timely manner, the meat was placed in the walk-in refrigerator at the temple until such time as the client could retrieve it.

Karen and Manny Weiss

These days, it is not necessary to put forth such great effort to order kosher meat. Since computers and cell phones have become popular, ordering meat online is much easier than going to a store. However, there are two places in Colorado Springs that do carry kosher meat: King Soopers at Uintah Gardens and Trader Joe’s. The Stahlers shop for their meat at King Soopers, and if what they are searching for is not in stock, they call Robin, the kosher coordinator in the meat department, and order it. Larry says, “We are simple eaters. We stick to chicken and ground round.” They have an extra freezer in their basement in which they keep their meat.

Karen Weiss prefers to shop for fresh kosher meat at Trader Joe’s, instead of frozen. The Weisses eat turkey, beef, steak and chicken. The Weisses also shop at the Uintah Gardens King Soopers, especially for turkeys at Thanksgiving. Their biggest recent challenge has been re-kashering their kitchen to a higher standard for their Orthodox daughter Ariella.

The disadvantage felt most by those who keep kosher in Colorado Springs is being able to host a potluck meal in their homes. With the paucity of kosher restaurants in town, people cannot pick up a kosher side dish to bring, and people who are serious about keeping kosher do not allow items into their kitchen without a hechsher. Karen Weiss invites those who wish to bring food to purchase whole fruits or vegetables and prepare them in her kitchen when they arrive.

Being in the minority in Colorado Springs, even among Jews, is a challenge for those who wish to follow the mitzvah of keeping kosher. Most people in town have a limited understanding of kashrut and Jewish foods. Stahler relates an incident at a store in which he asked for lox and was sent to the hardware section!

For those people who observe the mitzvah of kashrut, Colorado Springs has been and continues to be a town in which one needs to work at keeping kosher. At least these days we do not have to wait for our meat until the train from Kansas City arrives.

Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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