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‘What keeping kosher means to me’

Clockwise from top left: Kerry Berman, Tova Zussman, Jeff Wedgle, Sherrie Davidson, Neal Price, Shulamis MullerKerry Berman, President & COO, real estate investing firm, 3 children

Keeping kosher means raising my consciousness about what I am eating, something that is an everyday occurrence, to a spiritual level. By keeping kosher I know that I am fulfilling one of G-d’s commandments even when I eat. I am not just satisfying my hunger desires but rather am raising the act up by keeping Hashem in mind.

Keeping kosher also raises my level of discipline. My family has chosen to wait six hours after consuming meat in order to eat something dairy. The waiting also causes one to always be conscious that there is a G-d who created this world and gave the Jews certain rules to live by as His holy people.

Much of Judaism is about taking physical acts and making them spiritual. Keeping kosher plays a big role toward that goal.

Neal Price, Executive director, Hebrew Educational Alliance, 5 children, 5 grandchildren

As someone who was not raised in a kosher home, I never gave much thought about observing kashrut until I became involved in Jewish student activities at CU-Boulder. As a leader of American Students for Israel and Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, and as one of the only married students in our group, my apartment became a gathering place for other student-activists.

I had also, at that time, studied with Rabbi Jack Steinhorn, z’”l, of BMH and had learned from him the importance of kashrut, not only as a mitzvah, but also as a way to relate to the Jewish people.

To me, kashrut allowed me to eat as a Jew — to relate to my own ancestors, as well as Jews throughout time and throughout the world. It also made my little apartment accessible to a wider segment of the student population at CU.

Keeping kosher was for me an entry point to a more observant life.

Kashrut also taught me that not everything in the world was mine; rather I had to develop some inner discipline.

Finally, through kashrut, I am also able to relate to the treatment of animals. If we care how we treat them, how much more sensitive will we be to other human beings? To me kashrut is a way to perform a mitzvah, to become linked to my fellow Jews, and to hopefully become a more sensitive and caring person.

Shulamis Muller, Homemaker, Demartini facilitator, 6 children

As servants of G-d, all of our actions are for a higher purpose. We take our mundane life and turn each moment into an opportunity to elevate ourselves and those around us. Even something as physical and, might I say, enticing as food and eating is, we as Jews use it as an opportunity to connect to G-d and those around us.

When I go shopping, and make sure that the food products I am buying have an approved kosher symbol on them, I know that I am doing something that has a higher purpose.

I am reminded that we as Jews are feeding ourselves so that we can serve G-d.

He gave each of us an amazing body to work with, a beautiful world to live in, and a unique purpose and mission to accomplish on this earth. When we feed ourselves food that is kosher, we are acknowledging our duty and purpose here.

But, as with everything in life, there are the pros and cons to keeping Kosher.

From a practical point of view, the first thing that came to mind when contemplating what kosher means to me was how much more complicated family vacations become when you keep kosher. Now I don’t mean taking a trip to New York, Chicago or any other big Jewish metropolitan area, I mean road trips to Yellowstone National Park, our great Rocky Mountains or even Utah . . . you get the picture. Ensuring that we have enough food (mostly meat products which we can’t purchase on the way), space to pack a cooler in the car, a cooler big enough to hold everything yet small enough so we can get everything else in the car, and a variety of foods, so that after five days no one is ready to explode from a nitrate overdose, means that keeping kosher can pose its challenges.

Setting family vacations aside, keeping kosher has tremendous benefits as well.

I enjoy cooking; and nurturing my family through food is a very high value to me. The fact that we rarely go out to eat and have family dinners without outside distractions, gives us time to regroup, catch up and bond as a family.

I can’’t say that every supper is a truly bonding experience, especially when everyone fights over who gets to sit next to Mommy and Tatty, one kid doesn’’t like anything at the table, a second is bothered that someone is chewing with their mouth open . . . sound familiar?

We as Jews have greater aspirations than the menus of any restaurant out there, and whether we are at home or on the road, keeping kosher keeps us constantly connected and in line with our service to G-d.

Sherrie Davidson, Retired teacher and librarian, 2 children

When we started dating, Les, who was raised in the Reform movement, asked me about keeping kosher. His paternal grandmother kept kosher and he wanted her to be able to eat in our home. We had many conversations about it, as I was raised in a modern Orthodox home. My parents kept a kosher home, even more so at Passover.

I kept a kosher apartment while in college and intended to keep a kosher home from the start. After we married, we set up our apartment with two sets of dishes, pots, pans, utensils, etc. The kitchen was too small!

We ended up moving to our current home. Our new home was perfectly set up for separation of dairy and meat; as well as a pareve baking section in the kitchen.

A kosher kitchen was how I was raised, and how I intended to carry on my Jewish traditions. I had to teach Les all the “rules and expectations” of kashrut. Not only are meat and milk separated, ingredients must have a hechsher, one of the symbols showing that the item was produced under the supervision of a Jewish person who understood the production, ingredients and process.

After several years, it became more and more difficult for me to haul all the Passover kitchen equipment up from our basement each year. We had our kitchen remodeled and we built a Passover pantry into our dining room. Now, I have conveniently all the space I need for all the kosher items I use.

Currently, we purchase our kosher products from a great variety of local markets and online resources. This is much easier than in years past when only one or two places carried kosher items.

Recently, we went on a cruise that offered kosher proteins made in the cruise ship’s kosher kitchen. It was amazing to be able to travel and have kosher meals rather than just fish and dairy. There were 42 people at the kosher Chanukah dinner on the ship!

I have also realized the healthy aspects of eating kosher. Because I am always looking at the ingredients, as well as the hechsher, I am more aware of what I am putting in my mouth, and what I am serving to my family and guests. I hope this helps them be aware as well.

Passover is my favorite holiday because of the extra challenges it brings to food preparation. I am lucky enough to have many resources to choose from which eases the challenge.

Jeff Wedgle, Senior software developer, 2 children

My observance of keeping kosher is split into two periods of time: Shabbos and the rest of the week.

On Shabbos, it is easy to keep kosher since the Shabbos meals are in the spirit of, and part and parcel to, the 25-hour period of being off the grid. Sitting around a Shabbos table, laughing and talking and singing (brought about by drinking kosher wine) with my family and friends is one of the highlights of my week.

Kosher is part of the overall spirituality that I feel after every Shabbos.

The challenge to follow the dietary laws comes mostly during the course of my weekday work routine and my active lifestyle.

During the work week in my quest for food, keeping kosher (most times strictly, a few times not) is much harder to observe. So I try to keep my mind focused on a particular mindset when I’m downtown and it’s lunchtime.

For example, when I know that I’m observing the dietary laws like Jews have been doing for 3,500 years, I am astounded at the thought. That’s like setting a tradition today and finding out that people are following that same tradition in the year 5016! What a way to be a link in one of the greatest chains of human history.

This mindset is very good at keeping me on the kosher track.

Sometimes I’’m in “healthy” mode, and keeping kosher keeps me away from a lot of bad food. My veins aren’’t my own. They belong to my kids. I don’’t want them to lose their dad the way I lost mine when I was only 19 years old.

My dad smoked during the ‘’60s and ‘’70s, and when he went cold turkey, often food replaced the cigarettes. I’’m not saying that kosher equals healthy, but it sure does keep me from stopping into a fast-food joint when I’’ve got the munchies.

Lastly, and most importantly, sometimes my soul is doing the talking, albeit never as much as I’d like it to be. At those times I keep kosher simply because G-d said so.

Tova Zussman, Marketing director, The Jewish Experience, 4 children

““Mommy, can we get THIS one?” my four-year-old daughter wants to know, picking up a sparkly box of “Frozen” princess-themed cereal.

Those colorful snowflakes look pretty exciting, though a quick once-over at the packaging confirms my suspicions: no kosher symbol. The product contains marshmallows, a frequent kosher offender as it often contains gelatin from animal sources.

“Let’s choose another cereal,” I say in my most disarming Mom voice. “This type is not kosher, sweetie.”

No tears now. Let’s not make a scene.

We’re standing in the breakfast foods aisle surveying the options, while my younger daughter is delightedly helping herself to the contents of the shopping cart she is sitting in.

Why am I in a supermarket with a toddler and a preschooler, again? Oh, yeah, because we ran out of eggs, bread and, of course, cereal.

“Aw. Why can’t we get it if it’s not kosher?” comes the next question.

“Because Hashem said that we should only eat kosher.”

That answer seems to satisfy, at least for now, so we settle on some other sugar and food coloring-laden ingestible (don’t tell the health police) and hurry on to the next challenge — I mean, grocery aisle.

Because Hashem said that we should only eat kosher.

It’s the truth; He did tell us, in the Torah, to observe the laws of kashrus. As a seminary student in Israel, I remember learning a concept that is both simple and deep: We keep mitzvos because Hashem said so. Period.

Many mitzvos have wonderful side benefits to those who observe them, and to society in general, such as the commandment to “love your fellow.” It’s harder to rationalize “why” Hashem wants us to refrain from eating an occasional cheeseburger. (After all: kishka and kugel aren’t much more healthful!)

Kashrus serves to remind us that all mitzvos are expressions of the Divine will; and following the rules, in all their fine detail, brings us closer to Him on a level that only our souls can sense.

At this point, I’m over the craving for marshmallow-topped Disney cereal, but funny as it sounds, I’d really like to try some Brussels sprouts. The trouble is, eating insects is a kosher no-no, and aphids and other creepy crawlers are known to inhabit leafy greens until we boot them with a combination of vegetable wash, streaming water and visual inspection.* Brussels sprouts are notoriously hard to de-insect, and some kosher agencies recommend avoiding them altogether.

So when I need to stop and think about what I’m buying, what I’m eating, how I prepare it, and so many other steps in its kosher cooking process, it grounds me and reminds me of the Creator Whose will I obey.

Though I don’t understand why He doesn’t want me to eat insects, I trust that the same Hashem Who gives me new skin when I have a boo-boo, Who sends us rain so all the flowers and vegetables and beautiful trees can grow, has my best interest in mind when He commands us to keep kosher.

It’s what I teach my children, and it’s what I impress upon myself.

*Totally onto another topic here, but now that we’ve opened this proverbial can of worms — pun absolutely intended: more information about removing insects from vegetables can be accessed through the Scroll K as well as online with many helpful videos and tutorials accessible at a Google search.

Copyright © 2016 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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IJN Associate Editor | [email protected]

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