My grandmother is an amazing chef. She makes the best sponge cake, matzo ball soup and sticky buns. We always loved visiting her and noshing on her delicious treats, but when my family became Torah observant, we had a hard time giving up her delicacies. We were not the only ones who suffered; my grandmother was devastated. She was very frustrated that she could no longer cook treats for us or invite us over for dinner. Since my family started keeping kosher, we have had many tough situations because not only are my relatives not Orthodox, but my mother also frequently travels to Switzerland for business. This has been a challenge that has arisen multiple times and it is very hard to overcome, but listening to Hashem will always have its rewards in Olam Haba.
It has been a tradition in my family to go to my grandparents’ house every Pesach for the first Seder. We would go through the Haggadah in English using those big words that I, as a little boy, could not understand; it seemed that because of this more than four questions were asked at the table. What made our Seder special were my grandfather’s special pillows. When we reached Yachatz, my grandfather would break the middle matzo and put the Afikoman between the two pillows that were resting on the chair beside him. Throughout the Seder, all of the children would crawl under the table to sneak a piece of the Afikoman out of the pillows and then crawl quickly back to his or her seat without our grandpa noticing. (Occasionally my Aunt distracted my grandfather while I was under the table.) My grandfather knew when we would take the pieces, but always acted surprised when most of the Afikoman was gone. At the end of Shulchan Orech, we had some of my grandmother’s delectable sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream. Our Seder finished with Echad Mi Yodeah, which we said in English. My family played a game where one person would say each verse in a single breath. It was always hard to do the last and longest verse. This was just a glimpse of our Pesach tradition. When we decided to become Torah observant, we could no longer participate. We had to have the Seder at our house. Finding the Afikoman became less fun and the sponge cake never came out as light and fluffy as before. It was deterring, but surprisingly comforting to know that we were following Halacha. It brought a smile to my lips that my cousins missed me so much. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that I was not only part of a family, but also a part of the Jewish people.
I recently went to my aunt’s house twice, once for Thanksgiving and again for the Super Bowl. On Thanksgiving, my mother brought our own turkey and side dishes, and we ate our meal while they ate theirs. We ate on paper plates and they ate on dishes. We brought the pie, but my mother’s pumpkin pie was not as good because she made it parve in order to be able to eat it. We also brought whipped cream, but that was not for us, since we had just had a fleishig meal. Afterward, we played games with the whole family and had a lot of fun with our relatives from out of town. It was a fun night with the family. On Super Bowl Sunday, we showed up at my aunt’s house with hotdogs and chili from our school fundraiser. My aunt had put everything with a hechsher, or which didn’t need a hechsher, in paper bowls, and the rest she put in real bowls. They watched the Super Bowl while I, not a fan of sports, studied Gemara in a corner. It was nice of my Aunt to think of us, and I sincerely appreciate all the trouble that she took to accommodate our stringent policies. I am so fortunate to have a family that cares for one another so much.
Another time when keeping kosher is tough, is when my mother travels to Switzerland for business. She knows a man there who owns a non-kosher restaurant, but can cook kosher food specifically for her as long as she gives him notice. In addition, Switzerland doesn’t have kosher symbols on the products. Instead, there is a list in German, which my mother does not speak. This especially makes finding kosher products hard when she is in the French section of Switzerland. In America, we are so lucky to have an organization that provides kosher certification so that Jews can conveniently discern between kosher and non-kosher products. Similarly, does my mother need to keep chalav yisroel in Switzerland because of uncertainty about which animal the milk comes from? Does she need to be uneasy about the kashrus of other Jews in Switzerland who she doesn’t know? When my mother travels to Switzerland, many questions arise that I might have never dreamed of.
All in all, the step of keeping kosher on my way to Torah observance is difficult, but necessary. It was tough to give up my grandmother’s cooking and I have to be more alert wherever I go, but I am glad I took the journey because it has made me a better person and enabled me to have a closer relationship with Hashem.
Shmuel Michaels of Greenwood Village, a ninth grade students at Yeshivat Sha’arei DAT High School was named a Winner of the 2012 OU Kosher Essay Contest for grades 7-12.
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