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The Hungry Hungry Hebrew: Traveling in Kosher-style

maxb2As a traveling Jew who keeps somewhat kosher, I too often find myself fumbling through my local dictionary to figure out how to say, “I don’t want bacon on my apple”. Now, I’m not the type who really cares how his steak was slaughtered, but I do strictly abide by the ancient, holy laws of “kosher style” (no shellfish and swine for this boy from Palestine but cheeseburger me to death).

Keeping this modicum is especially difficult to abide by in the Spanish speaking world, where being both Jewish and nourished seem mutually exclusive. If my forays into Spain, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Uruguay taught me nothing else, it’s that “meat” means “pork”, that “rice and beans” means “rice and beans and pork”, and that anything off the breakfast menu means a couple of eggs and twelve pounds of pig.

The Latin countries have perfected the art of sneaking in some kind of cud-chewing animal appendage into your every meal, snack, and drink. Go anywhere near a sandwich shop or pizza place in Latin America and you’re certain to find some sort of pork bread, bacon crust, or ham napkins. They use pork as an ingredient like we use salt. For example, the menu at your favorite burger joint up the street typically lists ground beef, lettuce, and tomato between buns – noting nothing about salt. So why should the omelet you order in Argentina list the giant hunk of hammaxb3 enveloping it?

Spain is the worst offender, where every block has a Museo de Jamon (that’s a “ham museum” for you gringos). Known locally as “Spanish McDonalds”, each of these pork factories are decorated with forests of pig legs dangling from rafters as hungry, rushing masses of crucifix-laden Spaniards gobble them to the bone.

Seriously, even Spanish Ruffles are “ham flavored” (seriously).

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The worst part is, this isn’t some ancient cultural taste preference introduced by bands of pig-eating Iberian invaders thousands of years ago. Nor is it the product of some sort of chaotic pig population explosion. Rather, the pork obsession was imposed into Spanish culture during the Inquisition to keep the Jews away. The swine’s strong showing today indicates either the Spanish still really love their pork or they still really don’t like their Jews (probably more the bacon than the anti-Semitism).

So, for all of you kosher-styling, sojourning Jews out there, my Frommers(stein) guide to warding off anorexia in España and anywhere below America’s belt consists of learning three phrases:

Sin puerco

Sin jamon

Lay’s, por favor

 

 

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After my first birthright trip, I was stricken with the terrible genetic disease known as “wanderlust” – passed down to me by my great32 grandfather, Moses. Hungry, Hungry Hebrew captures my benign observations disguised as rants as I meander around the world

 

 

How many questions should you ask on Passover?

JSSA Passover Gameboard_Page_1“She died in her sleep,” relayed the voice over the phone.  “After years of suffering… she is at peace, but, now… now I am suffering. Rabbi, can you help me?” I put down the phone and was with the family in under an hour.  That afternoon, I heard fragments of a lifetime of memories…the next morning we returned her body to the earth.

How quickly life can change, and, when it does, JSSA is here to help.  As the Director of JSSA’s Jewish Chaplaincy Services, my team and I work with families facing challenging situations every day.  Some families are able to pay for JSSA’s services and some are not.  Regardless, we are always ready to help.

Two weeks after officiating at the funeral for the family mentioned above, a letter arrived on my desk.  It contained a check for twice the amount of our suggested donation, along with a note that read, “For the next family in need.”  What a mensch!

One ancient sage, Rabbi Tanchum, would purchase double of everything.  When asked why, he explained, “one for me, and one for someone in need.” This kind of generosity is at the foundation of kehillah kedosha, a holy community.  And it is what has kept JSSA’s doors opened for the past 120 years.

This Passover, JSSA is partnering with B’nai B’rith, and other local organizations and synagogues to deliver 500 Kosher for Passover food baskets. For families, individuals with special needs, seniors and Holocaust survivors in need.  As you prepare for your own holiday celebration, consider sponsoring a basket (or more) for $36.  Your generosity will allow a struggling neighbor to celebrate Passover with dignity.

Too often, we hear of clients unable to afford the additional items necessary to observe Passover.  Some even consider buying less in the weeks before in order to afford the more expensive Kosher for Passover items.  Others forgo their medication.  You can help them avoid making these choices by sponsoring a basket or few.  This holiday program relies solely on the contributions from our community.

JOIN US by choosing to sponsor a basket (or few) in honor of your host or guests – send an eCard today, www.jssa.org/holidaygiving.

To extend our thanks to program supporters and to enhance Seder experiences across the metro area, we’re providing some added fun…with Passover BINGO!  This is not just your Bubbie’s BINGO!  With questions like, “Why is sponge cake a popular Passover dessert” and challenges like, “share a modern day exodus story”, JSSA, your local Jewish Social Service Agency, has created a Passover BINGO game for everyone at your Seder.  Together your friends and family will learn more about each other and reflect on story and experiences of Passover.

Hag Sameach (Happy Holiday),

Rabbi James Q. Kahn
Director of JSSA’s Jewish Chaplaincy Services

and

Marissa Neuman Jachman
JSSA Manager of Annual Giving

All but Observant Welcome

not kosh

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect the opinions of Gather the Jews. Read GTJ’s response here.

By profession, I am an officer in the United States Army.  My job has brought me all around the world.  I have both kept kosher and helped arrange Jewish servicemember events, always kosher, in locations as diverse as Seoul, Korea, Schweinfurt (Pig’s Crossing), Germany, and Baghdad, Iraq.  It perplexes me then why some Jewish organizations, which tout their inclusiveness, insist on the exclusion of observant Jews by serving non-kosher food.  At a time when far too many Jews are completely unaffiliated and totally disengaged from American Jewish communal life, Jewish organizations which have non-kosher events send a unmistakable “We don’t want you” message to observant Jews – a group which tends towards the most engagement, affiliation, and participation.   Jewish organizations of every ideological stripe, which claim to welcome the entire community, act in this exclusionary fashion.  A few examples:

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is dedicated to “to work(ing) towards a world in which all peoples (are) accorded respect and dignity” by promoting “pluralistic and democratic societies.”  Apparently, observant Jews aren’t a part of this “pluralism,” or necessarily in line for “respect and dignity.”  Last month, the AJC held a Winter Access DC party at which it served non-kosher food and wine.  I asked Jason Harris, the Assistant Director of AJC’s Washington Office, why the AJC holds non-kosher events.  He responded by stating that the AJC serves “’kosher-style’ (food) when we host events at any bars or reception halls…” and that it is just too hard to find kosher food or catering in Washington.

J-Street claims that it is “rooted in commitment to Jewish values.”  Evidentially, kashrut isn’t a part of the “Jewish values” in which J-Street is rooted.  The 2011 J-Street National Conference featured only non-kosher food.  Google “J-Street kosher” and you can read about the experiences of observant participants who had nothing to eat for three days.  Benjamin Silverstein, New Media Associate with J-Street, states “the food at our events is at a minimum kosher style” and J-Street will “accomodate (sic) for specific needs.”  At least if the blogosphere is accurate, at the 2011 National Conference, BLTs and Turkey and Cheese sandwiches qualify as “kosher-style” and “accommodation” in J-Street parlance.

I went to a Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Hanukah party and found waitresses strolling with (non-kosher) lamb appetizers and butter sauce.  I find this conduct distasteful, and stopped attending RJC functions.  Just recently, I got an email from an RJC staffer, asking me and other Jewish Republicans to come back to the organization.  I asked the RJC’s staffer whether the RJC had changed its practices.  She stated that the RJC tries “to keep our events as kosher (or kosher-style) as possible.”

“Too hard.”  “Accommodation.” “As kosher-style as possible.” Really?  To be clear, “kosher style” food is not kosher and has the same status under halacha (Jewish law) as bacon.  Observant Jews do not and cannot eat it.  Anyone who organizes a Jewish event is or should be completely conscious of the fact that he or she excludes a portion of our community by serving “kosher-style (ie non-kosher) food.   Why, then, do it?

Some argue “well, it is just too difficult” or “it costs too much” to have a kosher event.  I am unmoved by tepid demurrer concerning the logistical difficulties of obedience to basic Jewish law.  During my military career, adherence to Jewish law has not always been easy.  Sometimes, when organizing Jewish events, loyalty to Jewish standards has meant serving potato chips and soda.  Throwing hands-in-air, exclaiming “O well, too hard/too expensive,” and serving non-kosher food was never a thought – not for me, and not for the other participants, many of whom were not necessarily religious and did not keep kosher.  Such surrender would be to the collective denial of Judaism and to the individual exclusion of the observant members of the community who would be unable to participate (and yes, there are observant Jews in the American military).  If Jewish events can be kosher in Korea and Iraq- in the middle of a war- why not here, in Washington, where there are kosher caterers, kosher restaurants, and even non-Jewish venues with kosher kitchens?

There is no reason and no excuse for a non-kosher Jewish community event.  It can be done here, and can be done with relative ease.
DC-based Jewish organizations of both local and national reach, including The Jewish Federation of Washington, the DCJCC, Hillel, AIPAC, and Gather the Jews only sponsor events which are kosher and have policies against serving non-kosher food.  If these groups can do it, all can do it.

Others may ask “So you don’t eat… So what?”  I doubt very seriously that anyone in community leadership would dare organize a joint event with Muslims which featured a beer/wine guzzle, or propose a Catholic-Jewish symposium centered around a beef barbeque on Friday during Lent.  A liquor-based event would show profound disrespect to the sacred traditions of Islam.  A meat-centric event during Lent would send a highly offensive message to Catholics.  In both examples, Catholics or Muslims are consigned second-class status because they cannot fully participate and cannot eat.  The same leaders, however, are perfectly content to send the same offensive, exclusionary and disrespectful message to observant Jews when their organizations serve non-kosher food – the message that the religious traditions of our people are unimportant and may be whimsically disregarded.

I, and many others who are observant, decline the exclusionary attitude and second-class status offered by Jewish community organizations which serve non-kosher food at their events.  Members of these organizations should insist on change.  It can be “kosher-style” or it can be “inclusive,” but it can’t be both and we, the observant members of the community, will not participate in your organizations so long as your dismissive posture remains.

Note from the RJC: The author of this piece references an incident that occurred several years ago and the author is no longer affiliated with or involved with the RJC.  We would like to highlight a point omitted by the author that all the major events that the organization has hosted, including the Presidential Candidates Forum and events at the GOP convention in Tampa, were strictly kosher.

Turkey Hoppin’ John

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If you’re from the South, or are close to someone who is, you’re familiar with the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s for good luck in the coming year.  The most popular form is “hoppin’ john,” a smoky, sometimes spicy dish that, unfortunately for the kosher set, is based on a nice big ham hock.  We all deserve a little luck at the beginning of the year, so I made a version using smoked turkey.  All the luck; none of the treif.  Happy New Year!

Total time: 1.5 hours, plus soaking time

Yield: 10 servings

Level: Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 smoked turkey legs
  • 1 large or 2 small ribs of celery, chopped
  • ½ medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 qt chicken broth (NOT low sodium)
  • 1 lb dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight in two changed of water and rinsed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp salt, or more to taste
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, or more to taste
  • ½ tsp black pepper, or more to taste
  • Green onions, chopped (optional)
  • Rice

 Directions

  1.  Heat oil in a dutch oven or heavy, wide pot.  Add the turkey legs and sear on all sides for 4 minutes.
  2. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, cook for 4 minutes.
  3. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaf, thyme, and salt, black pepper, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes.  Stir occasionally, and turn the turkey legs once during the cooking.
  4. Remove turkey legs and the bay leaf from the pot.  Remove meat from the turkey legs.  Return meat to the pot and continue simmering for another 10 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally.  If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings.
  5. Garnish with green onions, if desired.  Serve over rice.

 

Photograph by Hallie Burton

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Pumpkin Blintzes

Blintzes are a traditional favorite—most often seen in cheese or berry flavors.  But there’s no reason you couldn’t play with the filling a bit to update it or make it seasonal.  I decided to try it with pumpkin.  I will admit that making the crepe part takes a bit of practice, and you shouldn’t expect the end result to look like the ones from the box, but they’re still a pretty and delicious brunch treat for fall.  Top with maple syrup.  (Adapted from a NY Times recipe.)

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: about 15 blintzes

Level: Difficult

Ingredients

Filling

  • ½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg

Batter

  • 2 cups flour, sifted
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cup milk
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • Butter for frying

 Directions

  1. Stir all filling ingredients together in a small bowl until well blended.  Set aside.
  2. Sift together flour and salt.  (You can do this by stirring with a whisk.)  Stir the milk into the eggs and gradually add to the flour mixture.  Beat until smooth.
  3. Heat a 7” skillet over medium heat and lightly butter it.  When it is very hot, pour some batter into skillet, tilting the pan very quickly to just cover the bottom surface as thin as possible, and rapidly pour back any excess into bowl.  When the batter starts curling away from the side of the pan, it’s done.  Quickly shake or lift it out onto a clean paper towel.  Repeat until all crepes are done.  Cover with plastic wrap or damp dish towel until you are ready to use them to keep them from drying out.  You may have to adjust the temperature of the skillet as you go and wipe out the old butter if it starts to brown.
  4. Place a spoonful of the filling on the lower third of the cooked side of a crepe.  Fold the bottom of the crepe up, then fold the sides in, and roll to the top.  Repeat with the remaining crepes.
  5. Place blintzes on a hot, buttered frying pan and fry until golden brown, turning once.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Indian Spice Hummus

Trapped inside by Sandy, I looked to my pantry for this week’s recipe and found chick peas!  Two of my favorite chick pea dishes are hummus and the Indian staple, chana masala.  With apologies to the hummus purists out there, I decided to combine the two.  My tasters deemed my culinary fusion a success!

Total time: 50 minutes, plus soaking time

Yield: 8 servings

Level: Easy

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried chick peas
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp amchoor powder*
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp tahini

Directions

  1. Place chick peas in a pot and soak in water for at least 30 minutes.  Drain and rinse the chick peas.  Repeat.  After rinsing the chick peas the second time, refill pot with water and boil for approximately 40 minutes, until the chick peas are soft.  Remove chick peas from pot, reserving cooking liquid, and place in a food processor.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to food processor.  Process to combine.  Add cooking water by ¼-cupfuls and process until desired consistency.

*Amchoor is mango powder.  It can be found in specialty/spice stores.  Or, you can add extra lemon juice.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Apple Spice Trifle

With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner, I wanted to come up with an apple dessert that was a little bit different.  I tried to think of variations on pies, cakes, and tarts, then decided to go completely outside the box with a layered dessert called a trifle.  A trifle is a traditional English dish that involves fruit, custard, cake, and whipped cream.  There are endless modern varieties, so I thought I’d create my own for the holiday.  I tested the recipe with spice cake (pictured).  It would work well with either spice cake or gingerbread—use the spice cake if you want a milder flavor, the gingerbread if you want more of a contrast between the layers.  You could easily make this dish parve by using margarine instead of butter and non-dairy whipped topping instead of whipped cream.

Total time: 1 hour 45 min. (including cooling time)

Yield: 12 servings

Level: Moderate

Ingredients

  • 1 package spice cake or gingerbread mix
  • Vegetable oil, as directed by cake mix
  • Eggs, as directed by cake mix
  • 12 Granny Smith apples
  • Juice of 1 ½ lemons
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ tsp cinnamon (or more, to taste, if using spice cake)
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

 Directions

  1. Prepare spice cake or gingerbread in a 9×13 pan according to package directions.  Once it is done cooking, set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. Place a bowl and beaters in the refrigerator to use for making the whipped cream.
  3. While the cake is cooking, peel and core the apples and cut into ½ inch pieces.  In a large bowl, toss apples to coat with lemon juice, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  (Note: it takes a while to chop all of the apples.  To prevent browning, pour 1/3 of the lemon juice over the apple pieces after every four apples you add to the bowl.)
  4. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the apples and stir to coat with butter.  Once the apples begin to release some juice, about 4 minutes, stir in the honey and ¾ cup of the cranberries.  Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the apples are just beginning to fall apart, about 12 minutes total.  Increase heat to high and cook for 2-3 minutes more to reduce the liquid in the pan.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  5. Add the cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla to the chilled bowl.  Beat on high until the cream forms stiff peaks.
  6. Crumble ½ of the cake into the bottom of a large, clear bowl, a punch bowl, or a trifle dish.  Spread ½ of the apples on top of the cake.  Spread ½ of the whipped cream on top of the apples.  Repeat with the remaining layers.  Top the second layer of whipped cream with the reserved ¼ cup of cranberries.

© Courtney Weiner.  All Rights Reserved.

Certified Kosher Yogurt Coming to Dupont, Columbia Heights

Tasti D-Lite will be replacing Tangy Sweet

Tasti D-Lite, the New York chain of yogurt shops, is coming to the DC area.

A friend of GTJ wrote to Tasti D-Lite asking whether or not their yogurt was certified kosher. Here’s the response (with links added):

Yes, our Tasti D-Lite product is Kosher. Our dairy mixes are certified by Vaad Hoeir of St. Louis. Our flavorings are certified by Orthodox Union. The toppings, which are sourced from several suppliers, are certified by a variety of supervising organizations, all of which are acceptable by Kof-K. Several of our centers are under rabbinical supervision, meaning that all the products sold in that particular location, not just Tasti products, may be kosher as well. Please confirm kosher status of products and stores with the manager of the center you visit.

Thank you, again, for your interest in Tasti D-Lite. Have a D-Liteful day!

While the ingredients are certified kosher, there is no word as to whether the individual stores themselves (franchises) have been certified kosher. If in doubt, make sure to ask your Rabbi for more information.

 

Kosher food on wheels

UPDATE: The Kosher Truck will make its first appearance this Friday (May 20) from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM at the corner of Sixth and I.

 

Sixth & I emailed the following press release on Friday:

 

**PRESS ADVISORY**

For Immediate Release
May 6, 2011
Sixth & Rye: DC’s First Kosher Deli on Wheels

When the aroma of smoked corned beef and the distinct crunch of a salty pickle are flooding your senses, rest assured that the Sixth & Rye food truck on the corner ahead is finally more than just a craving-induced mirage. Sixth & I is teaming up with Good Stuff Eatery’s Chef Spike Mendelsohn and personal chef to NBA athletes Chef Malcolm Mitchell to bring DC the old-fashioned Kosher deli cuisine it’s been longing for.

Making stops throughout the downtown DC area, including Chinatown, Farragut Square and Dupont Circle, Sixth & Rye will dish out deliciousness at a different location each week. For a limited time, the truck will be operating exclusively on Fridays, during lunch hours. Find the whereabouts of the mobile deli on Twitter by following @sixthandrye.

Sixth & Rye is made possible in part by a grant from The Natan Fund, which supports innovative projects that are shaping the Jewish future.

Sixth & Rye will begin serving the public in front of 600 I (Eye) Street, NW on Friday, May 20 at 11:30 am.

The truck’s signature hot smoked corned beef sandwich on fresh rye bread will combine the flavors of smoked meat and homemade hot mustard to form an undeniably delicious version of the classic. Several side dishes ranging from an inspired Israeli couscous salad to fresh cut potato chips will complement the signature sandwich. The menu will also feature a grilled vegetable wrap and a “Meal Deal” option. Menu items will range from $2 – $12.

Toward the end of last year, Sixth & I launched its “Next Great Idea for the New Year” contest, a call for Washingtonians to suggest things that they wished to see implemented by Sixth & I. After sifting through hundreds of submissions, the staff came across an idea that really got their “wheels turning” — a Kosher deli food truck.

“We knew this was a perfect opportunity for Sixth & I to expand beyond the walls of our building,” Director Esther Safran Foer said of the idea.  “As an organization, we’re constantly seeking exciting approaches to Jewish culture that are inclusive of everyone.  We can think of no better way to fuse traditional with contemporary than by bringing classic Jewish fare that has transcended generations to the forefront of the latest local trend.”

When Foer reached out to Mendelsohn, a veteran host of Sixth & I events like Chef Spike’s Latke Mania (2008) and Spike up the Matzah (2009), he was thrilled to be part of the venture. Shortly thereafter, Mendelsohn’s fellow cooking connoisseur, Mitchell, joined the team. Mitchell is Sixth & Rye’s on-board chef. He has consulted with Mendelsohn on the tasty menu.

“A Kosher food truck…it’s just genius,” said Mendelsohn. “I’m excited to be working on this project with Chef Mitchell and all the great people at Sixth & I. It will be a knock-your-socks-off lunch, and I can’t wait to see the crowds.”

Mitchell added, “Delis were always a cornerstone of New York neighborhoods. So, as a native New Yorker, I am glad to be a part of history with Sixth & I as well as Chef Spike Mendelsohn in creating the first Kosher food truck in DC. How exciting!”

Jeff Kelley, of Eat Wonky food truck fame, signed onto the project as well. Although using its own equipment and kitchenware, Sixth & Rye will be operating out of the Eat Wonky truck.

“A big part of the Eat Wonky mission is to bring forward fun and distinctive food options to the people of DC,” Kelley said.  “In that spirit, we are thrilled to help facilitate the arrival of Sixth & Rye and their exciting concept by providing a conduit, our truck, to connect their vision with the community.”

Sixth & Rye will be Kosher under Rabbinic supervision. There will be a mashgiach supervising all food preparation and services.

Sixth & I is a non-denominational, non-membership, non-traditional historic synagogue and center for arts and culture housed in a 103-year old building. We are a congregation without borders where the lines of devotion blur to create a spiritual fusion of fresh rituals. As a hub for arts, entertainment, and discussion, people plug in to what’s happening at the forefront of the cultural scene. To learn more about the building’s history as a Conservative synagogue (1908) turned African Methodist Episcopal Church (1951) and nearly would-be nightclub (2002), click here.

 

 

 

Allison Goldstein, Communications Associate

Sixth & I – 600 I Street, NW  – Washington, DC 20001
Direct: 202.266.3233 – Fax: 202.408.5124 – Web: www.sixthandi.org

Follow us on Twitter @sixthandi

Join our community Facebook.com/sixthandi

 

Friends with Non Jews

Allison is a guest blogger who runs the site www.JewintheCity.com

Dear Jew in the City,

I live across the street from an Orthodox Jewish for family for 32 years.  We have always gotten along and helped one another out.  Can they be friends to anyone other than their religion?

We also are getting a lot of Syrian Jewish in our town (by the Jersey Shore) and they seem different. They seem not to look or acknowledge any of us. There seems to be a lack of respect and rudeness about them. Can you explain.

Thanks,
Hellen

PS – I love the U tube videos

Hi Hellen-

That’s nice to hear that you have a friendly relationship with your Orthodox neighbors. There’s no problem with an observant Jew being friends with people of other religions, but for practical reasons, because Jewish life is centered around kosher food, Sabbath and holiday observance, it might make it a bit more difficult for friendships between observant Jews and non-Jews to happen as often.

Since I grew up as a non-observant Jew and there were very few Jews in my town, most of my friends growing up were not Jewish and we were very close. As I got older and started becoming more observant, my social events started revolving around the synagogue and Sabbath meals. Now that I have a family, we spend most Sabbaths hanging out with our Orthodox friends who have kids for our kids to play with. My kids go to Jewish schools also, so if I become friends with the parents of their classmates, they also end up being observant Jews.

The whole kosher thing also makes friendships harder to form as an Orthodox Jew can never eat in a non-kosher home and can only go to kosher restaurants.

My non-Jewish friends from my childhood are still dear to my heart even though our lives have moved in different directions. But honestly, people usually end up moving away from childhood friends as they grow up even if they haven’t made such a drastic changes in lifestyles. Whenever I see these friends either at class reunions or on Facebook I still feel that I can relate to them.

And honestly, at the end of high school, as I was starting to take my religion more seriously, I found myself having more in common with my Christian friends who were spiritual people that believed in God than some of my Jewish friends, who although culturally similar to me, had no interest in such concepts. We also have a babysitter for our girls who is a sweet Catholic girl and has similar values, and I can talk on and on with her about ideas that we both believe in that a secular Jew might totally disagree with.

So in short – there’s no prohibition against friendship with non-Jews and Judaism teaches that Jews should be good to all people as everyone, Jew and gentile alike, is made in the image of God. However due to practical observances, it is a bit harder for these friendships to develop.

Also, another important thing to understand is that observant Jews, although we feel very American, still remain different than our non-Jewish neighbors. When a group of people is a minority in a larger culture, it’s very, very easy to assimilate, blend in and just be like everyone else. (That’s what has happened to most Jews in the world today.) So some of these laws of kosher and the Sabbath are there in part to help keep a certain separateness so that the Jewishness can be maintained. Not because there is any ill will towards other people but rather because it’s a matter of survival when a small group is living amongst a larger group.

In terms of the Syrian thing – I’m sorry that they’ve seemed rude and disrespectful. I think this actually comes down to more of a cultural thing than a religious thing. The Syrian Jewish community is extremely closed off, even to other Jews, sometimes even to other Orthodox Jews who are not Syrian!

Now, in their defense, I think we have to look at where they come from. They were poor Jews living in a Muslim country where their non-Jewish neighbors did not treat them very well and I think this rough exterior that they’ve developed is somewhat of a protection mechanism as the people they used to live amongst made their lives very difficult. (If you keep beating and beating a dog, even the sweetest, friendliest dog will get vicious – not that these people are vicious, but I think the analogy is clear.)

Because I’ve experienced very little anti-semitism in my life, I have a much more open, positive view of people who are different than me. I still know that there are people in the world who wish I were dead just because I’m Jewish, which is a disturbing thought, but also a very intangible one.

I’ll leave you with a story that is told about a great rabbi (one of the greatest in his generation) named Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky who lived in New York and died around 20 years ago. After his funeral, when his family was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning), a prominent nun from the community came to the house of mourning to pay her respects. She said that this rabbi would pass her by on the street every day with a big smile and a friendly “hello” and it really meant so much to her. So although these rough exteriors unfortunately get created, this story about the rabbi and the nun is repeated because being a kind, decent person is how Jews should actually be conducting themselves.

I hope I’ve cleared some things up. Thanks for watching!

Sincerely Yours,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)

For more posts, please visit Allison’s site and watch her videos. For the original post, click here.