Home Sweet Kosher Home, Alabama (With Food Shopping in Nashville)
By Michael Orbach
The hardest thing for 17-year-old Jackie Farber was giving up shrimp, her favorite food. Once she did, she was able to move on to other levels of kosher observance, such as splitting up meat and dairy dishes. It was a while before she became completely kosher and stopped eating in non-kosher restaurants.
“There’s no kosher restaurants where I live,” she said.
Now she maintains her own kosher kitchen complete with separate meat and dairy sponges.
But for Miss Farber, a native of Huntsville, Alabama, that was only part of the struggle of keeping kosher. At 17, she’s still in high school and lives with her parents, who, while supportive of her personal decision, do not keep kosher. In a way, she faces a predicament similar to many other NCSY teens: how to live a more observant life while living in their parents’ home. While many facets of religious life are personal commitments, keeping kosher typically requires the participation of the entire family in some way and can be a source of friction.
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Jackie spoke about her struggle of keeping kosher on Charlie Harary’s radio program, “The Book of Life,” on NachumSegal.net.
“I went on NCSY’s The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ) in 2011,” she told the audience (TJJ is a trip to Israel for public school teens). “Afterwards I started keeping kosher, little by little.”
“What do you eat?” host Harary asked her in astonishment.
“You’d be surprised by how many packaged foods are kosher,” Jackie answered.
To get fresh kosher meat, Miss Farber travels two-and-a-half hours by car to Nashville. Religious Jews are not common in Huntsville and when Jackie tried to pick up challah, the attendants didn’t know what she was talking about until she described it. “Jew Bread?” Jackie recalled them asking.
Asked how she managed to maintain her commitment to keeping kosher, Miss Farber was frank.
“I felt obligated as a Jew,” she said. “It gives me my Jewish identity and I believe there is a righteous and loving God and this is what He wants.”
For Farber’s parents, Alan and Marcia, the process has been a learning experience.
“We read a lot more labels,” Alan said with a laugh. “To find things around here is not the easiest thing. We support Jackie keeping kosher. It’s something I admire her for doing, especially in this environment where there aren’t so many Jewish people living here. It’s not something that I’ve ever done or thought I thought I could do.”
“We’re very proud of her,” Marcia added. “NCSY helped her do it.”
Rabbi Micah Greenland, interim international director of NCSY, advised that teens who want to keep kosher should be open with their parents about it.
“There is no hard and fast rule of what teens might expect to experience or what the challenges might be for teens,” Rabbi Greenland said. “The only common denominator is the primacy and importance of really good communication between teens and parents.”
He also added that keeping kosher can be a positive experience for both teens and their family members.
“I’ve seen so many examples where teens who communicate openly with their parents and vice versa can come to an understanding that the whole family can live with,” Rabbi Greenland said. “It strengthens the Jewish ideals in the home, not just for the teen, but for the entire family.”
Rabbi Greenland also said that typically teens make the choice to keep kosher based on two factors.
“It’s a desire to connect to their heritage in a way that they know their ancestors did,” he stated. “Kosher is something that can connect them to their roots. It’s also a way to recognize that to grow as a person, some measure of self-sacrifice is often required. Cutting out non-kosher food from their diet speaks to kids as a way to say that, ‘I want to be a growth-oriented person.’”
At the tail-end of the radio program, Charlie Harary told Jackie that she would be receiving a set of tapes about keeping kosher by the Orthodox Union as well as a shipment of kosher food.
Miss Farber had her own surprise. Keeping kosher soon won’t be too difficult for her. She plans to spend next year in seminary in Israel.
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