The lady handing out samples at Costco knows it by the way my mom inspects the package. “It is kosher,” she says, as she indicates the OU on the front of the box. The flight attendant knows it, when she asks us if we ordered special meals on our flight to California. He bends down to the bottom of the cart and pulls out a sealed tray. “Here is your kosher meal!” he announces.
Keeping kosher is a way of life that defines who I am, in a world where it is easy to be everybody else. Although I go to yeshiva (HAFTR Middle School), there are many times where being an Orthodox Jew means that I find myself in secular environments. Whether it be playing in Little League, attending a Jets game with my dad and brothers, skiing the day away with my family, or any of the various scenes that take me out of the shelter of my mom’s kitchen, I know who I am, and what I must do in order to nourish my body and my soul.
For us as far back as I can remember I knew which dishes were for my cereal and milk, and which were for chicken soup. Even my little brother knows that the candy he grabs on the checkout lines must have an OU on them. “It’s not kosher…” he’ll say after inspecting his selection of the moment. Then he knows to put it back and he doesn’t even complain! Even when he was three, he understood that he is part of something more important than the candy. My mother says that it was the same with me and all my brothers. We all acknowledged that we must respect the restrictions and look for permission in the form of a familiar, recognizable symbol. (If only every part of being a parent were that easy, my mother says.)
As I have grown, I have realized the world is bigger than just my house, school, camp and community. There are places where the availability of kosher food is not a “given”. That is when I, or my parents, have to make a conscious choice to find what we can eat. There were times when this has been more challenging than others. On a long flight, when the airlines forgot our “special meals” and we were hungry, I really understood that keeping kosher could be a challenge, even a test. Thinking about it this way made it easier when we landed and found kosher certified food in the airport. Like many other aspects of Judaism, there are sacrifices that have to be made in order to keep us kadosh [holy] and to ensure that we remember who we are even at 30,000 feet!
When traveling, it is not always easy to find kosher food. When my family goes on vacation to places where kosher food is scarce, my mother carefully plans meals and takes a big cooler packed with our favorite foods to keep us well-fed. Once we traveled to Niagara Falls. In our car, we had a portable grill, meat, chicken, burgers and other food we would need for the trip. I remember playing football with my brothers while waiting for the food to cook in the many parks along the way, where we barbequed. I think that made our trip extra special because we shared all that time preparing, eating and cleaning up together. In this way, keeping kosher not only added to our family vacation but also confirmed our identity as an Orthodox Jewish family.
Being holy is what Orthodox Jews strive for. “You are what you eat.” That’s what my parents are always telling me. While I suspect they say this to get me to lay off junk food and eat more vegetables, I know there is a deeper meaning to this. The food we eat is absorbed by our bodies and actually becomes a part of us. Knowing that I am not only eating, but also obeying the laws of the Torah, allows me to fulfill the commandment to keep kosher with every bite. (Still it is harder to stay away from junk food than it is to stay away from non-kosher food).
The Torah details the laws of kashrut, our Sages interpret them, and our community practices them. In this way, we have a deep spiritual connection to our heritage and to Hashem. I personally feel that by keeping kosher I am fortifying my Jewish identity, on land, in the air, or even at sea.
Jack Winkler is a 7th grade student who attends HAFTR Middle School in Woodmere, NY who submitted one of the award winning essays in OU Kosher’s 2011 Kosher Essay Contest. To read other award winning submissions from the contest, please visit:
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.