Keeping a kosher home is a total pain in the you-know-what.
It has nothing to do with keeping milk and meat separate, or wanting to eat non-kosher meat because it’s more convenient. It has nothing to do with my past values or observance.
It’s the details that drive me nuts.
When Mollie and I talked about living together, keeping kosher was the first topic we discussed after, you know, whether we would live together. To that point, our dietary differences coexisted just fine. At restaurants, I could get anything I wanted, and she was okay so long as there were veggie options. At home, we cooked vegetarian meals in our respective apartments. So when we moved this summer, it was natural to keep kosher so that friends of all observance levels could come and eat.
I had long been prepared for the change. I was ready to be more selective in my meat purchases and to bid farewell to the homemade chicken quesadillas and add-cheese-to-anything-because-why-not mentality of my previous cooking life. All it would take was a little more vigilance at the grocery store and a viable system for separating milk and meat dishes.
Of course, this was a gross underestimate.
For starters, “dishes” are more than just plates, bowls, pots, pans and silverware. “Dishes” mean separate spatulas, separate serving platters, separate sponges and separate stuff that might never touch meat or dairy, but would probably come in contact with them at some point. So … separate cutting boards, separate mixing bowls, separate food processors and other expensive appliances – separate everything. Suddenly, our rather large kitchen with a floor-to-ceiling pantry seemed to me about four square feet.
When we started unpacking, everything I thought about this seemingly black-and-white transition crumbled into shades of gray. Before we could kosher everything, separate it and buy what we were missing, we needed to make food, and it wasn’t long before I lost track of which baking sheets or which utensil holders had already been claimed for dairy or meat. As someone who likes things in their logical place and doesn’t do things haphazardly, this was total anarchy.
Between this and the limitations of our apartment, how could we possibly do this right?
My instinct was to impose order whenever possible. So, despite my lack of kosher experience, I channeled my inner mashgiach (kosher supervisor) and declared martial halacha. Even as we were cooking, I would go through kitchen items and assign them to Team Milchik or Team Fleischik. My first edict was to distinguish the naturally divided sides of our sink, with each sponge expected to remain on its given side. I also split up our large collection of mugs onto different shelves, and pointed out that we only had one set of wine glasses and one set of Tupperware. And of my own volition, I informed my best friend and former non-kosher roommate, who came to stay with us a month after we moved in, that he could not heat up the sausage he brought home in any of our appliances. He ate it cold, and I felt no remorse.
When our friends and family ask how keeping kosher is going, Mollie describes me as “the enforcer.” Somehow, I have become more rigid than the person who it technically matters to, who one time sat down at the table with a dairy glass when we were eating kosher turkey burgers and didn’t notice until I said something.
If I’m going to live by new rules, I figure it doesn’t make sense to bend or break them. Then again, when I pour myself a beer to go with dinner, I don’t think about what I ate when I last used that pint glass. When I’m drying dishes, I use whatever towel looks cleanest. And technically, we only have one refrigerator and one microwave. It’s an endless battle against an onslaught of minutia. We can only do so much, and we should at least feel comfortable that “our kosher” is enough for us and those who care about us.
More than anything, I’ve realized my kosher police phase is not about becoming more observant, or doing things “the right way”; it’s about committing to values. Having a kosher home is my newest value. It symbolizes the life that Mollie and I are making together.
Any two people can fuse their lives together. A vegan and an omnivore can coexist; someone who loves to bake can live with someone who’s gluten intolerant. The difference is that keeping kosher together creates shared values, and in this case, shared Jewish values. We took on the challenge of koshering our apartment together, and it feels like our kitchen, not Mollie’s mostly kosher kitchen with my little shelf for treif.
We also have other shared values more important than kashrut. For example, energy and resource conservation are also important to us, so we don’t run our dishwasher empty in between milk and meat loads. We want to be intentional about our values, not ruled by them.
We are keeping kosher because we see the value it brings to our lives. In my case, I like that it forces me to be intentional about my home. Seeing dishes piled to the ceiling in one side of the sink while the other half sits empty will always remind me that even my daily activities, like eating, are steeped in my values, and sticking to your values can sometimes be a pain in the you-know-what.