Today I spent the morning packing bags of food for area children at the local food pantry. One of the items I was supposed to include in each package was a jar of grape jelly. When I was receiving my orientation, the director pointed to a small cache of strawberry jellies next to the crates of grape jelly. “These are for one of our clients who keeps kosher. I don’t know why he can’t have grape jelly, but we put aside the strawberry for him.”
I explained to her that I also keep kosher, and gave her a short explanation of why products made from grapes have more stringent kashrut requirements. Immediately, I was appointed Queen Kosher at the food pantry, and asked to assemble a box of products that would be suitable for this family. I ascertained from the notes left by the father that this family was not only strictly kosher, but also observed a further stringency of cholov yisroel. Mysteriously, they also would not accept any tuna, even with an OU. (Can anyone explain that?)
I think it’s wonderful that our food pantry is willing to accommodate this family’s request for kosher food. But while I’m ashamed to admit it, I felt a little embarrassed explaining to non-Jews why this large family will not accept certain fairly mainstream foods for their children, whom they cannot afford to feed. (You see, non-Jews used to use wine made from grapes for idol worship, so no grape jelly, get it? And, um, even though the government says this is cow milk, it might be pig milk….)
Fortunately, unlike me, the workers at the pantry seemed to pass no judgement whatsoever on the family’s religious needs. We’ve set aside a box of hechshered foods, and I will return in a week or so to sift through new donations. In the meantime, I hope I can come to terms with my own apparent ambivalence about the dietary laws. We do keep a kosher home (although not to Orthodox standards) but I’ve never really tried to explain to why. And I’ve never stopped to think about what conditions might, or might not, lead me to compromise.
It’s food for thought…..but is it kosher?