Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

Finding Kosher Food in Indonesia

I am currently a guest of both the United States government and the Foreign Ministry of Indonesia, participating in an unprecedented encounter, facilitated by New York-based Religions for Peace, between a group of faith leaders from the world’s most powerful nation (that’s us) and the world’s largest Muslim population (that’s them). I am also writing this at 4:30 Tomorrow morning for most of you – isn’t global travel a hoot! Not to mention jet lag, which doesn’t usually get to me, but there is only so far I can go w/o falling prey to it.
I am also writing this as the pre-dawn call to prayer echoes from so many mosques and so many directions that it’s actually overwhelming. It’s powerful, beautiful and makes clear that no matter how secular large swaths of the population are, there is no questioning that this is a Muslim country. It reminds me of Israel.
In fact, the similarities to Israel are striking in that regard – often secular but fiercely Muslim or Jewish, respectively. Ironically, the two countries do not have diplomatic relations with each other, and following the Tsunami some years back, the Indonesians even rejected a great deal of Israeli relief aid. But it need not always be that way, and my attempt to find kosher food in Indonesia points to how we can at least begin to make some positive changes.
So how does one who keeps strictly kosher find food in Indonesia?


The short answer is, they don’t. Having been told by the embassy staff that we should also not eat any fresh fruits of vegetables unless they have a thick skin which we have peeled ourselves, I am especially glad that I brought a bunch of Zone bars along for this two and a half day trip!
What’s amazing is that NOT having kosher food has lead to some fascinating and promising conversations. Upon arrival, we were taken to a formal luncheon where it became clear to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry staffers that I was not eating the vegetarian noodles and other things which they ordered for me (a function of the non-kosher utensils used in their preparation). I was suddenly surrounded!
“Was something wrong”, they asked. They explained that they really had no idea what “kosher” was and went with a meal that would work for a Buddhist. I explained that for my practice, it would not, but that it did not matter. “Why”, they asked.
I asked them if they had ever met a Jew, let alone tried to cater for one. The answer was no, which is not surprising in a country which does not even recognize Judaism as a religion.
I explained to them that I could not care less about the food – that our conversation about kosher, Jewish, being an American Jew, and their experience of being Indonesian Muslims, was far more important. Their efforts to host a person from a tradition about which they knew virtually nothing, and which their government does not even recognize, were quite amazing.
Their efforts had taken them beyond anything they could have ever imagined and I could have even expected. And whether the food was kosher or not, it is that willingness to go beyond ourselves which bridges the divides between us and creates a better world for all of us.
There will be more stories from this trip, but even if there were not, I can honestly say that this would be enough, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to be here. Even if I barely know what time it is or which day it is!

  • Norwegian Shooter

    I hope the flight home from Indonesia is safe, and also provides you with enough time to work on some theological speculation about theodicy. I would really like to read it. Thanks.

  • Your Name

    Thank you for your big heart and elected to participate in this event. As you can see, if you have not met each other, we cannot open a dialogue, even as simple as having “kosher” food. Even though I am a Muslim, when I travel, I simply ask for kosher food because I know the dietary rules are quite the same (that’s my understanding so far).. Second, if you visit Indonesia again, please visit Surabaya (the second largest city in Java). Surabaya has one synagogue, which my sister just recently visited. So, even though in as a state we did not acknowledge Judaism, there is still a presence of Judaism here. Shalom!

  • Harriet B

    How different is Kosher food from Halal food? Wouldn’t vegetarian food for Buddhists be ok? Couldn’t they find a way to do it?

  • Jason G

    For food to be kosher it’s not just ingredients, but what it is cooked on. My kosher steak cooked in your oven that just had pork becomes non-kosher. So even though the food was vegetarian since the pots and other things used to cook it were for sued for non-kosher food it was non-kosher. Muslims can eat Kosher since the slaughter rules for kosher are similar to Halal (I knew a rabbi who did this-every Jewish new year he would slaughter some chickens for himself and his Muslim neighbors until his wife stopped him). However Halal allows for milk and meat and shell fish, something kosher does not. So halal food would not be kosher. Normally when Orthodox Jews travel they research food availability, and if necessary take along a full supply.

  • Zoltar

    I pray you have a safe trip, and find a kosher meal
    The greatest hurdle Americans need to get over in order to properly respond to the growing threat of radical Islam is purely intellectual in nature; specifically, it is epistemological, and revolves around the abstract realm of “knowledge.” Before attempting to formulate a long-term strategy to counter radical Islam, Americans must first and foremost understand Islam, particularly its laws and doctrines, the same way Muslims understand it—without giving it undue Western (liberal) interpretations. This is apparently not as simple as expected: all peoples of whatever civilizations and religions tend to assume that other peoples more or less share in their worldview, which they assume is objective, including notions of right and wrong, good and bad.
    The mainstream interpretation, particularly in academia, of radical Islam is that it is a byproduct of various sorts of discontent (economic, political, social) and has little to do with the religion itself. To trace “jihadist” violence to Islam itself is discouraged; in academia, it may be treated as anathema.
    Americans think this way because the secular, Western experience has been such that people respond with violence primarily when they feel they are politically, economically, or socially oppressed. While true that many non-Western peoples may fit into this paradigm, the fact is, the ideologies of radical Islam have the intrinsic capacity to prompt Muslims to violence and intolerance vis-à-vis the “other,” irrespective of grievances. Obviously, when radical Islam is coupled with a sense of grievance—real or imagined—the result is even more dramatic.
    Conceptually, then, it must be first understood that many of the problematic ideologies associated with radical Islam trace directly back to Islamic law, or sharia. Jihad as offensive warfare to subjugate “infidels” (non-Muslims); mandated social discrimination against non- Muslim minorities living in Muslim nations (the regulations governing ahl al-dhimma); general animosity and lack of sincere cooperation vis-à-vis non-Muslims (as articulated in the doctrine of al-wala’ we al-bara’)—all of these are clearly defined aspects that have historically been part of Islam’s worldview and not “open to interpretation.”

  • naitis

    Haha…did you tried tempe?

  • hi

    About one-sixth of the Jews in the USA follow kosher laws.
    i.e. because of sanitation standards, there is no longer any need for kosher rules and kosher food.

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