Kosher, Part III: Real People, Real Food: Dan R. Weiss

Dan is the Middle School Judaics Principal extraordinaire at Gross Schechter Day School, in Pepper Pike, Ohio.  On a personal note, Dan has been an amazing teacher and mentor to my son Lev, who will be graduating from Gross Schechter in June (ACK!).  The Wikipedia entry for “mentch” has Dan’s picture on it.  He is one of the most thoughtful, committed, non-judgemental Jews I have ever met.  Mr. EK and I are honored to have him educate and guide our children.  Below are his personal musings on what keeping kosher has meant to him.

You are what you eat –

I grew up in a kosher home.  We had two sets of dishes and only brought in only kosher meat.  Our pizza was eaten on paper plates.

When I was younger I was often told; you are what you eat.  As a young child, never did I hold much credit to the saying, yet around the time of my Bar Mitzvah, I began to take the saying a bit more seriously.

It was around that time that I made a decision that I was no longer going to eat meat outside of my house (like the early rabbis, I held that chicken and turkey were not considered meat – though with more learning, this too changed).  I’m not quite sure why I made the decision, or what factors may have influenced me, but the years that followed were a journey of conscience.  The “why” became much clearer.

In high school, I stopped eating chicken outside of the house (except in kosher establishments), yet I continued to eat dairy and vegetarian fare anywhere.  A weekly dinner out with my grandparents was a special bonding time – not something that I was willing to give up, yet I knew that as one of the “chosen people” that I need to make my own choices (more like the “choosing people”).

When I graduated college and moved into my first apartment, I was very excited to keep my own kosher kitchen.  I invited my family over (cousins, aunts and uncles) for a Hanukkat Bayit (a housewarming party).  I bought the typical brunch fare – lox and bagels.  The bagels were purchased at a local bagel shop (one that my family frequented when I was younger).  Little did I know that these bagels were not from a “kosher” establishment.  Family that I had invited could not eat the food that I had bought.

It was at that point that I became vigilant in the level of kashrut in my home.  I wanted everyone to feel comfortable eating in my home.

Yet, I still ate out.

That is until about six years ago.  My wife and I were big fans of a seafood restaurant around the corner from our Miami home.  For a special dinner my wife decided to make my favorite course from that restaurant at home.  She called the restaurant and asked them for the recipe.  We had eaten at this restaurant numerous times, each time double checking with our waitress to make sure that nothing was made with oyster or clam sauce, nothing with a meat broth.  Each time we were pleased with the answer.  That is until she called and spoke with the chef.

Finding out that each time I had eaten there I had been violating my kashrut beliefs was a blow to me.  It was also the impetus that has resulted in my no longer eating out.  It wasn’t enough that I was kosher in my home – I needed to be kosher all of the time, I needed to have the feeling that it was not just what I put inside my stomach be valid (the true definition of “kosher”), I myself needed to be valid in my actions.

While I miss those dinners out with my grandparents, my wife and I have found ways to make our favorite dishes in a manner that we find kosher.  If I am what I eat – I want to be kosher.

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