Sophia and I dined kosher last night, courtesy of my client. Fortunately, I committed no social blunders and didn’t insult our hosts’ religious beliefs or dietary rules even once. I have my grandmother to thank for that.
My maternal grandfather died when I was three, and I don’t remember him. In contrast, I well remember the man my grandmother married some years later. “Grandpa Irv,” as I called him then, was bald, stout and, most importantly, an orthodox Jew. My grandmother Tillie didn’t think much of religion and held no desire to pursue the kosher lifestyle Irv demanded. Nonetheless, she felt even less desirous of living out her remaining days alone. She therefore lowered her standards and married a guy whom she referred to ever after as “that stupid man.”
Irv and Tillie moved to Florida when I entered high school. The summer after graduation, my folks offered to send me down for a week-long visit. I graciously accepted.
In those days, I knew next to nothing about kosher peccadilloes. I recognized only the most basic rules: 1) thou shalt not eat meat and dairy together; and 2) thou shalt never eat pork or shellfish. In other words, I knew kosher Jews didn’t eat cheeseburgers, especially bacon cheeseburgers. The full range of kosher restrictions went much further, of course. For instance, to ensure dairy and meat never mix, a typical kosher household maintains separate dishware for each of the two food groups. Irv and Tillie did as well.
Grandma seemed surprised to hear my ignorance of her husband’s dietary rules. As she admitted one morning, shortly after breakfast, she’d thought every Jew knew that those keeping kosher serve meat and dairy on separate plates.
I greatly appreciated her ensuing discourse on the dictates of a kosher lifestyle. After thanking her for the information, I expressed regret that she hadn’t sooner realized my unfamiliarity with those dietary rules. As I ruefully explained, had I known what the two sets of dishware in the cupboard signified, I never would’ve served the cheese omelet I’d cooked that morning on a meat plate. And I certainly would’ve used a paper plate for the side of sausage I’d fried up, rather than one of Irv’s dairy dishes.
Having apologized to grandma, I asked whether we’d need a special purification ceremony to restore the dishes to kosher compliance. She didn’t answer me immediately. Instead, she peaked out of the kitchen to confirm Irv’s absence from earshot. Then, with a wink, she informed me: “Nah. I’ll just rinse them off and stick them on the shelf; that stupid man will never know the difference!”