Holy Connections, One Meal at a Time
The first time I flew on El Al airlines, I was surprised about the option to order a kosher meal. "Aren't all meals on El Al kosher?" I asked my sister. "Yes," she answered. "But there's kosher, and then there's super-kosher."
I remember another time when a Jewish friend in college was upset during Passover that his shrimp was fried in a bread batter. (The shellfish was OK, but bread on Passover was unthinkable!) Let's face it. Jew soften have a unique approach to food. Whether it's the age-old dilemma of not being able to sit down to one meal without discussing the logistics of the next one or arguing over charoset recipes, food is what has grounded our identity for thousands of years. I did not grow up keeping kosher. I'm from Boston, after all, and the bountiful seafood and pork products of New England nourished much of my childhood. But as a third-year rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati, I studied the laws of conversion. The M'chilta describes a convert whose heart was not in it as a person with "swine between his teeth." On one particular morning, I had enjoyed an Egg McMuffin at McDonald's. As I ascended the steps of HUC-JIR, I could feel a bit of the bacon in my teeth. I realized the irony, and made a decision that day to stop eating pork and shellfish. Why? Because I wanted to make sure that every time I ate, I would be making a conscious decision. I don't find holiness in the abstention. Rather, I find holiness in the connection with Jews backward in time, forward in time, and across the globe!
Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro is the rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California, and author of the children's book, We're All in the Same Boat (New York: Putnam, 2009).