Kosher Style Food – Authentic Or Not?

Kosher Style Food

Kosher Style Food
Jewish Restaurant in Kazimierz, Kraków, Poland

You know the difference between Kosher food and Kosher Style food? Some people think that Kosher food means generic food of any culture which is prepared with Kosher ingredients according to Jewish Law. Kosher Style food then would mean ethnic Jewish Kosher food like kugel, gefilte fish, cholent, kishke and it’s North African / Asian equivalents.

Absolutely wrong! Kosher Style food is NOT Kosher. Here are a few examples:

Kazimierz, Krakow

In February 2014 I visited the Kazimierz District of Krakow, Poland. For those not yet familiar, Kazimierz was the seat of the Jewish community in Kraków from the 13th century till the 2nd World War.

Among the main landmarks of the area left today are the Old Synagogue, the Remuh Synagogue, the Izaak Synagogue and the Old Jewish Cemetery. Each with its history and traditions.

Today there isn’t much of a Jewish community but the tourist spots try to cater to Jews. For example, check the restaurant in the photo at the top of the post. At first glance its a “Jewish” labeled establishment with a menu in English, Polish and even Hebrew.

Kosher Style FoodTake a closer look at the menu: “Jewish Carp”. What’s Jewish about a carp?

Cheese cake along with roast duck? Isn’t that meat & milk?

The only thing labeled “Kosher” is the wine (though you can’t be sure about it unless you check out the bottles personally).

In short this is a classic “Kosher Style” restaurant. I admire the Polish owners for their initiative to attract the tourists, but this place is absolutely NOT Kosher. It’s not under any Rabbinical supervision and the cooking process and ingredients aren’t according to Halacha.

All this I learned from our Polish non-Jewish guide who incredibly enough was irritated about the “lack of authenticity” of this restaurant. Even for her as a non-Jew she wanted to see something REALLY Jewish, not pretend Jewish.

Kenny & Ziggy’s

I read a lengthy interview in The Times of Israel online newspaper titled “Pastrami on wry with the Texan macher keeping deli culture alive“. The article is about “a new documentary delving into the Jewish delicatessen experience features Houston ‘purist’ Ziggy Gruber”. It goes into detail about Jewish delicatessens in general and about Gruber’s deli in Houston, Texas called Kenny & Ziggy’s. Throughout the interview Mr. Gruber talks about tradition, synagogues, Rabbis & cantors and sprinkles his talk with dozens of Yiddish words. I was sure his deli was Glatt Kosher at the very least.

But lo and behold somewhere in the middle he gets to the topic of Kashrut and says:

Where do you draw the line in kosher-style deli?

In our store we do serve some pork products. That we do. There’s shrimp in there. When I say pork products, we only carry, like, bacon. But for people that don’t want that, I have pastrami bacon that I serve in the store as well. Even though we’re a non-kosher store, I carry some kosher meat — even though we don’t change the slicers or the knives.

Incredible! A totally Jewish sounding gastronomical experience which it absolutely NON-Kosher “Treif Chazer” (non-Kosher Pig)! It’s mind-boggling to my little brain why a person would go to such lengths to create an extremely successful Jewish Style restaurant and not cater at all to those who actually keep the Jewish Tradition…

Like my non-Jewish Polish guide told me, I too believe in authentic Jewish experiences, not pretend ones.

Jewish Airbnb? Not on Pessach!

Jewish Airbnb?

Jewish AirbnbI recently got an email inquiring if there is a Jewish version of Airbnb.

For the uninitiated, Airbnb is a site for finding vacation rentals and travel accommodations in private homes worldwide. They claim to have arranged lodgings for over 25 million people in 190 countries in private homes and even in 600 castles.

The question about a Jewish version of this service is valid for any time of the year, but I find it especially meaningful during Pessach.

Whoever is hungry – come eat with us!

In the early sections of the Pessach Haggadah, we recite the phrase כל דכפין יתי ויכול “Whoever is hungry – come eat with us!”. We don’t say this on any other Holiday; only on Pessach.

Pessach is known as a family festival even in the least traditional circles. We gather together; family, friends and casual guests, to recite the Haggadah, eat Matsah, Marror, feast on a delicious meal and sing the traditional songs. This isn’t a random ethnic development but rather a central part of how the festival is celebrated  since we came out of Egypt over 3300 years ago. From the first Pessach Seder till today we eat as a family group. Not alone. Hospitality is a priority on Pessach.

There is nothing foreign about Jews renting out accommodations for vacation. Just check out how many hotels there are in Israel and in prime Jewish vacation spots like Davos, Switzerland, the Catskills and everywhere else. Private people rent out their homes too. But there’s nothing distinctly “Jewish” about it. It’s pure business. For some reason I don’t connect with the idea of a Jewish Airbnb. The Jewish model of hospitality from the time of Abraham, is central to our collective identity more than any business model.

Here are a few examples:

Jewish Hospitality

Chabad: They have a comprehensive search engine to find nearly every Chabad House on the globe. I write “nearly” because I discovered one Chabad House somewhere that wasn’t publicized on their site for security reasons, but when you contact the administrators about specific locations, they’ll tell you. Meals are usually free on Shabbos and Yom Tov. They only charge during the week to cover costs. Check out their site at Chabad-Lubavitch Centers – Advanced Search.

Jeff Seidel: He has a comprehensive worldwide listing of contacts and places to stay at his Online Jewish Travel Guide.

Shabbat.com: This site is very similar in design to the Airbnb site but you are hosted for free. To quote their site:

Shabbat.com was established as a Jewish social network to allow people to connect and meet in a safe and friendly environment. Perfect for those traveling for business, backpacking across the country, studying abroad, or simply looking for a little inspiration.

JewGether: Jewgether was started by Israeli students, not necessarily religious Jews, with a mission in mind. To quote their website:

Jewgether is a social network that connects Jewish people from all over the world, allowing them to host or be hosted by one another. Jewgether’s mission is to encourage Jews all over the world to open their homes, hearts and minds to each other. No matter what kind of Jew one is, Jewgether offers an opportunity to get acquainted with and to learn from one another.”.

I’m not personally familiar with their service but the idea is wonderful.

In summary, renting out a place to stay is perfectly legit, but for it to be considered an authentically Jewish act, hospitality is closer to the mark.

BTW, those utilizing the authentic Airbnb services, see my post on Kashering Skills For Residential Vacations.

Chag Sameach!

If Abraham Had Traveled in the 21st Century #2

For Lack of Money

In last week’s post, If Abraham Had Traveled in the 21st Century, I wrote that God promised Abraham three things to convince him to go on a journey; reputation, money and kids. As Rashi explains, these three factors are negatively affected during long-term travel.

If Abraham had gone on a trip today, something in the scale of a RTW (round-the-world) journey, he could have definitely made it financially. One of my favorite authors is Timothy Ferriss. In his best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim states that if you work correctly, outsource your life and move your occupation online, you can travel the world and make a living too.

Lately I read another fantastic book called The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau. Chris explains in painstaking detail “how to lead of life of adventure, meaning and purpose – and earn a good living”.

I really like the idea. Assuming Abraham was talented (a Midrash I once saw declared that he invented mathematics), then he would have done just fine with an online entrepreneurial business.

Fertility

Concerning fertility and having children, that’s a completely different ball-game. At first I really couldn’t understand what Rashi meant about travel not being good for fertility.  After all Abraham and Sarah traveled slowly from campsite to campsite. At many stops they set up shop convincing pagans to accept monotheism. What would be the problem with having children on the way? Privacy issues? I doubt it. The main problem was that Sarah was physically infertile. Literally. Nevertheless Rashi writes unequivocally that travel in general is not conducive to fertility.

What about today? Is modern travel good or bad for fertility? At first glance travel conditions today are great. Much better than 3000 years ago. Is there still an issue to deal with?

It would seem that there are problems with long-haul travel that Abraham and Sarah didn’t need to worry about that the modern couple does. According to scientific findings, jet-lag, erratic sleep cycles, changes in diet and lack of routine, have a bad effect (even if short term) on a woman’s reproductive cycle.

See the following articles for details:

Another thing that our ancestors probably didn’t have to cope with like we do is STRESS. Travel might be fun, but when you are in a non-stop state of new experiences, unfamiliar foods, coupled with catching planes and trains, shlepping around luggage and looking for where to eat and what to do every day, that’s stress.

It’s good stress when you travel on vacation (or eu-stress to be exact), but stress nevertheless. Many people I know return from vacation more exhausted then when they left and need a vacation to recuperate from the vacation.

I’m not saying that this is definitely what Rashi had in mind when he wrote that travel is harmful to fertility, but maybe it is…

Enjoy.

If Abraham Had Traveled in the 21st Century

The First Jewish Traveler

In this week’s Parasha, Lech Lecha, God commanded Abraham as follows:

And God said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, your birthplace and your father’s house, unto the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and .make your name great; and you will be a blessing’.

Rashi comments on the verse that long-term travel negatively affects three things:

  1. Reputation
  2. Money
  3. Fertility

God was telling Abraham to go on a journey with a “One Way Ticket To The Blues”. Abraham, as it seems, was a bit concerned about these issues (after all he and Sarah didn’t yet have kids). Therefor God promised him that if Abraham went as told he would get plenty of wealth, a good name and of course have children too.

I was wondering what would have happened if Abraham had traveled in the 21st century. Would he still have reason to be concerned about money, reputation and fertility or maybe not?

Reputation

Lets start with reputation. When Abraham left Haran he was a serious person to be reckoned with. Everybody knew about his escapades in the furnace and how he became a monotheist.  He was a Somebody. But the day he left, who else but the people back home knew him? Of course there were traveling merchants who might tell stories about Abraham, but I doubt it was enough to keep up a long-term and serious reputation.

Today it would be completely different. Abraham’s run in with Nimrod at the furnace would have been publicized in the front page of the online New York Times. He would be famous on Youtube and blogged about in every religious forum. He’s have a LinkedIn profile. Maybe Abraham himself would post daily in his Lech Lecha Travel Blog. Today reputation is simple to keep up, as long as you know how to manage it online.

Money

In ancient times people were very attached to the agricultural world. There were of course some traveling merchants, but most were born, lived and died in one city or country (barring expulsions and exiles). Once a person went on a long journey there weren’t too many options to earn money and saving finished up quickly. Therefor it was assumed that Abraham would have difficulty supporting his family on the one way journey.

Today things are very different. One can earn money on every spot on the globe, whether you are in a hotel room or sitting on a beach. If you are a writer like Rolf Potts or Pico Iyar who make a full-time living from travel writing, then travel and money are interchangeable.

Even if you don’t write for a living, there are thousands of people who earn an online living as information workers or virtual entrepreneurs.

To be continued…

Is It Safe For Jews To Travel?

Antisemitism on the Rise?

Safe For Jews To Travel
Chaya Zissel Braun הי”ד

Yesterday we had a terrible tragedy. A three-month old baby Chaya Zissel Braun הי”ד was killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. It’s not the first attack we’ve experienced in Israel lately and probably not the last, Chas V’Sholom.

As Jews we are suffering in Israel and across the world as there seems to be some rise in anti-Semitic violent activity. Take Europe for example. According to an August 2014 article in The Guardian –  Antisemitism on rise across Europe ‘in worst times since the Nazis’. This is true in France, Germany, Holland and Italy and many other places.

The World Zionist Organization declares that “There was a significant increase of 436% in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, a 1200% increase in antisemitism in South America, an increase of 600% in South Africa, an increase 800% in Oceania, an increase of 127% in the United States and an increase of 100% in Canada“. (see article in Arutz 7).

Sounds bad. Frightening. What next?

One can blame Operation Protective Edge, the increase in militant Islāmic groups like ISIS or any other factor, but the fact remains that Jews and Jewish organizations are targeted. Which brings me to the basic question: “Is it still safe for Jews to travel?”.

Travel Warnings

It isn’t my job to give travel alerts or warnings. I’ll leave that up to the professionals like the US Department of State (see HERE) which gives detailed information about the risks involved in traveling to each country. Israel and other countries have their own guidelines. See HERE for the Israeli Government travel warnings.

A Perspective on Traveling

I’d like to give just a bit of perspective. I remember after September 11th how much people thought it was extremely dangerous to go to the US. For those lost or injured in the horrific attack, it definitely was. Nevertheless more than 285 million people lived in the States on that date (see US Census Bureau Statistics for any date). Stores continued to sell. People ate, drank, got married and gave birth. Life was different after 9/11, but life still went on.

The same in Israel. We’ve gone through wars, military operations, bomb attacks, missiles and lately “hit and run” terrorism. Does that mean Israeli society ceased functioning? Not at all. The majority of Israelis continue to function more or less normally even through the most difficult circumstances. Life goes on.

Safe For Jews To Travel

 Safe For Jews To Travel
Prayer For Travelers

In my humble opinion, there is no reason for a Jew to avoid traveling. Of course we need to take precautions. Ask advice of the locals, check out US Travel Warnings, maybe minimize speaking Hebrew in public or walking around looking overly Jewish in some countries.

But to avoid travel completely? No way.

Wherever on the globe you live at the moment there is always someone on the other side of the globe who feels you are living in a dangerous spot. Maybe only in the North Pole it’s safe from antisemitism…but then you can get frostbite and hypothermia instead.

In conclusion, take the necessary precautions, do the due diligence and say Tfilas Haderech (Prayer for traveling) with all your heart.

Safe trip !

The Three Days Yom Tov Challenges

Three Days Yom Tov Challenges

As I was sitting with my kids in the Sukkah on the first day Yom Tov, they remarked that having two days of Rosh Hashanah followed by Shabbos, was difficult enough. How in the world does the rest of world Jewry (outside of Israel) cope with three sets of Three Days Yom Tov [3DYT]  including first day Sukkos and Shmini Atseres/Simchas Torah?

Three Days Yom TovI did some research and collected all the problems and challenges I could find about 3DYT.

Food: Planning interesting menus and cooking for seven meals, heating and reheating, leaving on fires, setting timers and of course having enough fridge and freezer space.

Dishes & Table Setting: When you have a houseful of guests and very few in-house unofficial dishwashers and table setters, that is a sticky issue. “Again it’s my turn??? But I washed the dishes/set up the table yesterday!! Why can’t ______ do it this time???”.

You know what I mean. The usual chorus…and that’s just the beginning… Continue reading The Three Days Yom Tov Challenges

The Halacha of Sukkot On The Go

It’s Tuesday night before Sukkos, 2:00 AM and I’m trying to get another post launched. I could delay writing till Chol Hamoed but I’d prefer not to deal with my blog during the festival. And besides, this is post #50 and it feels good to get it done on time…

Sukkos is my favorite festival; more than Pessach or Purim. Even more then SimchasTorah. There’s something really special about living inside a Sukkah for seven days and nights, where I can fulfill a biblical commandment every single moment without lifting a finger. Whether I eat, drink, study, sleep or just shmooz with family and friends, every second chalks up another Mitsvah. Something like passive income on a rising stock portfolio… As far as I’m concerned I can sit inside for seven days straight with occasional exits to attend the dancing of Simchas Beis Hasho’eva at the local Shuls.

Not everyone is like that. For some, Sukkos is a great time to travel. The weather is moderate, they’re on vacation and they love the outdoors. Of course one gets into the challenges of finding a Sukkah away from home or just eating outside a Sukkah a “I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”. Continue reading The Halacha of Sukkot On The Go

Sukkot Travel Guidelines

Sukkot Travel GuidelinesLiving in a religious neighborhood in Israel I take it for granted that on Sukkot everyone will be walking around and traveling with their Arba’as HaMinim. When you are crossing international borders, though, or even flying within continental USA, you might come in contact with officials who are less sympathetic to your strange agricultural products.

First of all security-wise you might have a weapon or drugs stashed away inside the Esrog (I’m not trying to give anyone bad ideas…)  and at the very least you’re attempting to cross a border with an unidentified agricultural product which may spread disease or infestation. Continue reading Sukkot Travel Guidelines

Is the One Bag Solution Good For Jews?

Jewish One Bag Solution

A while back I wrote about the OneBag.com website and the one bag solution, showing how to pack light without checking in your luggage (Life is a Journey – So Pack Light). It occurred to me at the time that however you try to minimize your belongings, there are a few items that an observant Jew just has to take with. These items naturally take up precious space and you end off forgoing other vital items to avoid a second bag.

One Bag SolutionIt’s not only a Tallis & Tefillin (or a snood/hat/wig), but also some emergency Kosher food, a Siddur (if you intend to pray on the way without a Minyan), a few basic cooking implements (if there aren’t any Kosher stores on the way) and so forth. If you’re planning on being in the backwaters of Jewish life over Rosh Hashanah, then you’ll need also a Shofar and a Machzor too. If you travel on Succos then you need 4 Minim (and maybe a portable Succah). If you are in transit on Channukah then you need to light candles. One mustn’t forget a regular Shabbos with Challa, wine, a Bentcher and Havdoloh implements. Continue reading Is the One Bag Solution Good For Jews?

Uman Rosh Hashanah – Not For Me

Uman Rosh Hashanah

Uman Rosh HashanahEvery year before Rosh Hashanah, tens of thousands of Jews make an annual pilgrimage to the grave-site of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine. Not only Breslov Chasiddim make the trip but also Jews from all walks of life, devoutly religious along with traditionalists, Chassidim and Misnagdim, Sefardim and Ashkenazim. The words “Uman Rosh Hashanah” have become a password, a symbol and a call for action before the High Holy Days.

It might seem so, but not everyone agrees with that assumption. Continue reading Uman Rosh Hashanah – Not For Me

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