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December 29, 2010.
Kosher dairy lunch — three simple words and although I knew what all of those words meant individually, I had no idea what those words meant together.
What it meant for our family was that the pickiest eater on the planet had to go to school with her favorite sandwich — turkey, cheese, pickles and mayonnaise on soft bread minus the... turkey. Yum.
I am not Jewish (lapsed Catholic is what I say) and my husband is Jewish but not practicing — I guess that is the best way to put it. We chose the loveliest jewel box of a preschool and it happened to be in a temple... a Conservative Jewish temple.
What did that mean? I had no idea so I sent my husband to find out. (Mind you, I had been there and loved it — and to seven other preschools — already. First time moms really do operate this way.)
"It's pretty Jewish," he reported back.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"It's Conservative," he replied, and I followed with "What does that mean?"
So you can see what interesting conversations we have. Although I vaguely knew what Conservative, Reform and Orthodox meant, I really didn't know what it meant in terms of preschool. My husband didn't know much more than I did. I knew that if they were nuns I would have known how Catholic (read devout/old-school/whatever) they were. I would have an idea. Here, not a clue.
But what I did know is that when I met the director of the school, it was she (and she alone out of all the people at all of the schools we visited) who bent down and directly addressed my then 2 (and a half) year old. I was in preschool love. My already emotionally overwrought and six months pregnant self was sold on this dream of a teacher with a clean, clean, clean preschool and a staff of four who were like leaving your child with your mother and your mother-in-law... but without the baggage, if you know what I mean.
So we said yes to this lovely place. This was the place where I entrusted my children (no need to look at other schools for my second child). I got a story about both of my children every single day. Really. A nice story, too. How she helped pull up the tarp on the sandbox or a tidbit, an observation, a lovingly retold adorable utterance from my preschooler (Okay, just one "My mommy was born Catholic, my daddy was born Jewish and I was born in Massachusetts.") It was bliss and — dream of all dreams — also walking distance from my house.
So back to my learning curve. Kosher dairy means no meat and dairy together. You are fine if you send yogurt (not abided by my child), cheese, hummus, bread, juice boxes, fruit and veggies, soy products (smart dogs come to mind) and cookies and crackers. There are many, many kosher foods - you just have to look for the marking on the package. How do you know? There is a circle around a U and Kosher is spelled out or just "K" on the package. Here are some of the symbols that you might see which I found on a kosher travel blog called, Yeah, That's Kosher. There can also be parve (also spelled pareve or parevine) on the package which means it contains neither meat nor dairy. Star Market, Super Stop and Shop, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's all carry a huge number of kosher products. Everything from Entenmann's is kosher — who knew? There is also special kosher for Passover food but that is a different story.
I even used to get kosher bread, well, at first I did. I slacked off on this when I became more comfortable. I didn't intentionally send in non-kosher bread — I just didn't assiduously check all bread products after a while. Also, let's be clear, no one except me was policing my lunches and I don't think anything short of sending a ham and cheese sandwich would have even warranted comment. I just felt as the non-Jewish partner of this family that I should be following the rules.
Although my knowledge of Judaica is by no means vast, rules I get... and because I am a first born, I actually really like them. Also, these are not the rules of my faith so I can't break them with impunity — which I have (sorry, Mom, but not as if this is news). It is just worse to break the rules of another faith. You know that when you agree to send your child to a conservative Jewish preschool that you have signed up for the whole deal.
So Kosher Dairy isn't just lunch — it is also snack. Every Friday on Shabbat, snack was a shared event. Here is what I learned, fruits and vegetables brought in to share are kosher if whole, other things like packaged foods (pickles — all she would eat at snack time — I told you she was a picky eater) are kosher only if marked as such and if unopened. Lots of rules, I tell you.
The first birthday party I hosted did throw me into a slight panic — not hard to do. What if I made a mistake and someone couldn't eat? I have an Italian grandmother and this is unthinkable! Keeping kosher isn't a preference; it is a choice of faith. A kind friend took me in hand and showed me how to find the kosher symbols. Now I can spot a kosher item from ten feet — all right, my eyes are going, five feet. Phew. Comfortable with that knowledge, I was able to provide sandwiches, drinks and snacks that were kosher and a cake for the party that I knew everyone could enjoy.
I learned a great deal in preschool — mostly I learned that the teacher and other moms were patient with my questions and lovely and inclusive.
So I know that interfaith means very different things to people and that we are lucky in that our families are supportive (not that we don't know that they would prefer single faith family — yes, dear ones, subtle though you are, we know). We are not unique in having no clear direction but we are sharing the traditions of our religions of birth and the ones we make up as we go along.