Friday, April 27, 1984
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
What it feels like
to keep kosher
Continued from Page I
about Brooklyn or the Bronx. While I
scan the five-page menu the waiter
waits. He looks at me as if I'm an Arab
terrorist. He raises his pen like an
executioner's sword. My last request
will be hard-boiled egg.
To comfort myself at a time like
this I recall the unknown waitress of
my youth. She epitomizes the many
strangers I am grateful to, but she is
specific, a middle-aged woman in a
lonely delicatessen in Detroit; she
came to my aid when I needed her
most. I was about ten years old. My
father took me to my first big-league
baseball game, a double-header be-
tween the Detroit Tigers and the Bos-
ton Red Sox.
It was a five-hour drive to Detroit.
I was too excited to sleep the night
before. For breakfast I had only thin
cocoa. I carried my glove hoping for a
foul ball and my Scripto pencil for
autographs, just in case I ran into Al
Kaline or Ted Williams in the parking
lot. At some rest stop in Michigan I left
my lunch on a picnic bench. I wanted to
kitchen. She let me watch while she
put two kosher hot dogs into a plastic
bag and boiled them in the bag.
She produced a rye bread and
pointed out the vegetable shortening.
What I remember most is her dis-
hwasher. I was so hungry that I would
have eaten kosher food from the floor,
but she gave me a lecture on water
temperature, convincing me that her
plates were more thoroughly boiled
than sinners in hellfire. She brought
out a side dish of vegetarian baked
beans and sat next to me while I ate.
She even gave me some hard candy for
The Tigers lost both games; I
caught no foul balls. I've forgotten ev-
erything else that happened at that
astonishing, dreamlike ballpark, but
the interlude in the dingy restaurant,
and the kindness of that anonymous
waitress, continued to fortify me
against some of the despair that goes
along with being the stranger at the
The waiter told me that the hot dogs were
kosher, but I also noticed every variety of
swine on his menu.
go to my first big-league game without
the burden of a half-pound tuna sand-
wich on yellow challah. I wanted my
hands free for pop fouls; in my lap I
wanted only a scorecard. I discounted
By the time we got to the ballpark,
I was the fast of Yom Kippur in the
back seat. My father circled Briggs
Stadium looking for a parking place.
"There it is," he said. Weak and dizzy, I
arose to see that arena of my dreams
surrounded by a rotting ghetto. A row
of solemn black men held placards
stating PARKING $1.00 and pointed
to their backyards. They were like
pagan priests before the big, round
mosque of baseball.
My fingers were hardly strong
enough to unlock the door. "You've got
to eat something," my father said. He
turned away from the stadium and
toward a bleak business district.
There, in a restaurant where
there seemed to be nothing I could eat,
I met her. My father didn't know what
to do with me. I was so hungry that I
left my baseball glove in the car. The
waiter told me that the hot dogs were
kosher, but I also noticed every variety
of swine on his menu.
I ordered a Coke. My father, al-
most in tears, begged me to eat so I
could enjoy the game.
"Tell him to eat, please," he asked
The waiter gave me a "let the lit-
tle bastard starve" look and returned
to the kitchen.
Then she came through the swing-
ing varnished doors, this genuinely
decent woman. "Honey," she said,
come with me." She pulled my head
off the counter and took me into the
At places like the A & W, where
my high school friends congregated,
the Calvinists complained that they
couldn't go to school dances; the
Catholics were giving up asparagus
for Lent. Cheeseburgers and chili dogs
gave them the strength to continue
I told them they were amateurs at
"What you do doesn't even count,"
one of my friends said to me "It's too
crazy to figure out."
He was right. I don't even know
how to begin to explain the rules and
prohibitions that it took a few
thousand years to invent. I only want
to tell you what it feels like.
It is the heart and soul of being an
outsider, the schizophrenia of social
life. Eating has always been almost as
much a social as a biological event.
When the angels came to Abraham, he
slaughtered a calf to make them
dinner. For all we know, he mixed that
calf in its mother's milk; there were no
Abraham, busy escaping Sodom
and establishing a multitude, didn't
worry about kosher, but he did know
that when someone came to visit, you
washed his feet and then invited him
to dinner. Imagine it; divine beings,
bearers of the celestial message, their
feet have touched the stones of heaven;
they have not been hungry for cen-
turies, but just to be decent, they sit
with the patriarch.
Your hunger satisfied in the corn-
pany of one to seven others, the con-
versation, the drinks, the anticipation
before and the sleepy fullness after —
the meal in all its parts is the perfect
recipe for averting melancholy. In it