The woman in front of me looked down into my crammed grocery cart, then lifted her face to get a good look at me. We didn’t know each other, but her questioning stare compelled me to explain.
“I’m shopping for 13 people for an entire week,” I said.
“That’s a mistake,” the stranger laughed, judging me without knowing anything about my circumstances.
She had no way of knowing how much I want my grandchildren to know each other. With some living in Toronto, Canada, and others in Silver Springs, Md., their paths don’t exactly cross.
Also, it’s important – though not always easy – for my husband Dan and I to be active grandparents. And finally, we like it when our three adult children interact with each other.
Everyone planned to spend a week together. Work schedules had to be considered, but we eventually agreed on a week after camp ended but before school started. The decision was made to rent a large house in a resort area in northern Ontario – called Blue Mountain – where there were daily prayer services at a local residence.
I took responsibility for buying the food in Toronto and bringing it, knowing there weren’t any kosher restaurants or grocery stores close to where we were staying. As I fulfilled this responsibility, I had reinforced in my mind the idea that Toronto – even though a bustling metropolitan area – feels like a small town when it comes to kosher shopping.
One has to go separately to the butcher, the baker and the fish market. In addition to specialized stores, I tried to satisfy the special requests of my highly individualized adult children.
After all (and especially in my family), there are different levels of keeping kosher. It’s far more complex than buying kosher meat, avoiding shellfish and keeping meat and milk products separate; all processed food has to have a kosher certification.
And my son who is a rabbi has kosher standards that exceed the norm. He and his family follow kosher distinctions called chalav yisroel for milk products and pas Israel for grain products. From what I understand, these categories consist of foods that have only been processed by Jews.
Meanwhile, another of my adult children is satisfied with the more common certifications, and the third doesn’t have a kosher preference but is now eating organic.
So there I was, in a kosher meat store in Toronto, rummaging through the freezer, looking for kosher AND organic chicken and meat. What a surprise when I found it.
Of course, life is filled with surprises, contradictions and irony. Proof of this goes back to my childhood, when I grew up in a home with parents who had different beliefs about how to eat.
My father was a vegetarian, but my mother wasn’t. When I sat down to eat supper, there was the raw food my father ate and wanted me to eat, and the cooked meat and chicken my mother wanted me to eat. No matter what I picked, one of my parents would be disappointed in my choice.
Talk about a double bind; I just couldn’t win. So I promised myself that when I was a “grown up,” everyone in my family would want to eat the same kind of food.
Boy, was I naïve. I had no idea how many choices there were when it came to food. It’s not just about whether you want American, French, Italian or Chinese.
In my extended family alone, the choices now include kosher, “more” kosher and organic. Clearly, whoever was listening to my prayers decided to let me know it isn’t up to me!
For our Blue Mountain stay, I bought disposable plates and plastic ware and also purchased a few pots, pans and utensils. I thought it would be easy to make the oven and the stovetop kosher.
So when my daughter-in-law asked what type of stovetop the kitchen had, I assumed she wanted to know if it was electric or gas. But I was wrong.
“You have to find out if it’s one of those flat, glass tops,” she told me. “If it is, we can’t use it.”
One thing about observant Judaism: It’s always full of surprises.
As it turns out, the stovetop was glass, so using it was isser, or forbidden. I learned it was impossible to make it kosher, so I suggested we use the outdoor barbecue grill; my son said grills cannot be made kosher, either.
I went to the hardware store and bought a hot plate with two burners. As long as I was there, I purchased a toaster. Finally, my rental car filled with all my food and non-food purchases, I programmed the app on my iPhone to provide directions from Toronto to Blue Mountain.
As I was driving north, I had one recurring thought: The next time I plan a family reunion, I’m going to do it differently. I’m going to check out taking a cruise.
Editor’s note: Arlene Appelrouth earned a degree in news-editorial journalism from the University of Florida and her career as a writer and journalist spans a 50-year period; she currently studies memoir writing while working on her first book.
By Arlene Appelrouth