Saturday, April 17, 2010

Miriam's Kitchen

I'm re-reading a book this week which I originally read years ago, Miriam's Kitchen. It's a memoir by Elizabeth Ehrlich, a basically non-observant Jew, inspired by her kosher mother-in-law to experiment with keeping her own kosher kitchen for one year.

Growing up in, and remaining in, the rural Anabaptist community as I have, my understanding of Jewish traditions is limited, to put it generously. Reading this book informs me that not only can the strictly observant Jew not eat meat and milk in the same meal, her food cannot be prepared in, served in, eaten off any of the same dishes. The author tells us that one of her grandmothers had SIX sets of dishes: meat, milk and neutral dishes for everyday, and meat, milk and neutral dishes for special days. One must not use the same sponge to clean up after milk as to clean up after meat. Once you've used the oven to prepare a meat dish, it is a meat oven. It must be specially cleansed to become neutral again and fit to bake your cake made with milk. Can you imagine?

Here's a quote from the book which spoke to me:

"I wondered what to teach my children. I wanted to build a floor under my children, something strong and solid.

"Then I remembered and unwrapped a bundle of family tales, many located in or near the kitchen. In these I found wisdom and innovation and the fading rituals and habits of an assimilating clan. I had been carrying that bundle all my life.

"What made me value my inheritance as treasure, not burden? The luck that has placed me, as an adult, in range of Miriam's kitchen. My mother-in-law Miriam, born in a small village in Jewish Poland, survived the Holocaust. A keeper of rituals and recipes, and of stories, she cooks to recreate a lost world, and to prove that unimaginable loss is not the end of everything. She is motivated by duty to ancestors and descendants, by memory and obligation and an impossible wish to make the world whole."

To me, the logistics of keeping a kosher kitchen seem foreign. But the reasons for thinking the effort is worth it do not.


  1. Hallelujah! I've been trying for years to remember the title/author/who recommended this book. The part of the book that has stayed in my mind was her rumination on what Sabbath keeping means for women - another instance of broad applicability across cultural lines! Now, must fly around like a head with my chicken cut off (as Margo says). I'm worship leading today.

  2. Oh, good. You recommended the book to me. It would be a good one for book club discussion. Speaking of what Sabbath looks like for women (and also reflecting upon my day), grrrr. We went to an event for Michael and his DR coworkers, for which I prepared our contribution for the carry-in, readied the children for the departure, and said, "Let's go."

    "Let's go."

    "Let's go."

    While he dozed on the sofa until two minutes before we left. And he's not even one of those asshole husbands.


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