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The Kosher Connections

March 17, 2012

The Kosher Connections

            I was not raised keeping kosher.  In fact, my mother told me that you must do it all or nothing and since it was too difficult to do it all, it was not something we could do.  It’s one of the rare times when I think Mom had it wrong.  I always wanted to keep kosher and so it was one of the first things Sam and I discussed after he proposed.   I don’t keep kosher because I think G-d said it and we must follow it.  I keep kosher for several reasons.  First, it reminds me continually that I am connected to a people a history and a set of principles.  The other reason I keep kosher is something I learned from the first rabbi with whom I had a personal connection, Rabbi Allan Krause.

            He provided the following illustration.   People, he said,  go to the gym to exercise their bodies; we go to university to strengthen our minds.   Kashrut, Rabbi Krause said, is the exercise of our free will.  As we control day in and day out, something as routine and mundane as what we eat,  we are choosing what we eat instead of being ruled by desire or animal instincts, we are rehearsing strength of will.  When difficult times or hard choices confront us in life, we will know that we have the  strength of character to deal with it.   We choose to keep kosher not because G-d said so but because it provides a framework for us to perfect our being.  It is part of the path to living a life adhering to a higher purpose.  It is one of the rituals in Jewish life that gives purpose far beyond what the casual observer can perceive.

            I have always been drawn to this explanation.  I have kept kosher for almost 26 years; I began several months prior to getting married.  I don’t “cheat” on kashrut.  I choose not to eat pork or shellfish.  I choose not to knowingly mix milk and meat.  In 26 years I can say that there has only been a handful of times when I have made a conscious decision to deviate from kashrut and it was always for a higher value of not insulting someone or causing  a fuss in a circumstance I did not create. 

            So, if mind could conquer stomach with kashrut, why couldn’t it do it for dieting???  I have thought for years that I could succeed if I could only apply the same resolve to dieting that I did to kashrut.  How could I teach the values of kashrut and other “body ethics” curriculum and carry an extra 100 pounds of my body at the same time?  I was not in sync and I felt it.

            This time was different.  It was very different.  I did not approach kashrut as a temporary thing.  When I decided to start keeping kosher, I planned a wonderful final treif meal.[1]    I knew from then on, I would be adhering to a kosher life eating plan.  This weight loss journey was the same.  I did not approach it as a diet.  Diets have a start date, and a goal to reach.  Actually, diets have many start dates.  They have the official start date noted by your top weight.  They have re-start dates marked as the morning after the day you cheated and they have “ok, that plan was unrealistic I think this new diet is going to be much better” start date.

            When I started this journey the thought process was different.  I came to a realization that I was almost 50 years old and I was faced with a choice.  I could live uncomfortably for the rest of my life and that life would be limited in many ways or I could change the way I was living and actually LIVE the rest of my life without physical limitations.  It was now or never. I had completed a very long and detailed survey on the “Real Age” website.  The more completely you answer the questions about your health, history, and lifestyle the more accurate the calculation of your body’s real age.  I completed the survey to discover that although I was chronologically 49, I was “really” 65 years old.  My mother died when she was 65.  That was an eye-opener.[2] 

            This time for me it was really a commitment to make a life change.  It was hard in the beginning.  I was fighting my body like an addict going through withdrawal.  One year later, it is no longer a struggle.  It is still a choice but it is a choice that reinforces itself continually.  When I eat well, I feel well.  When I eat poorly, I know the difference right away.

[1] This was in no way a sacrifice.  I knew from the time I was in high school that keeping kosher was something I wanted to do.  It was too difficult to keep kosher in a non-kosher home with others who did not keep kosher.  When I moved out of my parents’ home, I wanted to observe kashrut.  So, my first home with Sam was kosher from the start.  By the way, my final treif meal was in Walnut Creek, CA at a marvelous little French restaurant.  There were private dining spaces and I had scallops in a cream sauce.  I knew it was my last treif meal and I enjoyed it completely.  After that I have never ordered or eaten shellfish, or pork. 

[2] One year later I am thrilled to report that my “real” age is now 45.  That is 5 years less than my chronologic age and a full 20 years less than when I started.  My cholesterol level is 146.  My HDL (good cholesterol) is up and my LDL (bad cholesterol) is down.  I am a month away from my 26th wedding anniversary and I feel healthy, energetic and I have a significantly increased chance of reaching my 50th wedding anniversary.

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