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SisterSchmooze: Treif!

Marcia Stark Meth / Emmy Leah Stark Zitter / Miriam Stark Zakon

This Schmooze reminds us of the challenges and joys of keeping kosher in what is, yesterday and even today, a world full of treif

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

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S o there you are, eating kosher sushi, paging through a kosher magazine, calling a friend on a kosher phone….

In a world where we can flavor our salads with kosher bacon-flavored bits, where we serve kosher exotic cheeses in every shape, color, smell, and language (Fancy a taste of Asiago? A slice of Pecorino Romano?), where hundreds of new and unexpected foods get a hechsher every year, lately the word “kosher” seems to be used more often as a metaphor than as a literal halachic concept.

We Sisters love metaphors as much as anybody, but we also love… food. Real food. This Schmooze is dedicated to kashrus at its most literal level. Join us on our treif culinary travel tour as we attend a nonkosher conference in Rome, deal with an elegantly treif menu at a Reform wedding in New York, and tramp through history into the battlefields of Europe, where an army marches on its treif stomach. This Schmooze reminds us of the challenges and joys of keeping kosher in what is, yesterday and even today, a world full of treif.

And don’t worry… our tour of treif is completely kosher. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

Marcia stays kosher… When in Rome

Austin. Baltimore. Chicago. Denver. Honolulu. Los Angeles. Minneapolis. Miami. New Orleans. New York. Philadelphia. Phoenix. San Diego. San Francisco. Seattle. St. Louis. Washington. Vancouver. And Rome — that’s Italy, not upstate New York. Twenty-eight conferences that I planned and managed in 20 cities over 14 years.

Multiply that by two — because each conference involved a scouting trip about a year beforehand — and what do you have? Lots of challenges for a frum person trying to keep kosher in the secular conference world! A world where business is conducted while chatting during coffee breaks, sharing information over lunch, networking at after-hours dinner-and-drinks.

Each city, each conference, has at least one crazy kashrus story. But the wildest one goes back to…


…Rome, 1987. I arrive at the quaint old-style European hotel, a walled oasis in middle of an ancient, rather bleak part of the city. Guest cottages interspersed with lush gardens, stone paths, elaborate fountains, marble statuary, and hedge-hidden alcoves with wrought-iron benches, tables, and chairs.

Yes! Our conference attendees will be ecstatic. This was wonderful, considering I’d planned the entire conference over the phone (no e-mail back then) while dealing with a five-hour time difference and a knowledge of Italian limited to numbers and “quanto costa?” (how much does it cost?).

I check in and am greeted royally by Signor Dominic, the hotel manager I’d befriended during our daily planning phone calls. I’m assigned to a deluxe villa, and I realize: He thinks “Signora Marcia” is some high-ranking official.

Excited, I dump my unpacked luggage onto the bed and run to find Leslie, my boss, who’d come along to attend the conference. Apparently, she’d been given one of the peasant-level cottages. She has a sense of humor, and she declines my offer to switch. Instead, she wants to see my villa so we can share a good laugh. We’re joined by Heidi, another conference attendee, curious to see my luxurious accommodations.

“Voilà!” I exclaim, opening the door for them and expecting oohs and aahs. Instead, a look of horror crosses their faces. I follow them in and behold — a scene of disgusting devastation. My suitcase overturned on the floor. My clothes and papers strewn all over. And globs of some fetid, chewed-up, odoriferous, red substance everywhere.

“Oh, no!” I cry. “Could that be… my salami?” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 554)

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