In today’s world, keeping kosher and maintaining a kosher kitchen can be quite a challenge. That’s partly because our relationship with food has become increasingly complex through generations. We now have access to more sources of food than ever before, and more technology and tools to cook that food. Ingredients come from all over the world — a simple plate of lasagna might have meat from South America, tomatoes from California and spices from Southeast Asia. The diversity of options can be dizzying.
Add to that the dietary and environmental strictures surrounding kosher practice, and many Jewish people — especially younger Jews who did not grow up keeping kosher — decide they’re simply not prepared to maintain the kosher tradition.
But Jacob Ladin, a local Jewish Arizona State University graduate, has chosen to embrace the complexity. He was inspired by his experience studying at a yeshiva in Israel.
“I knew I had to take something away from my experience; I couldn’t come back to Arizona with everything being the same as before,” he said. “Keeping a kosher kitchen was something I had always been thinking about. I realized once I was in Israel that it was something attainable.”
Rabbi Mendy Rimler, outreach director of Chabad at Arizona State University (ASU), recently helped Ladin kosher his kitchen. The process was laborious, and stared with Rimler bringing huge cooking pots from Chabad to Ladin’s kitchen in order to pour boiling hot water over the countertops and surfaces.
It was a messy procedure — the water poured over the kitchen surfaces must overflow — and dangerous, too; both Ladin and Rimler sustained minor burns. Rimler notes that this part of the kitchen koshering process should only be performed by trained rabbis.
Still, Ladin said the koshering process was enjoyable as well.
“It’s fun because it’s a new experience,” he said. “Rabbi Mendy told me it’s a really big mitzvah to help someone to kosher their kitchen.”
Rimler also explained the larger issues behind keeping kosher: “Judaism teaches us that you are what you eat. The food that we eat is fuel for us, and we choose how to use that energy. If I eat a kosher sandwich, I can utilize that energy to greet another person with a smile and make friends. I’m taking that sandwich and elevating it. And if that sandwich was cooked in a kosher kitchen, I can use that fuel to do something good in the world.”
Rimler added that by bringing kosher practice into people’s homes, he is helping them to treat food as something potent that can make a difference in this world.
For Ladin, the koshering process came at the perfect time.
“The High Holidays are a time where we take stock of where we’re at — what we did over the past year, what our achievements were and where we can improve,” Rimler said. “So koshering a kitchen is a very integral part because the food that we eat may seem to many like a non-essential part of who we are. But the Torah teaches us that the way we conduct ourselves in the mundane survival aspects of our lives, those are the times when we must bring God into our lives the most. Because if we bring God into those parts of our lives, we become truly connected to who we are, and are living most meaningfully.”
Graham Paul is a freelance writer based out of Gilbert.