How Did You Do It?

Ask post for any other converts or baalei teshuva out there:

When you first started keeping kosher, how did you do it?

How do you handle things like making arrangements so you could have a hot lunch at work?

What do you do when you’re travelling or out running a lot of errands or something and there are limited (or no) kosher options available?  (This particularly concerns me with airports, because airport security will confiscate many different kinds of food you try to bring with you beyond say, candy and protein bars — which get boring after a while.)

Did you get a Shabbat food warmer, or a blech?  If so, where, and how?

Do you have a water urn?  If so, where did you get it?

What do you do about opening the fridge?  (Some observant Jews won’t open the fridge at all on Shabbat in case opening it causes the compressor to come on, whereas others will wait until the compressor is on first.)

Are there any other issues you can think of that tripped you up or were difficult to negotiate at first?

Thanks!

Kryptonite

Have I mentioned that food is a particular weakness of mine?  (This is why I’m portly instead of puny.)  Keeping kosher outside the home is going to be a big struggle for me, I can tell, because bastard smell molecules waft into the air like they own the place and make me hungry for things.  Today it was fries with gravy.  These may be the last fries with gravy I eat, given that I don’t have a deep-fryer and you can’t get decent fries in Israel unless an Arab makes them (Israelis seem to think cold, soggy fries are tasty, for some inexplicable reason; I blame knee-jerk rejectionism of anything British), and I’ve never seen fries with gravy available in Israel anywhere.

Which sucks, because they were bad fries with gravy, really.  But as long as I keep working here, and I keep having to go into the staff cafeteria to get cutlery to eat lunch (I’m fairly ideologically opposed to using plastic cutlery on the regular), this is going to keep happening.  I guess I’m going to have to start carrying cutlery back and forth with me in my work bag.  And hoping that rogue smells don’t ambush me.

The Great Kosher Krisis of 2015

So, in my last post, which constitutes my ignominious return to conversion-blogging after months, I mentioned that we’ve been studying kashrut.  This presents me with a bit of a problem, logistically speaking.  Let me break it down (it’s already pretty broken) for you.

One:  I live in a small house — a very small house — which I share with a friend.  We’re friends, but we’re not what you would call cozy.

Two:  The kitchen in my small house is a retrofit; I’m not sure exactly what renovations were done when, but whoever put the existing (I hesitate to call it “new,” because it’s so totally not) kitchen in sort of knew what all the parts of a kitchen should be, but had obviously never actually cooked in one before.  So that means the fridge is stuck in a tiny alcove between my office door and the bathroom door, there is about a grand total of three square feet of usable countertop space, there is only one sink (crammed between the window and the door down to the basement), and storage space otherwise is at a serious premium.  Sinks are also a particular kosher issue, because if the sink is treif, as mine would necessarily be, I can’t soak dishes in it, nor wash them in a sinkful of water without a plastic sink liner (which I would store where?).  And I don’t — obviously — have the counter space to leave soaking pots all over.  I’m a walking disaster area; I do burn food on the regular.

Three:  Snce I share a house with an unrelated person, and we don’t really share food, we each need separate food storage as it is.

Four:  I still haven’t moved closer to the shul, which means I still live quite a ways away from any of the stores in town that sell kosher meat products.  (Just eating dairy or fish is not an option for me, especially since I don’t like fish that much.)

Five:  I don’t drive.

Six:  I’m mildly physically handicapped and deal with fatigue issues, which means I don’t necessarily have the energy/ability to cook from scratch every day.  There is no kosher restaurant in town.

Seven:  I do not own a chest freezer, not even a small one.

Eight:  While I’m once again gainfully employed, I’m on a three-month contract which ends at the end of July.  I therefore have no guaranteed income past the end of July, and no guarantee I’ll easily be able to find another job after this one.

Nine:  Even if I did find another job right after this one, there’s no guarantee it would be in this city.  Many of the jobs in my field are either in the Waterloo region or the Greater Toronto Area.

Ten:  Rental agreements in my town tend to be twelve-month leases.

Conclusion:  From the way it looks right now, I’d be really stupid to try to move right now, particularly since I’ll find out whether or not $Current_Employer will extend/re-up my contract within about six weeks.

Unfortunately, my rabbi, whom I like very much and want to please, thinks I should start keeping much closer to “real kosher” like now, including using separate stove burners, plates, glasses, and utensils to my housemate, and buying kosher-slaughtered meat.  While I genuinely do want to do this mitzvah, and intend to do it to my utmost once I can, I honestly don’t see how I can pull it off without moving house.  I simply don’t have the room or the energy to try to maintain essentially a whole separate second kitchen in the already-overcrowded space allotted to the first one, and I don’t have the storage space to store frozen cooked meals for those days when I can’t cook/am not safe with a knife, etc.

And while I do actually want to move eventually, and was actually beginning the process of looking for a house to buy in the neighbourhood sort of equidistant between my grandma’s house and the shul (two! two! two mitzvot in one!) before I got restructured out of my last job…

…six weeks before my yea-or-nay date on a three-month (to start?) contract is not precisely the time, I think, to be contemplating committing to a year lease, especially since I’ve been here so long I rent month to month.

I know the rabbi would say that I should just organise my life around doing the mitzvot and HaShem will take care of the rest, but I’m much more of a “trust in G-d but tie your camel” kind of person (if I may borrow from the Islamic world for a sec), to be honest.  And I’m sure this is going to delay my first meeting with the Beit Din, which was supposed to happen right after Pesach, but I don’t mind.  One thing I am sure of is that these things will happen on HaShem’s time, not mine.

Shabbat Recap — Leafy Green Problems

When I left for shul, the weather was clear and cold. By midway through the service, it was snowing hard. By the end, it was freezing rain mixed with sleet. I think the weather people quaintly call that “wintry mix,” which sounds like some kind of candy you buy at the Bulk Barn.

The rebbetzin invited me to come to lunch again, which was nice. Vegan food — I’m not sure they eat much meat, although I’ve seen them eat fish. I skipped the pareve chulent, as I’ve discovered that chulent really isn’t my thing.

In conversation I discovered something that might cause me some problems down the road. A lot of these people apparently just avoid most green leafy vegetables for fear that there might be insects in them. The rabbi says they’re hard to check properly. (I have eaten parsley and spring mix in Israel, so they can’t be that difficult.) This is an issue for me, because I really like a lot of those things, with the exception of many of the brassicas, which are often bitter. LZ related that her mother used to soak romaine lettuce in salt water for three days before she’d eat it. I’m really wondering how romaine lettuce soaked for three days in salt water is edible at all…

I guess I’m just going to have to ask him to give me a really thorough tutorial on how to check vegetables, although I have never seen an insect on those kinds of vegetables. Found one in a cauliflower once, though — I removed it and a section of the cauliflower it was in. And when I see spitbugs on my mint plants in the garden, I remove them with extreme prejudice. I actually worry more about cupboard weevils than thrips or aphids in my green veg. (And, speak of the devil, see his horns, I found some in some pasta last night. Time to KILL THE PANTRY CUPBOARD WITH FIRE.)

And yes, I look. News for Jews — goys aren’t too fond of eating bugs generally, either, the existence of chocolate-covered ants notwithstanding. (Ew.)

Anyway, I think this could be a problem, but we’ll burn that village when we come to it.

Recap of my first lesson coming up!

Shabbat Recap — SLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

I really wanted to go to shul this morning, but apparently my alarm was turned too low, because I slept right through it. This isn’t surprising, since I went to bed at 7PM last night (although I was up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours because I was burning up — homeostasis, ur doin it rong!) and generally slept like a rock. (I did finally give in and turn on the light so I could read while I was waiting for my temperature to come back down. *sigh*)

Other than that, it was a good Shabbat. I did a lot of sleeping, a lot of reading, and studied some more of my book on the halacha of kashrut, which I must say is absolutely bone-dry, and details a tonne of the minutiae of the procedures surrounding scenarios where meat and milk come into contact. This is probably not something I’ll likely ever need to know in any detail, because I don’t consume dairy products, other than the occasional thing that has a dairy hechsher on it for “CYA” reasons but otherwise contains no actual discernable dairy products. I suppose if I wind up marrying someone who eats dairy, I might have to do meat/dairy kosher, but at this point, it’s a total non-issue. (Anybody know any eligible lactose-intolerant bachelors? *g*)

Izzy’s eye seems to be improving vastly, so I’m very, very happy about that. He’s also stopped sneezing every five minutes. It’s a good thing.

The job thing is also heating up for me; I have three very promising-looking leads right now, one of which started the phone interview with the woman on the other end saying, “You know, I really love your resume!” (Bite me, career transition counsellor guy who said that I needed to redo my resume. Was that my outside voice lashon hara? Yeah, I’m still working on that part. Perfect, I ain’t. Yet.) That one is going to turn into a face-to-face interview sooner or later, and is in my hometown, albeit way out in the back of beyond near the airport, and I don’t drive (harrumph). The most recent one is for a job in a city about an hour east of here, where I went to graduate school, and when I read the job description (forwarded to me by my wonderfully devious evil-minded recruiter), I thought, “Wow, they’re looking for their very own Sara-Elisheva! Fortunately for them, one happens to be on the market.”

While moving an hour away would complicate things with my conversion, they have a very nice kehila in that town — big enough to have its own kosher supervisor and scribe! No kosher restaurant, but far more availability of kosher foods than here, at least. Having reasonable access to kosher prepared foods (available there) would make my life much easier Jewishly, particularly if I’m working full-time again, as sometimes I just don’t feel like, or feel up to cooking. I have a mobility impairment that comes with a handful of syndromic impairments, and something which may or may not be fibromyalgia, so fatigue, proneness to certain kinds of infections, and other illness are issues for me. Anything I can do to save spoons is a good thing.

I feel like I might be able to do this thing, folks…

New Kit

Converting to Judaism can be an expensive proposition.  There are a lot of items you’d probably need, along with the textbooks, which tend to be on the expensive side (because textbooks always are, and textbooks for a tiny niche market more so).  If you’re adhering to Jewish concepts of modesty in dress (tzniut), you may also need some new clothes, although there are ways of repurposing things you already own.

This post is intended to be a non-exhaustive list of things you might have to purchase or otherwise obtain.  (I by no means have all of these things, not all of them are strictly necessary for everyone, and nobody is suggesting that you need to get all of these at once.)

Books

Your curricular books, as recommended by your rabbi
A siddur (prayerbook)
A chumash
A TaNaKH in book form
A bentsher or several (in case you have guests).  The standard Orthodox one is the NCSY.
Haggadot for Passover

Clothing

Long skirts (knee-length or longer, depending on your community standards) for women
At least one kippah for men (I presume most men have several so they can change them out and clean/launder them periodically), and a clip to go with it, assuming one has hair
Shirts with sleeves that go to or past the elbows (depending on your community standards)
Camisoles (women) for repurposing shirts with necklines that are too low
Shell tops (women) for repurposing sleeveless dresses etc.
Sleeve extenders (women) for repurposing shirts with too-short sleeves
A nice outfit (or two) for wearing to shul
Comfortable nice shoes for wearing to shul (heels not recommended and not commonly worn in Orthodox circles due to walking to shul and much standing during services, also for tzniut reasons)
A repertoire of collared shirts (men and women); men may wish to avoid white shirts for semiotic reasons
Legwear for under skirts (I can’t wear nylons due to an allergy, so I favour plain-coloured tall socks, or cotton tights in the winter — NB:  Some rabbis do not permit women to wear tights under skirts, but given the climate here, there’d be riots.)
Plain white underwear for wearing at certain times in the month (women, not sure if this is strictly required, but strongly recommended by some authorities)
Tefillin (phylacteries) for men (in Orthodox circles, women don’t wear these)
Tallit (prayer shawl) for men (in Orthodox circles, women also don’t wear these)
Tallit katan (arba kanfes, four-cornered garment) for men (most non-Orthodox Jews don’t wear these, and some Orthodox Jews don’t either, as they attach tzitzit directly to their shirts), or kosher tzitzit
Non-leather shoes (for wearing on Yom Kippur) — many Jews also wear white
A kittel (mostly married men, non-Orthodox men generally don’t wear these as far as I know)

Religious Articles

Mezuzot for every doorway in your home (consult with your rabbi as to what constitutes a “doorway”), save the bathroom
A kiddush cup for Shabbat
A Hanukiah (menorah) and candles or kosher oil to go in it
A seder plate for Pesach
Candlesticks for Shabbat and chagim
Shabbat candles
Havdalah candles
A besamim box (for storing spices that you smell during the Havdalah ceremony that ends Shabbat)
Candlesticks for Shabbat candles
Havdalah candles (braided wicks)
Challah cover
Honey pot for Rosh Hashana
Matzo trays and covers for Passover
A ritual handwashing cup (natla)
Building materials and decorations for a sukkah (not required for single women)

Kitchen Goods

Dishes and cutlery for meat and dairy, and Pesach meat and dairy (you can kasher certain types of dishes for Pesach, but not others; consult your rabbi)
A double sink, or dishwashing basins for meat and dairy
Dishwasher racks for meat and dairy
Dish-drying racks for meat and dairy
Pots and pans for meat and dairy (you may be able to use the pots and pans you already have for one or the other, although some pots and pans cannot be kashered; consult your rabbi)
Kitchen utensils for meat and dairy
Knives for meat, dairy, pareve, and preferably a dedicated bread knife
Glass drinking vessels (under the laws of kashrut, glass is non-porous and does not absorb “taste” from food that might touch it by way of your mouth, so can be used with both; some stringent kosher-keeping Jews keep meat and dairy glasses)
Plenty of clean tea-towels for drying hands after netilat yadaim and for drying dishes
Tablecloth for Shabbat
Tablecloth to differentiate meat meals from dairy meals
A dish brush for washing dishes (if necessary) on Shabbat
A Shabbat food-warmer or blech
An urn for hot water for Shabbat (for making tea/coffee, etc.)

Other Household Goods

Separable beds (if married), plus sufficient bed linens to cover at minimum 12 days
Clean hand towels for netilat yadayim
A blowtorch (for kashering certain items with heat)
Plastic covers for isolating kitchen counters or shelves, such as for Pesach

Changing My Mind

One thing I’ve noticed about this process, such as it has been, is how it has affected my thought processes and my mental habits.  (I’m still developing new habits, but I’ve already noticed some changes.)

Having to be conscientious about what I eat and when (because I’m starting to watch out more for hechshers on products, and because I’m enforcing temporal separation between eating CYA halavi products and meat, and other things) has made me somewhat less likely to engage in mindless grazing.  This hasn’t really started to show up on my waistline too much yet, but it feels like it’s starting to.

As I’ve become more conscious of how I dress and why, I’m becoming…not exactly more judgemental about things other people are wearing, but I’m noticing how tacky some people’s outfits look, and it has definitely reinforced my you-kids-get-off-my-lawn aversion to showing bra straps and things (I’m old enough that I can remember my mother hammering home about how You Just Didn’t Do That).  On the other hand, dressing tzniut (inasmuch as I do, given that I am very fond of highly-saturated colours, which is frowned on in certain tzniut circles — but I look sick in pale colours) has made me more comfortable with my own body, which is an interesting result.  I don’t tend to feel like anybody’s gaze object anymore, which is definitely nice.  And I was never one much for showing a lot of skin anyway (I am often chilly and I sunburn at the drop of a hat), so it’s not like I’m terribly put out by all of this.

Also, trying to become somewhat shomeret Shabbat has helped me keep my house clean.  It’s traditional (almost mandatory, in the sense that it is the Done Thing) to clean one’s house thoroughly before Shabbat, so the Malkat Shabbat will feel honoured when she visits, metaphorically speaking.  Shabbat is holy time, and your house should reflect appropriate Shabbat preparations, including cleaning.  Lately, it’s been a lot easier to keep things clean and tidy because I just say to myself, “If you don’t clean this now, you’ll have to do it before Shabbat,” and I’m almost always short of time after work on Fridays due to my usual Friday evening outing with friends, so I wind up rushing around on Thursday night and Friday morning to get the sort of last-minute things done.  (This morning, I washed the last few dishes, cleaned the kitchen sink, and changed my bedding.  Turns out my outing is cancelled, so I wonder what I’ll do with All That Time tonight!)  My friend Ed remarked that “the house looks like you shook it.”  I’m also not as behind on cleaning stuff as I could be, which is also nice.

On a less secular note, I’m also finding that my daily time-outs for prayer and blessings calm me down and help me to sleep.  I don’t know if they make me feel particularly holy or anything, because I’m not sure what that should feel like, but I am definitely renewing my sense of connection to, well, everything, which is something I used to have years ago and then kind of lost somehow.

In any case, I have 25 minutes before a Big Important Meeting, so I’d better finish my lunch and get on with my day.  Shabbat shalom, kulam!