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My Kosher Kitchen

July 30, 2015 | by Alyssa Rachel Gross

What possessed me to make my kitchen kosher?

Two years ago, I walked into the home of Doctor Faye Zakheim for a Friday night Shabbat dinner. I was greeted by a large group of young professionals in their twenties and thirties. There was a singer at the table, delicious food and warm ambiance in an immaculately designed home.

The moment that began my quest to kosher my kitchen was an offhand remark by the hostess. Everyone was seated by the table, ready to hear kiddush and one guest thanked Dr. Faye (as she's fondly called) for having us in her home. Without missing a beat, in the sincerest manner, she said it was truly her pleasure to have the mitzvah of "hachnasat orchim," welcoming guests.

She felt that she was the one being gifted for having us in her home, to give to us and to welcome us. That perspective opened a passage deep inside me.

While some of my friends keep kosher and others don't, I wanted the ability to welcome all of my friends and observant guests into my home. I knew it would mean a big change in my lifestyle and was frankly quite hesitant. Rabbi Fingerer at Brooklyn Jewish Xperience knew that I was on the fence; it could go either way.

I received a message. BJX would like to sponsor the koshering of my kitchen. I accepted the offer. Suddenly, I was on a roller coaster and didn't know how to get off. On November 20, 2013 men with blow torches, gadgets, boiling pots of water were in my home from Go Kosher. The following day, everything was immersed in the mikvah.

Now I had a kosher kitchen. Now what!? Keeping milk and meat separate seemed easy enough but what the heck is pareve for?

But I learned. I made mistakes. I asked questions. I survived the initial phases of transitioning to a kosher kitchen. Here's what I learned from the experience that was nothing at all like I expected.

1. Grit

I learned a lot about determination and grit because change boils down to the nails and bolts of a situation. As difficult as it was to kosher my kitchen and buy new dishes, it could all be undone in a moment of laziness or weakness. If I was going to do this, then I was going to do it right. Perseverance each and every day became imbibed in my personality because it became a necessity.

Change is often in the small moments of life. Do I say this or hold back? Do I eat the cake or the fruit? Do I choose the easy way home or head to the gym?

2. What’s mine is yours.

In Ethics of the Father's it says, "There are four character types among people: One who says, 'My property is mine, and yours is yours' is an average character type. 'Mine is yours, and yours mine' is an unlearned person. 'Mine is yours, and yours is yours' is a scrupulously pious person. 'Yours is mine, and mine is mine' is a wicked person. "

I was always the average character type. I have mine and you have yours. I'd never think of stealing from others and I was working hard to amass more and more from the work of my hands.

After hosting a few social gatherings, I began to feel the call to aim for the highest level: Mine is yours and yours is yours. I began to view the material blessings I had in my life as a gift to share with others. Welcoming people into my home, attending to the needs of others and nurturing people lit a fire in me to give back even more.

3. One good deed leads to another

A good friend of mine who had slept on my couch for six weeks (rent free) asked me to host a friend of hers at my apartment. Sure, no problem. Many of my closest friends were flabbergasted that I hadn't even asked how long my house guest intended to stay for at my abode. But what's mine is yours, and if we're blessed to give within our means, why hold back? Being able to open my modest home to others has been the biggest blessing to myself.

Having received the Shabbat hospitality of so many welcoming and giving people at Brooklyn Jewish Xperience, my sense of identity changed over time. We're part of one community. We can either continue to take or we can pay forward the lessons learned from our sages and those who have given to us. This shift in perspective resulted from a kind word, recognizing that every possession we have can be made holy. That’s part of the blessing of koshering one’s kitchen and being part of a vibrant community.

This article is in the memory of Dr. Faye Zakheim's husband, Shlomo Eliezer ben Rav Yaakov.

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