Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rewriting broccoli, and my raspberries sister

I wrote an article about kosher broccoli a couple of months ago.  Not really kosher broccoli:  where the kosher broccoli went, because you can’t order it in any restaurants here anymore.

This is broccoli as synecdoche:  one object which represents the class of artichokes, raspberries, dill and every other veggie/fruit that is now trayfe here due to the difficulty and infeasibility of checking carefully enough.

Except, of course, that I really like broccoli itself, not just as a symbol.  Nothing is quite like broccoli in a stir-fry.  I eat it now perhaps because it represents an entire underdog underclass. 

For a while after my father died of cancer of the gastroesophageal junction, broccoli became important to me, subconsciously, as a super-anti-cancer vegetable.  But now, it’s more for the fact that I believe we can, and therefore, that we should.  Nobody should grow up believing broccoli means bland, greenish stems alone.

We wash it well, we rinse it well, we check every single piece.  Truthfully, I rarely spot anything living (except the organic one we bought once by accident!).  If we do, we get rid of it.  I cut off lots of spots that are probably not alive, just in case.  We eat it steamed, in salads, in soups.

So the article.  It’s good, we all agree, but my editor wanted a “strong opposing viewpoint” (which is just plain good journalism).

And there just aren’t any.  Because this is a one-hechsher town, and nobody wants to get on their bad side.   The party line is, “don’t eat bugs,” check carefully, wash well, can’t have them in restaurants.

What rabbi wants to be seen as saying, “eat bugs???”  You’re just NOT going to get a bloodbath over this issue, even though many people (including me) feel strongly about it.

But I did get one rabbi to speak to me intelligently on the issue and say he welcomes debate; he can see how people might disagree with the town’s one hechsher. 

But that’s not important, because what he also said was that I could probably eat raspberries from my garden, which often have bugs, as long as I check them reasonably well.  (I open them up in bright sunlight; if I see bugs, I toss ‘em.)

He mentioned – I like this – that the fact that I grew them myself has halachic significance. 

A farmer (even a dumb clueless urban farmer) is invested; she has more to lose than just the (low) value of a single raspberry.  You love your raspberries because you grew them yourself … I like hearing that this has halachic validity. 

This makes me feel happy about Judaism in a way I haven’t in a while.

He mentioned, for example, that a vegetarian, or a person who cares very deeply about organic or healthy foods, might perhaps find a leniency in buying certain health-food store products, even though they don’t have a “real” hechsher.  Because they’re invested, the same way I am in my raspberries. 

A real rav understands how you feel about your raspberries.

One year, my ex-husband approached a very (some might say very very VERY) chashuva (important) rabbi here in town, just before Pesach, and told him my sister was a vegetarian.  She was not at ALL observant, she was probably 16 years old, in the middle of running away from home, from life, from our family, to goodness knows what.

That rav didn’t know her, but could maybe guess that my sister had piercings and strange hair and strange friends and that still, we loved her, like my buggy backyard raspberries.  We’d grown her, we loved her… we knew she’d turn out delicious.

He said she could eat kitniyos – soy and beans and rice and corn and whatever it took to get her through Pesach.

He took the question seriously, knowing perhaps that even she wasn’t taking her Judaism very seriously, because she was precious to us, and in that moment, her soul was precious to him as well. 

For a rav of this importance to issue a heter is not a small thing; he is taking responsibility for her spiritual well-being onto his own shoulders.  He was taking her seriously at a time when maybe she was not.

She was our raspberries.

I love being reminded of why I love this religion.  Of why I love halacha.  Of how it takes my breath away sometimes, how simple and beautiful the whole thing really can be.

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