By R. Snyder, Ocean County, CA
As we speed toward the finish line of Tisha B’Av and head toward the Days of Awe, I am compelled to share a great dilemma we oft sweep under the rug – how we feed our bodies and neshama.
One big problem with living in the Diaspora is the despair of the abundance of non-kosher food, and the lack of affordable, available and healthy kosher foods. This is true in Orange County, California, as well as Los Angeles and other communities.
Even with the growing Jewish community in Orange County, there is lack of venues for quality kosher nourishment except cooking yourself. I have found boiled eggs and certain high salt and/or high sugar content readily in convenience stores, not to mention dairy pastries. Grocery stores carry microwave meals that are dairy, but also seem to carry a kashrus that is less than desirable because their certification is not on the top accepted list.
As folks try to open restaurants and food trucks, the fad of the newness is quickly replaced with the demands of the certifying industry that increase not only the cost of the ingredients, but also the time for preparation and final cost. Proprietors and consumers alike find that kosher meats are 4 times the cost of their non-kosher counterparts. The requirement for a certified mashgiach including the override to the company providing the service generally takes the place of 2 or more productive employees. Even then, that mashgiach is usually looked down as a dun sail who constantly wants to hinder production and profits.
During Pesach, prices are once again double that of normal days. Some establishments say it is the cost of totally transforming the kitchen and/or supply. And others say it is the demand because fewer restaurants are open. I drove to Los Angeles this past Pesach only to stand in line in extreme pain for over 30 mins. When it was finally my turn in line, this 20 something female came up and informed me that she was standing there and it was her turn. I looked at the double prices they were charging for Pesach and gave up my place only to drive the hour back home and cook scrambled eggs in my own kitchen. I should have saved myself the 3 hours of commute plus the cost of the fuel by not leaving home and cooking myself in the first place.
I ask why the communities are so non-supportive of new ventures. I also wonder why higher prices are tolerated as well as lack of food quality and service. Is it that certain frum people feel that keeping kosher is not important? Do we somehow feel that eating once in a while in a kosher restaurant is a luxury, or that when we are doing a mitzvah and paying a penance only to be lax in our observance on other times? Why do we allow certain agencies to have a mafia type hold over us, our eating establishments and lives? Are we more willing to delegate the responsibility for our observance to others as we blindly follow those we pay money to, trusting their observance is acceptable by the almighty?
If we as a community and we as a people are going to grow in not only numbers but observance things need to change. First we need to take the responsibility for our own kosher observance. Second we need to demand and support more food industry that is affordable and readily available. Not to mention HEALTHY. Importantly we need to demand, yes DEMAND, from those we trust in the oversight of our eating establishments that they do everything they can to support new and varied establishments and venues. Eating kosher should not be an expensive indulgence. Neither should it be non-healthy. Kosher food should be as available, cost effective and healthy as other ma and pa neighborhood establishments in the non Jewish world.
If we as a community are going to attract and keep our children and those who feel the need to return. We need an about face which says just educating our children is not enough, we need to put our energy into wholesome establishments so that the lure of leaving kosher observance and assimilation into the eating of the goy is not realized by those who are living and working outside the huppah of the community,
I have been told many times that the OC community would never support kosher eating establishments. And that any restaurant or deli needed to be 100% supported by non jews, and not rely on kosher Jews in Orange County. My reply is simple. If we as a community are going to establish viable communities and curb the assimilation, we need to do something now about establishing and promoting more kosher establishments in our neighborhoods.
Yes, it is expensive to be Jewish and observant. But it is ultimately expensive to not be observant and provide for our own, thus allowing assimilation to cost us everything. Including our children and grandchildren.