This is my first one-off newsletter. From time-to-time, I will release a one-off thought-piece about something specific related to community and connection. These will supplement my bi-weekly letters, as well as allow my mind to wander a bit. I hope you love this one about my first week in New York City. Enjoy!
My Kosher Week:
My first week in NYC, I stayed with a friend of mine that I met while living in London last Spring. She graciously invited me into her home while I waited to move to my more permanent Summer housing accommodation. Big hugs and smiles, we feel a deep sense of connection, even though we have only known each other for a few months. She is someone who is deeply saturated in kindness, an affinity for spontaneity, and laughs easily. Kitchen gossip that makes you feel at home: A light squeeze on your arm, slight squeal through giggly teeth.
The organized, color-coded kitchen gives me magazine test kitchen vibes, and the tools and kitchen accessories (food processor, enamel Tupperware, good-quality meat knives) are very adult. Elisheva admits that she loves to cook, unlike one of her roommates, who later that night will burn her frozen chicken nuggets after forgetting them in the oven for too long... Elisheva on the other hand spends all day Friday preparing for Shabbat, broiling well-seasoned vegetables, baking chicken, and creating a beautiful spread of food. She is well accustomed to her rhythm and explains the complex web of Kosher living/eating simply. "Red is meat, blue for dairy, and green is Parve (neutral items such as eggs, vegetables, cooking oil". The rules are straightforward, and it isn't until I accidentally use a turquoise-colored meat dish for my yogurt, that I begin to feel like an outsider. Elisheva is forgiving, explaining that since the yogurt was cold, there is nothing to be worried about, (Kosher status is only transmitted through heat) it can simply be washed and it's as good as new.
Later that first night, she shows me the certification labels on packaged foods and explains how to find Kosher goods in the supermarket. All salmon, eggs, and produce are Kosher, so are Heinz ketchup and Trader Joe's peanut butter cups. It is dairy that is hard to come by, so I go without cheese that week. Becca, Elisheva's roommate explains to me why you will never find a dollar slice of Kosher pizza in NYC. Kosher certification requires paying for extra staffing, hence the added cost for the consumer.
Thursday night passes by and quickly becomes Friday morning. Shoshanna, (Elisheva's 2nd roommate) makes coffee for me, and we sit at the kitchen table, talking about art and the world. Though she is only 23, she seems to have lived at least 3 lives. She is never without a wild story: The time she was in a Budweiser commercial, The time she was babysitting in Bermuda, or working on a berry farm in rural Massachusetts; She's got spunk!
By noon, Elisheva has already begun preparing for the night and day ahead. On Shabbat, no work, use of electronics, fire, or technology is permitted. This means all cooking must be done ahead of time. Even boiling water on the stove for tea would be against Shabbat Law, so in preparation, a hot water heater is plugged in and filled with water. A hot plate replaces the toaster oven, and the microwave and electric kettle are put away on the top shelf. As the night approaches, lights are switched on, and candles are lit; Electricity can be used if it is prepared prior to Sabbath, so light bulbs are fine, but during Sabbath, you cannot touch the light switch.
Becca invites me to Shul and we walk through sticky summer heat to the Synagogue down the block. We are greeted many times with a "good shabbos". Sabbath is both quiet and exhilarating. That night, friends flood in, bringing food, wine, and stories of the day, silent prayers over hand washing, and candle-lit songs.
I feel welcomed not only into New York but into a neighborhood of friends. Friends, who are so unlike me in many ways, rooted in beliefs, I will never fully grasp, sunsoaked in loyalty to a god I do not know, and yet... their love is grand. On Saturday, (my third day in NYC), when walking in the neighborhood, one of the guys I met the night before, recognizes me and calls out my name to say hello, to invite me to lunch, and to ask me how I am. I feel so joyful.
Saturday is full of reading books, playing games, and walks in the park. Friends linked by something larger. One of the guys invites me to play Rummicube, and after I come very close to winning, he asks me "So what do you think of Shabbos?" Caught off guard, but truthfully I answer. "I love it. I love how connected everyone feels". He laughs and surprises me with his honesty, "I can't stand it" he says. "I can't stand being away from my phone. I'm always worried someone will be trying to reach me, and I'll miss it". I don't understand right away, as it seems like the people he loves are right there in this room, but later, the shaky feeling of the phone in my bag turned off will become too much, and I will step out of the apartment to sit out on a stoop and call my loved ones.
Thinking back now, over a month later, I think what I had meant to say when asked that weekend, "What do I think about Shabbos?" is I love the slowness, the patience, and ritual. I love the knowingness of the quirks, and the way Shabbos forces real human connection on us. I love the humble feeling it brings.
I'll be back next Sunday with more news but until then...
(Your Nosy Neighbor) Nat