Life is with Other People: Two Vignettes from a Day

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Tuesday, August 4, 2017 / 12 Av 5777

Tonight is our special Friday night Shabbat service for congregants who’ve been part of the Neveh Shalom community for more than 25 years. Regardless of how long you or your family has been connected, I hope you’ll attend. In a few more weeks, you can also expect to see our newest addition, as Cantor Bitton will soon begin work. It’s been a long haul through immigration visas, but he’s almost here!

Summary: Rabbi Kosak reflects on two recent encounters he had, one with a very old congregant, another with a tasty frozen dessert.

Last night, I met one of our oldest congregants. It seemed appropriate since this evening we are celebrating folks who have been part of the Neveh Shalom family for more than twenty five years. And Jack Lakefish won’t be able to attend. So I visited at his home in southeast. Jack is 99. As it turns out, he’ll turn a hundred on Yom Kippur. That’s not as disappointing as it may sound, because at his age and condition, he’s exempt from fasting. If he’s up to it, he’ll even take an aliyah to the Torah to celebrate turning triple digits.

Jack is tired these days, and he moves slowly. His thoughts move like clouds, gathering up and separating from a hundred other stories. Most of his life is behind him, so we looked at old snapshots and his many bowling trophies. He also happily showed off photographs of his great grandchildren. Still, each day is a gift and we might as well find things to look forward to. For Jack, the next big think is this upcoming session of Men’s Camp. Long before he was a man, he enjoyed summers at BB Camp. It’s still a yearly highlight.

Given road traffic these days, I took the opportunity to combine my trip across the bridge with a very different sort of encounter with Luca. Luca is Slovenian and grew up in a country of a hundred Jews. Small but proud was how he described the Jewish community back in the old country. His Hebrew is pretty good also. The purpose of our meeting was for me to conduct a site inspection of the production facilities for his company, Stellar Pops. They make organic, all-natural fruit popsicles in a plant they share with the Portland Juice Company. Their popsicles are primarily sweetened from the fruits themselves or sometimes with honey or rarely xylitol. Most of their sales are local, and in these summer months, you can find their products for sale at the area farmers’ markets.

That’s where our program director, Daniela Meltzer, discovered them. She liked the popsicles and loved the story of this small start-up. Wouldn’t it be great, she thought, if we could serve these at Back To Shul. So there I was, checking to see if these pops were sufficiently kosher for our event. It reminded me of days long gone when I was the kosher supervisor for Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. There’s not a large demand for kosher food outside of camp there, so part of my duties entailed making forays to local ice cream producers and other food vendors so that campers could enjoy a nice cold cone on their occasional day trips. You have no idea what can go into manufactured ice cream!

Here’s the back story. If you are going to make a claim that you serve or sell kosher food to the public, it’s not sufficient to purchase only kosher ingredients. Lots of things can go wrong in production, foods can become cross-contaminated, items can be substituted either by intention or unwittingly. Kashrut is about reputation, trust and verification. In the real world of food service and industrial plants, one’s reputation is certified by impartial kosher inspectors who oversee your operations. Depending on the sort of facility, and the types of foodstuffs produced, occasional supervision may be sufficient or a full-time inspector may be required. Restaurants and food service normally need the latter. Food plants may suffice with the pop-in variety of oversight.

Plenty of unsupervised food in the world may be kosher by happenstance, but without a trained, uninterested party to verify and check up on you and to ensure your reputation, it’s ethically wrong to claim what you make is kosher. Even though many of our Neveh Shalom congregants don’t keep kosher in their own homes, we take pride in maintaining this central Jewish practice in the shared sacred space of our synagogue. It’s our communal standard.

I’ll return for the production run leading up to Back To Shul to make sure nothing has changed. Given that, I’ll be glad that in addition to a hot dog from Allen, our kids (and adults) will be able to enjoy an ice cold organic watermelon or tropical fruit popsicle from Stellar Pops (well, there are other flavors as well, but they all have names like Mars, Comet or Jupiter).

During these dog days of summer, that’s something to look forward to.

Stay cool, hydrated and safe,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. In your dad to day life, what people, companies or institutions do you automatically trust? Which ones do you check up on?
  2. What’s the next big thing in your life that you are looking forward to? Why?
  3. When’s the last time you enjoyed a really great AND healthy dessert?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.