All the people we told about our road trip from Pittsburgh to Florida said we had to stop in Charleston, South Carolina, so we did. What they didn’t tell us was that one of the best things about the city was its restaurants.
I could have figured that out on my own though. Delicious food smells were everywhere. I was surprised by how enticed I was by them; but I was even more delighted by the fact that finally, I wasn’t resentful of the culinary “hardships” of being a kosher traveler.
Once upon a time, what I loved most about traveling was enjoying the local delicacies with abandon. For years after we became observant, traveling involved such huge sacrifices of pleasure and convenience that it almost wasn’t worth the effort. When our kids were young, and traveling required bringing along pots and pans and cartons of food, as well as our rambunctious kids, we stayed home a lot.
But now, as empty nesters, the world feels like my oyster again. (Figuratively, anyway.) Now we enjoy different activities when we travel to places without kosher restaurants. Sometimes we’ll sit on a bench and people watch, no, we’ll Jew watch. During our stay in Charleston, we met an Israeli family and a French Juif selling table cloths at the Historic City Market. (If we actually end up using the tablecloth, it’ll be a bonus.)
And we won’t go hungry. If the lettuce holds up and the dressing doesn’t leak, the most gourmet item will be chicken salad on a bed of mixed greens. Because it’s just the two of us traveling, the food can be simple. (It must be ample though; the kosher traveler should always be prepared to fall off the map for a day or two.) And there’s no lowering the standards just because we’re away from home; our kosher standards include cholov Yisroel, milk produced under Jewish supervision, which means that our dairy items are typically available only in kosher stores. For this trip, cholov Yisroel translated into traveling with a stack of cheese slices (cheese can withstand almost anything) and almond milk, which isn’t even a dairy product, but because it’s available everywhere, we could enjoy basics like cereal and coffee without having to ration the milk. Of course, it’s always good to think of the worst case food scenario, like what to do if the electric cooler that plugs into the lighter malfunctions completely. (We can buy kosher nuts almost anywhere.)
There are some material benefits to traveling in kosher style. Not eating in restaurants saves money and calories. And I don’t miss having to decide which restaurant to go to, and always questioning if the other one would have been better. Eating in our hotel room leaves more time to Jew watch and more money to buy tablecloths.
The spiritual benefits are even greater, although they took longer to accrue. Keeping kosher felt close to martyrdom for me in our early years of observance, and keeping kosher when traveling only rubbed it in. But it was what I had to do for G-d. It would be my mesirus nefesh, my self-sacrifice, for Him.
That may sound pathetic compared to the real sacrifices Jews have made for G-d throughout the millennia, but here’s something to ponder: G-d appreciates that people in our generation, being so far from Torah’s revelation, couldn’t withstand the tests of our spiritually hardier ancestors. Which means that G-d probably expects less of us, and that our small efforts mean more to Him.
Even so, I’m never sure if I’m living up to my spiritual potential. For now, I’m grateful that it’s finally a joy to travel in kosher style, hopeful that it means I’m getting somewhere after all.