Sara’s Story: Chapter 14| June 21, 2022
“I… I love your cooking, Maman, but I can’t eat it anymore”
zniyus. Shabbos. Kashrus.
My life chugged along. As I devoured one halachah after the next each day after school, and during recess time with my mentor, Mishi, I began to make some significant changes.
“I can’t eat any of the food here anymore,” I told Maman one chilly winter afternoon, waving a brand-new frying pan around in the air. “So I bought some of my own pots and pans to cook in.”
“What do you mean you can’t eat my food?” Maman asked. “It’s not clean enough? You know perfectly well that I never use nonkosher meat!”
“I know, Maman,” I said, aiming for a neutral tone. “But…” My voice drifted. How to explain to my mother that it wasn’t enough to merely stay away from nonkosher meat? That cooking meat and milk in the same pots was simply not allowed. “I… I love your cooking, Maman, but I can’t eat it anymore.”
“I don’t see why not.” Maman planted her hands on her hips. “Sara, you know that I’m a good cook. What will you do without my food?”
Maman was right. I adored her cooking, and the notion of not being able to eat her famous Persian rice anymore wasn’t easy. Rice, after all, is kosher.
But Maman’s pots were not. And even her stovetop was problematic. Rabbi Freilich had told me that I needed to cover the stove with aluminum foil before I could cook over the fire at home.
I set about covering the front burner with a piece of silver foil now, and then put my new frying pan down. Maman’s eyes continued to blaze. “I’m not going to stop you, Sara,” she said, “But I’m really not happy about this.”
My fried egg didn’t taste very good that day. I still missed Maman’s cooking.
Thankfully, kashrus was the only area in my life that was truly difficult for Maman to accept.
She poured all her love into her food and now it looked like I was pushing her love away.
I had an easier time with tzniyus as my mother didn’t seem to mind what I wore. As for Shabbos, I ate the seudah alone and would then stare at the open television screen, whiling the hours away. It was hardly the best way to spend the holy day, and several weeks later, when Rabbi Freilich suggested that I spend Shabbos at Mishi’s house, I was thrilled.
“That way you can be in a religious environment all day and you won’t be tempted by any distractions,” he said.
Mishi and her parents welcomed me wholeheartedly. After the Friday night seudah, Mishi introduced me to her sister, Sylvia, who lived with her husband several doors down. “It’s so nice to meet you,” Sylvia told me. “Maybe you’d like to come here for Shabbos, too, in the future.”
Mishi’s home, Sylvia’s, and eventually another family named Ordman, all became part of the roster of families whose homes I frequented every week. Shabbos, thanks to my experiences in those homes, very quickly became my favorite day of the week.
The seasons shifted. The many hours that I spent in Mishi’s presence quickly cemented our relationship and despite the four-year age difference between us, I began to think of her as a friend.
I remember one occasion spent in the kosher ice cream parlor together. “How does the ice cream here compare with the ice cream in Iran?” Mishi asked, licking her vanilla cone.
Mishi’s question instantly took me back to Tehran and the ice cream parlor there. I had probably been there only once, together with my favorite cousin, Miriam. I couldn’t remember what that ice cream had tasted like, but the fried egg and yogurt that I’d eaten on Miriam’s rooftop on long summer nights had tasted just as good as ice cream. Of that I was certain.
Nothing, after all, could have tasted as good as the dreams and jokes that we’d shared over our food on the open rooftop as we laughingly swatted mosquitos away. And the freedom of our cluelessness about the future colored my memories in pink.
“The ice cream is different,” I told Mishi as I licked my cone. “Very different.”
I thought of the past once more, and then I thought about the future. The school year was about to end. Would I be able to leave my nonreligious school behind for a frum environment?
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 916)
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