Traveling Kosher Style
Observing the laws of Kashrut has been a very gratifying experience. It has not always proven easy, given that I began doing so later in my life. Keeping kosher while travelling poses its own challenges. Yet it may also lead one to beautiful and unexpected experiences.
Of the many countries my husband and I love travelling to, we share a particular fondness for Italy. My husband studied at the university in Bari and later lived and worked in Rome. I fell in love with Italy upon my first visit there as a young girl. With its blue sky, beautiful beaches and lively, dark-haired, Mediterranean people, Italy reminded me of Israel. Although I never studied Italian formally, I learned enough to communicate.
On our most recent trip, we first spent several days in Rome. The Eternal City reminds me of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; one can visit there many times over and never tire of it, and always discover something new. After several days in Rome, we decided to travel to Venice by train.
We departed from Rome in the morning, and at midday, the time when the Italians take their main meal, we ventured into the dining car. The headwaiter asked us whether we had made a reservation. We had not, but my husband discreetly "pre-tipped" him, and the enterprising waiter directed us to a table occupied by a distinguished-looking couple who appeared to be in their eighties.
The man and woman were very elegant in both their dress and manners. The headwaiter asked their permission for us to join them at their table and they nodded their approval. We exchanged polite greetings.
A few minutes later the waiter returned and cheerfully served us pasta. When he attempted to cover the pasta with meat sauce and cheese, I objected. The Italian woman smiled and offered a sincere recommendation. "Eat-it's very good."
I replied in my limited Italian, "I do not eat meat with cheese."
"Why?" asked our neighbor.
"Because we are Jewish and keep Kosher."
The woman's face lit up and she nodded, "Me too, I am also Jewish." She and her husband introduced themselves and we began a long conversation.
I did not mind my bare pasta any more. The conversation more than made up for it. We discovered that both of their families had lived in Venice for over ten generations. The man was a retired bank president. They shared the story of their brief imprisonment during World War II. They told us of their two daughters, one of who had married a religiously observant Egyptian Jew, and the other who had married outside the faith. They also described their small Jewish community in Venice, including the communal Seders and celebrations of other holidays.
After our meal they gave us their calling cards and urged us to visit their home in Venice. This invitation was very tempting. Although we were not in the habit of visiting strangers, we did so this time (naturally we called in advance). Everything in this beautiful house, which had been a home to the woman's family for several hundred years, emanated good taste, elegance and tradition.
We were offered a delicious vegetarian meal and were regaled with more stories about Jewish life in Venice, past and present. The lady of the house even took me on a shopping spree, authentic Italian style. Although we had been to Venice many times before, this day was especially memorable.
In the evening, as we returned by a vaporetto back to our hotel, I reflected upon this most unusual day and was reminded once again that observing kashrut had afforded many benefits, in addition to the spiritual.