By J. Kott-Wolle
Oil on Canvas, 20x20, painted 2019
Original photograph taken - 1960
I’ll never forget the first time I tried ‘treyf’ (Yiddish for unkosher food). I was in high school and my best friend decided that for my 17th birthday it was ‘enough of that kosher nonsense’ and time to try Chinese food. So off we went to Champion House Szechuan Restaurant. I devoured it. I had no idea food could taste so good. That was the day I was done with kashrut (keeping the Jewish dietary laws). Frankly, I completely understand why so many Jews abandoned it – the laws are stringent and strange, the food is expensive and fine dining options barely exist in most communities in North America. When I first started painting this lady (a friend’s cousin circa 1960) I thought it was hilarious but as
I ‘spent time with her’ I started to feel upset. I reminded myself that in my early 40s I felt inklings of regret about my teenaged decision. I was raising children of my own, trying to instill Jewish values in them. I missed the opportunity to show them how to observe kashrut in a meaningful way (beyond the idiosyncratic kosher ‘style’ that we currently keep with milk, meat and treyf dishes). My kids were too old to buy in and I still really like Chinese food. For centuries Jews were defined (and held together as a community) by the observance of the Sabbath and keeping the dietary laws. I really respect my mom for the hard work and discipline it required to make sure that we were conscious of our Judaism and Jewish identity literally every time we took a bite of food. I never understood the full impact of undoing all her efforts until now.