Family & Education

Welcome to my treif-eating tank

Zelda Leon's house is kosher. But what about the car?


Long before The Husband became The Husband and was merely The Boyfriend, I had to undergo the nerve-wracking trial of meeting his father for the first time. Ben decided we should drive out to a country pub for Sunday lunch as it was a hot summer’s day.

On the way to collect him, I asked Ben if his dad knew that I was only half-Jewish (this was before I had my certificate affirming my Jewish status, otherwise of course I could simply have whipped it out and said “Da-dah! See, I’m totes kosher, not a shiksa at all!”

“Yes, and he’s completely fine with it,” he said, “but maybe don’t order anything treif at lunch. First impressions and all that…”

Anyway, we pick up Prospective Pa-in-Law and drive to the pub. The menus come. I order the chicken. Ben orders the chicken.

“And I’ll have the ham salad please,’ says P.P.-i.-L.

The Husband and I have a long-standing disagreement about kashrut. While he doesn’t care about mixing milk and meat (he grates so much parmesan into his chicken soup that the soup is merely a jus garnish around the mountain of cheese), he takes his shunning of all things treif extremely seriously. Once in Spain, at the bottom of his bowl of gazpacho, he suddenly discovered tiny cubes of bacon and was as horrified as if they’d been mouse droppings. We agreed that he couldn’t have known they’d be there — who puts bacon in gazpacho?— and that God would be therefore prepared to overlook it.

His commitment in this area is interesting as it’s a departure from the way he was brought up. At home, Ben’s family kept strictly kosher, but rules were relaxed considerably while they were away, relaxed to the point of being thrown out of the window for the duration. On holiday, staying at an old-fashioned boarding-house, the entire family refused the roast pork on offer at dinner on the first night then at breakfast the next morning all ordered bacon and eggs (except for Ben, then aged nine).

This two-pronged system of kashrut seems to feature in many families we know, people who have to “keep the house kosher in case our more frum relatives come to visit”. The second they’re out the door, they’re hoovering up pig products and molluscs as if fearing they’re about to be rationed. Not in the house, of course — because the house is kosher. If you brought a pork pie into the house, the walls would shudder and the cement sigh: “Oy-oy-oyyy – vot vood our rabbi say?”

Driving back from a work meeting, I pull over at a nice patisserie I know. I’m planning to get some mini-macarons as a treat for the Husband and the Boy, then I spot that they also have individual quiches Lorraines. Ben doesn’t expect me to be kosher, but we did agree that the house would be. I’m so starving after my meeting that I start eating the quiche in the car, then realise I ought to hurry home as the plumber is coming to mend the leaky tap.

So I rush home, leave the quiche in the car (obviously, it mustn’t cross the threshold — this is the kind of thing I don’t tell my non-Jewish friends because I can see it sounds mad), let the plumber in, get stuck on the receiving end of a lengthy diatribe about why the new ceramic washers are so much less good than the old rubber kind, while being distracted by the thought that my lovely warm quiche is getting cold in the car. Eventually, I extract myself and dash outside again.

I leap into the car like a bank-robber about to make a getaway and sink my fangs into the quiche. As we don’t have a drive, I’m actually sitting in my car on the road. I’m eating it slowly (trying to spin it out as who knows when my next bacon opportunity will be?), when two neighbours walk past, peering in quizzically. I mime looking for something in the glove compartment as, really, what kind of person gets into their car just to eat something? Then a friend who lives a few streets away walks past and spots me. Luckily, she is Jewish so is completely unfazed by the sight of me eating treif in my car as, clearly, this is a completely logical thing to do.

‘Thank God’, she says, “I was just about to have my sausage roll on a park bench because I can’t take it home but it’s freezing out here.” I open the door to let her in.

I’m thinking maybe I should get the windows heavily tinted and rent out the space on a regular basis? In the frum area not far from us, I sometimes spot the Mitzvah Tank— the van that hares round so frummers can get out and zealously urge any passing Jewish men (not the women obviously because God doesn’t have so much time on His hands that He can waste it listening to women praying) to enter the van and lay tefillin.

Here, take a seat in my Treif Tank. Make yourself comfortable. Bring your own sausage roll.


Zelda Leon is half-Jewish by birth then did half a conversion course as an adult (half-measures in all things….) to affirm her Jewish status before a Rabbinical Board. She is a member of a Reform synagogue.

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