Right now, in honor of Tu B'Shvat, there are many delicious
dried fruits available in our stores. Among them are
It is a long time since the fresh apricot season ended. Our
boys have long since put away their collections of apricot
pits. It isn't the apricots themselves, nor the pits that I
think of when I see the bags of dried apricots piled up in my
I think back to an incident that happened almost three
decades ago, on the other side of the globe.
One of my oldest sons had a classmate who came from a family
that was "traditional" but not fully mitzvah
observant. This boy's family were lovely people. The parents
were European born but grew up in South America, where their
families had taken refuge during the Holocaust, married there
and then came to the States.
Neither parent had been privileged to have a Jewish education
but, as most Jewish parents, they wanted their children to
have better lives than theirs. Therefore, they had enrolled
their children in our Jewish Day School.
These parents had married late and were a little older than
other school parents. It was hard for them to integrate what
the children were learning each day into the family lifestyle
and they were a little resentful of anyone's efforts to
change their ways.
My son's classmate was celebrating his birthday and for the
first time he invited some of the boys in his class to his
home for a party. The boys must have been in 5th or 6th grade
at the time.
Those of us in the local frum community did most of
our food shopping in the area of Los Angeles that had a
Shomer Shabbos bakery, kosher food stores and butcher shops.
I knew that this family did not shop there and that although
they felt they kept kosher, they did not have a kosher home
by our definition.
I told my son he could go to the party but most likely would
not be able to eat anything. "Maybe they will serve fruit," I
said encouragingly. "As far as everything else is concerned,
check the hechsher."
The boys sat down around the table and the host showed off
the beautiful centerpiece his mother and older sister had
lovingly created for the party. It consisted of a styrofoam
base with many skewers sticking up from it in several
directions. Atop each skewer was a pretty orange and white
With pride, the birthday boy invited each of the guests to
help himself to one of the "balls." My son had a dilemma.
This is how each of the decorative balls was made: A dried
apricot had been pulled apart very carefully lengthwise. This
revealed two circles of apricot, each with a sticky side. The
apricot circles had been pressed against the sides of a large
marshmallow. The sticky part of the apricot had glued itself
to the marshmallow, creating an attractive orange and white
Remember, this was almost thirty years ago. Food technology
was not what it is now. Today, we can buy kosher marshmallows
in various sizes and colors. Back then, there was no fish
based gelatin and therefore there were no kosher
My son's problem was just as sticky as the dried apricots. If
he declined, the birthday boy, his mother and his sister
would all be insulted. But my son knew that we did not eat
Some of the other guests were boys from the neighborhood
where the party took place. Their level of kashrus or lack
thereof matched that of the host and they happily reached for
the marshmallow/apricot balls. My son was one of the leaders
of his class and the other boys from the Day School were
looking to see what he would do.
My son smiled warmly at the birthday boy and told him, "You
are my friend. I really like you and that is why I came to
your party. But I can't eat marshmallows because they don't
have the kind of supervision we use."
My son's explanation was accepted and the party went on. The
boys from my son's class drank soda from the paper party
cups, played party games, wished the birthday boy and his
family all of the best and went home.
I knew the family was hurt and insulted. Their social circle
did not consider that things like marshmallows needed to be
checked for kashrus. They had asked one of the teachers at
our school what they could serve that would be acceptable to
the religious boys and were advised that fruit was always a
There was a communication gap. The teacher said "fruit"
because he was thinking of fresh whole fruits placed in a
fruit bowl. The family responded with their own favorite
party fruit dish, dried apricots with marshmallows.
For a couple of years, I would see this boy's mother at
Parent Teacher night and our school's fundraising dinner and
we would chat amiably, but I could tell that she was still
hurt by the events of the birthday party.
Many years passed. My son graduated from Day School, left for
yeshiva high school and later beis medrash, all on the
East Coast, and we lost contact with his former classmates
and their families.
I was attending the fundraising dinner for a kollel in the
city. A young woman, nicely dressed and wearing an attractive
sheitel, came to my table, sat down next to me, smiled
and said, "Good evening. Don't you remember me?" I have to
say that fancy sheitelach have always thrown me. I
might not be able to recognize my own best friend wearing an
elaborate new wig.
The young woman smiled again and said, "I am...." and gave
her name. It was the older sister of the birthday boy! We
spoke at length and I was delighted to hear that she and her
brother were both fully observant and that in their later
years her parents had come closer to their heritage as
Looking back, I think that birthday party was even more of a
test for the host family than it was for my son. Yes, the
hosts were insulted. They had worked hard to make the party
special and they did not understand why their efforts were
However, as the years passed, their awareness of kashrus had
grown. And they had grown as well. Had the frum boys
at the birthday party "gone along to get along" and eaten the
apricots and marshmallows, this family would later have seen
this in a poor light.
In the long run, it would have thwarted all of the
kiruv efforts that were expended on the family. It
would have seemed that chas v'shalom the teachings the
boy and his family were being given at the school were not
important enough to stand by in sticky situations—-such
as the one I am reminded of whenever I see dried apricots.