Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Shevat 5765 - January 19, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Home and Family

A Sticky Situation
By Bayla Gimmel

Right now, in honor of Tu B'Shvat, there are many delicious dried fruits available in our stores. Among them are apricots.

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 grocery store.

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 ball.

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 globe.

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 marshmallows..

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 marshmallows.

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 good choice.

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 well.

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 being rejected.

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.


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