Sweet as (Billy Bee) Honey
A fellow who used to come to Aish back in the day once posted one of those silly food pics of his lunch on Facebook. I am proud to say that I have never posted any of my meals on Facebook. Do you really care what I had for dinner last night? At any rate, this FB picture was disappointing to me personally since it was of a pile of oysters from his favourite oyster bar in Orlando. Ungh. I guess I missed the mark on teaching him about the importance of Kashrut.
I bring this up because in this week’s Torah portion, Shemini we are introduced to the laws of keeping kosher and which animals and foods are permitted and which are forbidden to eat. The reasoning behind keeping kosher is difficult to grasp since these mitzvot are categorized as chukim – laws beyond our intellectual understanding. Some have the misconception that keeping kosher has to do with health but Jewish tradition clearly indicates this is not the case. And then you have those folks who feel that some non-kosher food is gross and I must admit, apart from their treif status, those oysters were not the most appetizing looking food.
However when it comes to non-kosher food, in truth we are really not supposed to look upon it as disgusting or gross. Rashi points this out later on in the Torah in the context of being a holy people. He quotes the Talmud where it says, “From where is it known that a person should not say, ‘I am disgusted by pork’ but rather, ‘I wish I could (eat pork), but what can I do… My Father in Heaven has decreed on me that I cannot? The source for this notion is from Leviticus 20:26 where it says, ‘And I have separated you from among the other nations to be Mine.’”
So our attitude should be that those pork ribs look amazing, the lobster looks tantalizing, the smell from the garlic bread wafting in from Di Salvos Pizza opposite Aish is divine – but hey, what can I do, it is off limits.
Nevertheless, there still is the gross factor when it comes to some non-kosher dishes and indeed those oysters looked nasty. But I would suggest that this has more to do with the power of association and culture than anything else. And that’s ok because this is a crucial factor that affects our view on things, especially those things we were raised with as children.
We just completed Pesach which is a holiday that is not only filled with symbolic mitzvah foods – Matzah, Four Cups of Wine and Maror – but with cultural ones as well. They all define the holiday and our connection to it though our minds, and more importantly, through our stomachs.
Obviously different foods from various cultures influence and impact us differently. The gefilte fish is a case in point. By and large, Sephardic Jews think there is something wrong with Ashkenazi Jews for eating such a thing. And that is understandable because they never had the “Bubby-connection” to gefilte fish. Yeah it might be nasty but it’s not about the taste or quality of the gefilte that makes us feel good, but moreso the childhood memories it raises and brings back.
At the other end of the spectrum we once had a guest who wouldn’t go near Karen’s ghormeh sabzi. He wouldn’t even try a tiny taste. He had no prior experience of this Persian dish and simply referred to it as “that green stuff”. Ashkenazi Wimp!
This is why it is imperative to give the necessary Jewish culinary experiences to kids when they are very young so they can have their positive Jewish connections to them that will last a lifetime. An example of how a wonderful food experience can forever influence a connection to it happened to me when I was a little boy. As it was, it had nothing to do with a mitzvah per se.
When I was in 1st or 2nd grade we were taken on a class trip to the Billy Bee honey factory in Toronto. They gave us a tour of the place, showed us how they made the honey and, before we left, gave us each a personal mini cup of honey to take home. To this day I still have wonderful associations with that particular brand more than almost anything else I find in a supermarket. The Billy Bee logo jumps out at me whenever I see it.
Billy Bee was founded in 1958 by a Jewish fellow, Jack Grossman. He built the business up until it was sold in 2008 to McCormick and Company for $75 million. Jack Grossman was a brilliant businessman and he knew exactly what he was doing. He reached out to the schools knowing that if he could have the kids come to his factory and experience first-hand what his honey was all about and then leave them with a token memorable gift of that experience, he would have them sold on his product forever.
The schools loved the idea because it was educational and Jack loved it because it helped his bottom line. Hey, it certainly worked with me and in fact, a number of years back I saw a guy in shul with a polo shirt with the Billy Bee logo on it and asked him where I could get one. It turned out to be Jack Grossman’s son. When I told him of our class trip and how I remember it to this day he told me that countless people have approached him to tell him the same thing.
And this is what it’s all about. Creating warm and fuzzy memorable experiences of Judaism with our family and friends so they will wish to connect and make Judaism a part of their lives. You don’t have to be a business genius, a rabbi or outreach professional to accomplish this. It is not intellectual at all but wholly emotional and gastro, and anyone can do it.
So go out and make some wonderful Jewish memories with some good food and drink. In fact you can start the whole thing right at your own Shabbat table this week.
You can’t stop us on the road to freedom
You can’t stop us ’cause our eyes can see…
She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
She’s an angel of the first degree
She’s as sweet as tupelo honey
Just like honey from the bee