I was raised in East Tennessee and didn’t meet my first Jew until after college. Two years after that, I was Jewish myself, married to a Yankee Jew and running a kosher home in Nashville. I am a veritable Bible Belt balabusta by now, but back when I started keeping kosher, I started from zero—no, from less than zero: from negative integers.
Once, in Jew class (my synagogue’s Intro to Judaism), I actually raised my hand to ask a question about the Trayfe Pantry. (Trayfe means unfit, non-kosher, and literally torn: as in torn from an animal instead of properly detached by kosher butchery.) I hardly ever raised my hand in that class, or indeed in any class, preferring to remain invisible and to keep my ignorance to myself. But I raised my hand that night. The Trayfe Pantry, as previously described to me by my trusted fiancé, was a delightful prospect to a newbie kosher girl. Imagine: an approved, contained area in the home—perhaps in the garage—where might be stashed, say, a box of Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts (with nonkosher gelatin) or Oreos (which, at that time, had no hecksher). A Trayfe Pantry sounded like a logical loophole. It was, after all, kept entirely separate, and the contents need never touch the dishes, appliances, sink, countertops, or cutlery. But I wanted details. I am detail-oriented, and I was especially determined to follow all these new, intricate rules to the last kosher letter. So, I raised my hand. “What about the Trayfe Pantry?”
After a calculating stare from the Rabbi, who knew me well enough to realize my question was in earnest, I was gently told there was no such thing as a Trayfe Pantry. A Trayfe Pantry in a kosher home was, apparently, an oxymoron. A Trayfe Pantry equals a Trayfe Home, period. People who keep kosher must manage to live without strawberry Pop-Tarts, even the unfrosted kind. Somehow.
Meanwhile, my detail-oriented self failed to notice that my fiancé, who was sitting next to me, had put his head down on the table. This is why I never ask or answer questions in classes or meetings: all my senses tend to shut down with the sudden stimuli of interaction. I was blind and deaf with embarrassment and confusion. Had I retained a glimmer of awareness at that moment, I would have noted that my future husband was laughing into his hands, that he had tricked me, that he had played upon my complete credulity, my besotted WASPy wonder at the endless snarl of Jewish law and custom. But I didn’t. I was fool enough to sit stunned until the end of class, feeling guilty and stupid and oh, so goyishe. He apologized, my fiancé, and I believed him that he never imagined I would speak up in public and embarrass myself due to his little joke. He knew perfectly well how out of character it would have been for me to raise my hand and instigate any topic for discussion.
I forgave him, eventually. But even now, eighteen years later, when he has an urgent craving for brown sugar-cinnamon Pop-Tarts, I, the keeper of the kosher kitchen, enjoy the payback. I mock, I gloat: we don’t have a Trayfe Pantry, honey, so sorry. And back in 1998, when Oreos got the official O-U hecksher, I was probably the only Jew in America that was actually disappointed. With the ultimate forbidden fruit of the Trayfe Pantry gone legit, I am left with just the one weapon in my payback arsenal. So if, by any chance, Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts go kosher as well, I would prefer not to know about it.