I love to travel. But I can’t go to all the places that I might love. I have restrictions imposed upon me by the love of my G-d. Hashem. I am frum, and I follow his Torah. I keep His mitzvos. I keep kosher. I send my kids to yeshiva. I dress tznius. I keep Shabbos. I celebrate all the holidays. The small ones and the big ones. The long ones and the short ones. All of them. I am a frum Yid. But I pay a price.
My restricted areas of travel within the United Stated are narrow. There is Hershey Park, with its famous Kosher Mart. There is Los Angeles, with its many kosher restaurants. There is, of course, Miami. But I have been there and done that. And sometimes, I want more. Sometimes, I yearn for freedom. The freedom to choose any state and go—fly, travel, and be able to eat where I want. Somehow, I am not one of those women who can pack up a whole suitcase full of food and bring my own grill. We are a grill-challenged family, and therefore not as savvy when it comes to the bring-your-own-food department. So, we have become beholden to the places where there is at least one kosher restaurant. And a shul for my husband.
On a recent trip to Hershey Park, we stayed in a hotel that offered a non-kosher restaurant on premises. I brought some yogurt for breakfast, but needed hot water for my morning coffee. I was sent to the restaurant to get it. When I walked in, I was engulfed in a world of food. Good food. Pancakes, waffles, and French toast. Eggs, bagels, and fresh coffee. I breathed in the smell, and my taste buds went crazy. I was hungry. Here was food. And I couldn’t eat it, because it was not kosher. Isn’t that some form of torture?! I went to the hot water station and filled my prepared coffee cup, then walked back to my room, sipping it slowly. I was filled with a frustration which is usually caused by hunger. I was so hungry and the Kosher Mart in Hershey Park seemed so far away. To keep the mitzvah, I needed to exercise a very high level of self-control. I sat down with my coffee and my yogurt and thought: Well at least I won’t become fat from all that greasy food!
Well, we finally made our way to the Kosher Mart, and the line…the line was quite long. The food was OK. We sat there, crammed together with our fellow Jews, gulping down the food as if it was our last meal. It was kosher. That’s all that mattered. On my way to the rides, I passed the funnel cake station, and again: the smell was just so good. I approached the station meekly, and quietly asked if it was kosher, just to be met with a confused gaze from the poor college kid. “Umm. I don’t think so, Ma’am,” he said, with a polite, I-don’t-really-care kind of smile.
I dream of going to San Diego, California. That is my favorite place in the United States. Its peace and beauty are so therapeutic and calming for the mind. The blue/green waters and the gulf with its sea lions are just gorgeous. We went there once, a while back, when our children were very young. There were a few kosher options then, but now there are none. It’s so confining to love a place you can’t go. I cherish the memories, but I mourn the fact that until someone brave decides to open a kosher restaurant in that peaceful, not-so-Jewishly-populated place, I will no longer be able to go there.
This is where the Jewish resort programs come into play. They take over a hotel and kasher its kitchen. They make food to accommodate our people, so that one can travel without a worry. But I look at the advertisements in the paper as something so unachievable. $4,000-$10,000 per person? Not in my lifetime—unless I publish the book that is sitting on my computer. And even that is a distant dream, as I have sent out my manuscript to various literary agents and gotten just as many rejection letters, if even that. I always wonder: who goes on these programs? What kind of money must you have to enjoy San Diego? It’s absolutely jaw-dropping. The price of being a frum Jew.
And yet, I chose this life. I remember sitting on my mother’s hunter green velvet couch and eating pretzels for dinner, because her kitchen was not kosher. I remember the taste of cereal in the morning and the hunger I felt all the time. I was not able to eat in my own home, and that was the biggest sacrifice a Jew could give to her G-d. No wonder I was so skinny back then. It was hard, but I was in love, and love was what made it easy.
Aside from when I travel, I live in the Five Towns, and keeping kosher is a cinch. You go out on Central Avenue, and you are filled with the smell of kosher food, beckoning to you at every corner. They have everything you can imagine—including those delicious waffles that I love so much. It’s easy, with several kosher supermarkets in the area, where the biggest question you may have is if the milk is cholov Yisroel or not. I relish the fact that I can go down the block and buy whatever my palette desires. Nowadays, where I live, it is so easy to be frum on a daily basis. But my bills are so much higher because of my religion. We once went to a Walmart in South Carolina and filled our cart to the brim with all the food in the store. It cost us $125. When I fill up my cart in my local kosher supermarket, somehow I come out paying $350…almost triple the price.
Being a frum Jew became a lifestyle for the rich. Putting food aside, there are so many other extra expenses that we are required to spend on. Take school tuition, for example. $13,000 a year for one child? Absurd. And then you feel bad asking for a tuition break—but really, who can afford to actually pay that much? For some, it is almost their entire annual income. And how can you practically live like that?!
Then there are the Shabbosim and the Yamim Tovim. When I look on Instagram, I see plenty of children I know, wearing these expensive, tznius dresses and outfits, smiling into the camera, captioned: awesome dress on this cutie, or adorable matching sisters in their shimmer dresses! Living in town comes with the expectation of buying a few of these dresses for your daughters and a bunch of these outfits for your boys—which adds up, as it is common to have multiple children in frum families. And of course, the heart wants what the eyes see, so I robotically walk into the store and beg for that adorable dress in my daughter’s size.
It is quite amazing how the Jewish people have grown to the point where there are numerous clothing and food companies devoted to tznius dresses and super kosher food. These companies are doing quite well, and when you get your hands on the shmura matzoh that is oh-so-thin and crunchy, you feel like you have won the lottery, no matter that it cost you $50 a pound.
Beauty and style have become a huge part of our religion. From the way our houses are built (kosher kitchen, guest rooms, bedrooms, bedrooms, bedrooms), to where we live: being near a shul is a must! Real estate has become astronomical if you have a shul or two in the neighborhood. Who can afford a million dollars for a piece of land?!
All of you out-of-towners who are reading this, and all of you homeschool moms, and all you people who don’t care about the latest styles and can march yourselves into TjMaxx to buy your Shabbos outfits, I commend you. Living out of town has occurred to me, but then I step foot into my local clothing store and my local grocery store, and the thought just seems impossible.
I once traveled to an out-of-town Jewish community for business. There was one tiny pizza store and a tiny kosher supermarket attached to it. No Jewish clothing stores to speak of…I felt the pinch. I was uncomfortable. Just as uncomfortable and just as hungry as I was in my mother’s unkosher home. The word sacrifice rang in my head. The word love did not. What has happened to me over the years to make me feel that religion should be an easy thing? And where has my love for it gone?
I used to know very holy Jewish people when I was becoming frum. Now, I know and see that these people are not the world. The world is stylish, the world is expensive, the world is materialistic. Unless I take Instagram and Facebook off my phone, I will continue to live in this world. I will continue to want to fit in, from my sheitel to my shoes, and everything in between. But I pray to G-d that maybe someday soon, I will also feel the love. The love that drove me here, the love that was strong enough to overcome so many obstacles in my path. I pray for that love to overshadow the ease of being frum which has fallen into my lap, and served to me on a silver platter. I pray to be able to show Hashem that I love to serve Him, not because the yarmulkes look so cute on my boys’ heads and match so well with their sweaters, but because Shabbos is special, and Yom Tov is a time of joy.
Although it is hard for me to travel and be surrounded by non-kosher food, I want to use that hardship and that sacrifice as a peg in my board, which I will present to Hashem after 120 years. I want to change the word torture to love, and sacrifice to joy. “Ivdu es Hashem b’Simcha (Serve G-d with joy),” blessed the Skverre Rebba, when we went to visit him erev yontiv. May the words of the holy tzaddik penetrate my materialistic and hungry heart, and may his words bring me back to where I started.