25 Oct Won Ton Soup, Egg Rolls, Spare Ribs…..Wait!!!
Sunday night dinner at a Chinese restaurant; spare-ribs, wonton soup, chicken chow mein, fortune cookies, and orange slices. In the 1950s and 60s, it was a hallowed tradition shared among Jewish families across North America. And so, one Sunday evening, my grandparents, three sisters, and me, sitting at the Chinese restaurant in Little Neck New York. This particular Sunday evening, I sat at the Chinese restaurant staring at the slivers of pork swimming in my wonton soup and began to ponder. It just didn’t make sense. How could we be one kind of Jew at one place (we had a kosher home) and a different kind of Jew in another place?
And so, without warning, and certainly without any thought of the long-term consequences, I pushed my chair back, stood up, and yelled at the top of my lungs “You’re all goyim!” Clearly, my grandparents and sisters along with all the other Jewish families eating spare ribs that evening were caught off guard. There were lots of ways this could go – and not many of them were good. I was, essentially, publicly challenging my grandparents’ and my family’s Jewish identity and lifestyle.
But my grandfather, Pop Max, was an extraordinarily gracious and kind man. He stood up, put his arm around my shoulder, dug into his pocket, gave me a $10 bill and said quietly: “There is a kosher deli around the corner, why don’t you get yourself dinner there and we’ll meet afterward.” It was a moment in time 58 years ago, but it is still so clearly etched in my consciousness. Without question, it was a moment that framed a spiritual path forward for me. That evening was the last time I knowingly ate non-kosher food. It was definitional–as was my relationship and my love for my Pop Max who was so instrumental in my life in so many ways.
David Raphael is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Grandparents Network