Ear­li­er this week, Eytan Bayme wrote about cel­e­brat­ing his third Christ­mas in Europe as an Amer­i­can Jew. Eytan is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

A col­league of my wife’s, a man of Caribbean descent, dri­ves from the North­ern sub­urbs of Lon­don to the East End each Sun­day. He isn’t Jew­ish, yet he sits through forty-five min­utes of zebra cross­ings, mul­ti-lane round­abouts, road diver­sions and nar­row two ways before arriv­ing at Kornbluh’s, a Hasidic fish mon­ger at a busy inter­sec­tion in Stam­ford Hill, about a fif­teen minute walk from where we live. My wife and I found this strange and so we asked him, why trav­el so far for fish that, sure­ly, must be sold clos­er to your home. The man laughed, I’m on a kosher thing right now,” he said, as though it was the lat­est fad diet. It’s a no-brainer.” 

As a for­mer­ly Ortho­dox Jew, I’ve strug­gled with kosher for years. The first time I ate traif (non-kosher) meat was on a casi­no boat off the coast of Eilat; it took six years to do it again. When I got mar­ried, there was no room in our kitchen for two sets of dish­es, nor did we real­ly agree with the idea of kashrut as a means of keep­ing Jews and non-Jews from frat­er­niz­ing at the same din­ing table — which is how it was explained to us. We com­pro­mised and decid­ed to keep a veg­e­tar­i­an kitchen, with one set of dish­es that our fam­i­ly is com­fort­able eat­ing upon. Even now, sev­en­teen years out of yeshi­va day school, I still feel sneaky order­ing roast lamb at the pub on Sun­day. A no-brain­er was vol­un­teer­ing to get bumped off a flight in exchange for an upgrade and a vouch­er; eat­ing kosher was cer­tain­ly not.

A few weeks ago, I walked up to Stam­ford Hill to find out what made Kornbluh’s so spe­cial. Along the High Street, I passed Hasidic chil­dren rac­ing home on scoot­ers to light the fourth night of Chanukah can­dles. Black-hat­ted men streamed out of the Lon­don Lubav­itch HQ, post after­noon prayers. At a Bells’ shtiebel, across the street, prayers were start­ing late. The non­de­script house where the Bet Din met stood a lit­tle omi­nous­ly next door. Kornbluh’s was a bright, glass front­ed shop where men in white coats and cock­ney accents cut and weighed fish, and a Chasid behind a glass win­dow took pay­ment. They sold her­ring in oil, hot smoked salmon fil­lets, mat­jes her­ring and, my favorite, lox tid­bits. I bought a small sec­tion of sushi-grade salmon and a fil­let­ed sea bass. The staff was pleas­ant enough. 

When I got home, I used the knife my wife bought me for Chanukah and sliced us some sashi­mi. It was fresh and fat­ty and great with soy sauce and chill­ies. We made ceviche with what we couldn’t finish.

This is real­ly good,” said my wife.

A no-brain­er,” I told her.

Eytan Bayme is a grad­u­ate of McGill Uni­ver­si­ty and a for­mer stage actor. Orig­i­nal­ly from New York City, he lives with his wife in Lon­don. High Hol­i­day Porn is his first book.

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