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.
- Rae and Noah Bernamoff: Salmon and the Jews
- Jeffrey Yoskowitz: Bringing a Taste of the Old World(s) to Sunny California
- June Hersch: Unraveling the Mystery of Jewish Food