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Do I need to prepare kosher food for my visiting friend?

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Dear Bintel,

One of my friends from college is planning to visit me for a few weeks. My husband and I just bought a house and we have lots of space and room compared to the apartment we have in New York City.

I’ve kept in touch with this friend throughout the years and we go to brunch or get coffee at regular intervals. She’s not a best friend in the sense of talking all the time but we are firmly embedded into one another’s lives, if that makes sense.

I’m not Jewish but I have a lot of Jewish friends and a general sense of what they can or cannot do. One of our friends in college didn’t use her phone on Saturdays (so we always had to buzz to tell her to meet us outside) and lots of my friends keep some form of kosher by avoiding bacon or cheeseburgers.

This friend was not religious in college but she became more religious when she married her husband, who was straightarrow Orthodox. It’s sort of a sad story, but they actually just separated, and one of the reasons she is visiting me is because she is getting divorced and I offered for her to come out here and just enjoy the air for a while. I’m confident she’ll be a good houseguest.

But I don’t know what food to prepare — or not. Obviously I know not to serve bacon and cheeseburgers, but we never really spoke about her new religiosity or what she could or could not eat. Now that I’ve thought about it, I realized our brunches turned into coffees right around that time, and I wonder if it’s because she stopped eating in restaurants that weren’t explicitly kosher. This would be a little bit more extreme than any of my friends.

I want to ask her, but she’s always been a little shy or sometimes embarrassed about her new religiosity and never really talked about it. I’m worried that she is so grateful for the chance to get away a little bit that she won’t tell me what she is comfortable eating in the hopes of being a good houseguest. And the truth is that I don’t have the time or knowledge to prepare all-kosher meals. I also don’t want to force her to talk about her husband, who is wrapped up in those decisions.

What do I do? She’s coming in three days and I need to go grocery shopping, but every time I open my text messages to ask,my fingers just hover and I don’t know what to write. How can I be sensitive but also get the information I need?

You are such a good friend! If she hasn’t explicitly raised with you the question of how she will eat for the few weeks she is in your home, then there is a low chance she will need Orthodox-level kosher meals, cooked on kosher pans and eaten with utensils only used for kosher food. I mean, maybe she will show up with her own kitchen worth of cooking supplies, but that seems unlikely.

But she may still need some accomodation. I think you are conflating the sensitivity of her current relationship status with sensitivity in all areas of her life. When a friend is going through a hard time, we often want to make everything easy and seamless for them. Hitting a rough patch that needs answers to navigate feels counter to that plan. So we freeze.

But you can handle this! Text her something like, “Hey Linda! I realize we never talked about food things. What are the kosher things I should keep in mind?”

If that feels too fraught, embed the kosher question in general food questions. Everyone today has some avoidant food inclination, or just foods they prefer, and as a good host it makes sense to ask. Something like: “Hey Linda! Can’t wait to see you!! I’m going grocery shopping for the week. Any food things I should keep in mind? (gluten-free, allergies, kosher stuff?). Tell me all!”

This might be more effusive or exclamation-point laden than your current style, but the goal is to make it clear you want to meet her needs, and that those needs are expected, not an imposition. Just hit send and stop worrying about it!

Why do I offer the second option? From your letter, it sounds like this friend might have an unsure relationship with keeping kosher. Lots of Jews grow up keeping kosher, but have an emotional relationship to the practice that can change with life circumstances.

She’s getting divorced, which is a pretty big life change. Maybe she was keeping kosher, but now isn’t sure what she wants to do. In that situation, it can be hard when friends make assumptions because it gives the person less space to define or change their own practices. You have picked up on this, which is why I imagine you have been hesitant to ask her.

But as a host and friend, all you should do is make it clear that you want to make her comfortable. At minimum, think about having ingredients for vegetarian meals that can be cooked separately from any meat. (Eggs, vegetables, and grains are good staples).

Take your cues from your friend; if she says she can eat anything and doesn’t want to talk about it, then take her at her word and don’t push. If she says vegetarian is fine, then be mindful of chicken stock and not afraid to ask further questions as they come up — and they will, so you want to create an easy relationship about such conversations now.

And if it turns out she’s super kosher? Then ask her about what she would need and consider your own boundaries on time and place. You can be clear with her about what you are able to provide, just as she can be clear with you about what she needs. (This might mean she does bring a kitchen worth of supplies, or orders in take-out every night, which would be fine if that works for you).

The guiding advice here is: Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but be willing to accept her answers at face value.

Shira Telushkin lives in Brooklyn, where she writes on religion, fashion, and culture for a variety of publications. She is currently finishing a book on monastic intrigue in modern America. Got a question? Send it to [email protected].

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