Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hearing Both Sides of a Story

I don't usually post two days in a row, because, frankly, with two kids and a job, that's way too much of a commitment for me. Once a week has been working out well, and I hope that the intervening days don't leave you hanging too much.

No, that's not true. I hope that the intervening days make you very antsy waiting for the next post!

Anyway, something very interesting happened today, and it fits so well into the theme of this blog that I thought an extra post was warranted.

On Sunday, many of the Chabad communities in the Greater San Diego Area participated in a joint "Unity" Lag BaOmer celebration. (I'll probably write more about this next time.) There were bounce houses, arcade games, cotton candy, snow cones, a drum circle, and catered kosher food (burgers, etc.). I think a couple hundred people showed up.

I study on Tuesday mornings with my rebbetzin, along with another woman or two, depending who's available. Today, it was just me and C studying with the rebbetzin. C has several food intolerances and is in the habit of being very careful with what she eats, so that she doesn't spend the whole day throwing up or what-have-you. Which is reasonable. She can't have dairy or soy or gluten, primarily.

The kosher catering at the Lag BaOmer event included grilled corn-on-the-cob. C ordered corn and was asked if she wanted butter. She automatically said no, since when she hears butter, she thinks "dairy", and therefore doesn't want it. When she went to pick up her order, they asked if she wanted margerine. She asked whether it was margerine or butter, since the other guy had said butter, "because I can't have dairy." The woman who was handing her the order got extremely indignant and said something along the lines of "Of course it's margarine! We don't serve dairy with meat! I would never have butter available when I'm serving meat." C felt very bad that she'd made such a silly mistake. She hadn't been thinking, and she's so used to automatically checking exactly what she's eating that she didn't consider that, if this was a kosher meat meal, of course there would be no dairy in sight.

It affected her enough that she told us about it today when we were studying, prefacing the story with, "I made a faux pas." This is where things get interesting. C told it as though she felt very bad for making such a silly mistake and didn't understand why the woman had been so mean about it. The rebbetzin then said that the caterer had come to her and told her that someone had insinuated that her kashrut wasn't good enough, and was very indignant that someone would have the gall to question her on whether she was serving dairy or not! In other words, where C felt silly and a little insulted that the woman got so indignant, that woman though C was accusing her of trying to serve dairy and meat together and took C's innocent question as an insult! It's just coincidence that both women chose to tell the rebbetzin about it, so she could clear it up.

Rarely do we get the chance to understand why someone reacted the way they did in this kind of a disagreement. Rarely do we actually get to truly hear both sides. Both women involved misunderstood what the other wanted to convey, and both came away insulted when neither should have.

I just found this so incredibly fascinating. It reminds us to take a moment to examine our motivations before we jump down someone's throat.

The thing is, if C were religious, she would never have thought to raise the question, because she would have known instinctively that, if a bunch of Chabad rabbis have sanctioned the kashrut of this caterer, they definitely aren't serving any dairy. But because she's so used to having to police what she eats when she goes out, and she was thinking of this as "going out," her first instinct was to be sure. There's nothing wrong with being sure, and her impulsive question is completely understandable, especially since the guy she ordered from DID call it butter.

But on the other side, apparently the caterer was fed up with her kashrut being questioned and took it out on poor C, who really wasn't even thinking about kashrut at all! I think it's sad that Jews would question other Jews' kashrut in a situation like this one, but that's a topic for another post.

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