Six kinds of milk. Six different kinds of milk in my refrigerator. 1%, (that’s ours), my sister had whole milk and half-and-half, my sister-in-law (vegan) had soy milk, my cousin (also vegan) had almond milk and almond milk creamer. At the dinner table on Thanksgiving there were 23 people and 4 separate menus: kosher carnivores, vegans, vegetarians, and Chabad-nikim who bring their own food into our house. I think I actually cooked for all of eight people out of the 23. Then, there was Shabbat dinner (veggie lasagna, but the vegans had leftovers, and no Chabad-nikim), Saturday night dinner (veggie pizza, and vegan leftovers), and Sunday morning brunch in honor of my aunt who hit 90 years old – about thirty people, but it was (blessedly) catered for both veggies and vegans. And there were consistently 10 people sleeping here, including us. It was chaos and charming and fun, and all weekend long, I was struck by the six kinds of milk in the fridge.
This week’s parasha Vayeshev begins with Jacob in Canaan,in what will eventually be the Holy Land, until the famine leads to a mass exodus that brings Israelites west to Egypt, which led to the mass Exodus that brought ‘em back again.
Twelve sons. One daughter. Lots and lots of squabbling. Favorite child against all the rest of the kids in the house, “Yet Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph better than his other sons, for he was to him the son of his old age” (Gen 37:1) and the son of his dear wife Rachel. Having a favorite child never works well, as the previous generations showed. The animosity in the house got pretty bad. The 11 other sons threw him in a pit, and then sold him off into slavery in Egypt. It wasn’t until Joseph had his sons, Ephraim and Menashe, that we finally get a story of brothers who don’t want to kill each other. This was a family that could not coexist.
Kitchens seem to prove a testing ground for how well people can coexist. I don’t know how well the 12 sons (or their wives) could have gotten along in one kitchen. But I did reflect on how it worked in my house last week. What did it take? Respect, honesty, tolerance, moderation (none of that “I won’t sit next to what s/he’s eating”) In fact, one vegan simply, quietly left the house for a walk when we carved the turkey. I didn’t even know she’d gone; no announcement, just took a walk. Someone else told me why she wasn’t there, and I quietly blessed her common sense.
The other crucial element was control. I had to accept that, for a few days, I had less control over my kitchen. People knew the layout my kosher kitchen – what drawer to pull from, what pan to use, and if they weren’t sure, they asked. Ultimately, though, I had to cede some control over the space. It wasn’t easy, but I had to let others in, so that I could let the joy in, too. Because in all the chaos last week, it was truly joyous. I used a little of that leftover almond milk in my cereal this morning. Not bad.