Keeping kosher in Tulsa

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In case you missed it, Joseph Hamilton, restaurant reviewer for Urban Tulsa Weekly had a cover story last week that at least partly answered a question I've long pondered: how would one go about keeping kosher in Tulsa?

I'm a brother of Zeta Beta Tau, which was founded as a Jewish fraternity in 1898, but became non-sectarian in 1954. During my years at MIT, about a third of our chapter's brothers were Jewish. It was interesting to notice the various levels of observance, particularly regarding dietary laws. Several brothers had a kosher kitchen set up in the basement, and they took turns cooking for each other. Just a few blocks from our house, on Harvard Street in Brookline, you could find a variety of shops offering kosher food. A number of brothers who came from less observant homes started to keep kosher and to adopt a more observant way of life while in college. But many of the Jewish brothers ate the same food as the rest of us; alternative entrees were available when pork was the main dish.

Hamilton's story does a good job of explaining that keeping kosher goes beyond avoiding pork and shellfish. It affects the appliances and utensils you use in cooking, your dishes, and the way in which meat is prepared. It is a challenging and complex way of life and requires careful thought and planning.

It also requires nearby merchants who can provide kosher ingredients. So are there kosher butchers and kosher delis in Tulsa? Is it practical to keep kosher in Tulsa?

But Rabbi [Marc] Fitzerman of B'nai Emunah said no one should have trouble finding kosher foods.

"Kosher-supervised goods are widely available in every part of the country," he said. "This is a fast-growing part of the economy; with many people who are not Jewish themselves seeking out kosher goods on the assumption that supervision insures greater quality. The challenge is almost always kosher meat.

"Many markets in Tulsa carry it, and the Synagogue always stocks products for the sake of convenience. But like many smaller communities, we don't have a local kosher butcher who can supply fresh goods. I hope that the Synagogue will eventually be able to remedy that problem, but it's a work in progress."

Rabbi Charles Sherman of Temple Israel said that because of the almost total lack of kosher restaurants and a decided lack of a Jewish neighborhood and temples within walking distance, Orthodox Jews simply don't move to Tulsa. Keeping an Orthodox and kosher lifestyle is an almost unachievable goal in anything other than the most austere of circumstances.

Others in the Jewish community echo his sentiments by saying without hesitation that there are no places in Tulsa that accommodate the kosher community well and no kosher-only meat markets at all. Even travelers passing through Tulsa planning to stick with a kosher diet have to pack their bags with a few of their own foods. The Tulsa International Airport only offers retail packaged items that are certified kosher.

I was pleased to see that Hamilton spoke to Rabbi Yehuda Weg of the Chabad House, home to Tulsa's often-overlooked third synagogue, Beth Torah. Temple Israel, a Reform congregation, and B'nai Emunah of the Conservative denomination have been around for 96 and 94 years respectively. Chabad, a branch of Hasidic Judaism, has only been in Tulsa since 1988, the first Orthodox presence in the city since B'nai Emunah moved into the Conservative fold some decades ago. Unlike the two older congregations, Beth Torah doesn't have a large and elaborate physical plant; they are based in a 1940s farmhouse on a couple of acres, tucked back in a neighborhood. It would have been interesting to read Rabbi Weg's advice to those seeking to keep kosher in Tulsa.

MORE about Jewish history in Tulsa and Oklahoma:

Wikipedia's list of synagogues in Oklahoma, including inactive synagogues in Ardmore, Enid, Chickasha, and Hartshorne.

"Jews" article in Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture: The Jewish population in Oklahoma peaked at 7,500 in the 1920s, was about 5,000 at the 2000 census.

Part 1 of Tulsa's Jewish Pioneers, which notes that in the 1910s, there were two kosher butchers -- one at Main, Boulder, and Haskell, and one on 9th between Cincinnati and Detroit.

Meats 2 U: A shop at B'nai Emunah offering kosher meat.

Wikipedia article on Jewish religious movements, explaining the differences between Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and other movements

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 14, 2010 11:41 PM.

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