I have relatives in London and travel there at least once every few years. For the uninitiated, London is in England, or so they tell me. Personally, I have my doubts. I’ve been there a few times and I still haven’t seen any royalty tromp through on horses, lopping peasants heads off. Not even so much as a public hanging. But I digress.
Keeping kosher in England is sort of like keeping kosher in Brooklyn in 1930. Almost everything you buy is from a Jewish owned company (who are usually better known for their standards of kashrus than their standards of taste), very few things in general have hechshers, and most of what you buy is kosher by word of mouth. Is this okay? “Of course! Everyone I know buys it!” But it says “boiled in only the finest pig anuses”. And the company is called “Porkeys McTreif”. “You see that guy? See how long his beard is? Well he buys it! You think someone who looks that chashuv would buy treif? Plus, my friend buys this all the time. Are you calling my friend a bad Jew?”
Luckily for the Kosher Konsumer, the London Beis Din publishes a yearly guide to everything on store shelves thats kosher. It’s quite good, and quite comprehensive. Or it looks that way until you realize the duplicates. For example, you can buy veggie/soy meat products from Tivall, Tesco and Sainsburys. But if you check the packaging, you find out that it’s all the exact same thing, made by Tivall. In general, it’s not bad though, and there’s most of the good stuff. By which I mean, they tell me that Ben & Jerrys and Baskin Robbins are kosher, and that’s really all one needs to survive.
Some stuff is sorely missing though, such as fries not made by Rakusens or yogurts not made by Herzl Dairies. I’m sorry, but I like my YoPlait with the candy in the lid. It’s not bad for you when mixed in strawberry yogurt! But going back to the first point, last time I went shopping there with my cousin, I was surprised to see him grab a bag of McCains fries and toss them into the cart. Even more surprised when he picked up a pack of Kingsmill Pancakes for my aunt. It’s a horrible revelation to find out that your Golders Green living, black hat wearing, very chareidi cousins don’t keep kosher. My head was spinning, wondering what the pork content of the cholent on shabbos must have been. Considering the fact that he was my ride and all my stuff was at his house, I decided to try the teshuvah approach before throwing stones. To be safe though, I still grasped a rock behind my back like it was made of gold.
I took out the book and tried to make him aware of the grave sin he was committing, buying products not sanctioned by the London Beis Din. He smiled the gentle smile of the wise man, or maybe he was just trying to disarm me before I hurled my rock, and flipped the packages around to show me the “SKA” printed on the back of each bag. Now I adore ska as a form of music, but whats it doing on the back of these glatt treif products? Turns out it stands for “Sephardi Kashrus Authority”. But if these things were kosher, why weren’t they in the book? Surely everyone should know that they have more options for their culinary delights, if you consider fries and pancakes to be a culinary delight. For the record, I do. But then I’m the type to consider anything edible if it has enough chocolate or melted cheese over it.
The London Beis Dins book lists everything kosher, whether certified by them or not. Hundreds of products are listed under every type of reputable kashrus possible. But apparently not by Londons own Sephardi kashrus. I don’t know what the politics are, but that’s a shame. Because living in kosher England is like being one of those little chassidic kids you feel sorry for on summer days, when you’re sucking down your Iced Mocha Crapachelli Strawberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream and all they have to eat is a tub of Kleins Kosher ice cream, made in Brooklyn since 1934, and each batch appears to have been made in 1934. Basically, it’s the color and consistency of frozen pus. You know I’m right.