Yossi’s two young daughters have been trying to teach me some Hebrew. Whenever I come to their house, they hold up different items (fork: maz-leg; knife: suck-een; spoon: ka-peet; lo: no; yes: ken; etc.) and ask what it is in Hebrew. Sometimes I remember, sometimes I don’t. They have also been trying to teach me some things about Jewish lifestyle like which sink is used for meat and which is used for dairy.
If you have ever seen the kitchen of a religious Jew, you know that it is unique: For instance, it has two sinks. Sometimes that means one sink with two sides (like a modern American sink); sometimes it means two sinks in different parts of the countertop, each one complete with its own plumbing.
The stove has four burners: two for cooking meat and two for cooking anything containing dairy products. The refrigerator also has a couple of shelves set aside for dairy (milk, cheese, etc.) and shelves set aside for meat products.
All this has to do with the prohibition in the Law that states, “Do not cook a calf in its mother’s milk.”
So important is it that these two substances never mix, if you put milk on the top shelf of the refrigerator and it spills down upon the Sabbath meal you have cooked and stored on the refrigerator’s lower shelf, you have to throw away the entire Sabbath meal.
If I haven’t bored you up to this point, stick with me because there’s a reason I’m setting up the story I’m about to tell you…
The other evening I decided to wash the dishes after the evening meal. Everything we had eaten was “dairy” (no meat products), so I knew which of the two sinks to use to wash the dishes.
Most Jews do not fill their sink with water and add soap. They use a metallic-coated sponge to wash while the water is running. So, I took the soap from under the sink and added some to the sponge. The soap was a lot like what we use in the States, with a nice, lemon fragrance.
As I was washing the dishes, I noticed that Israeli soap has very low suds. In fact, almost no suds at all. There wasn’t enough on my sponge to effectively wash, so I took the container and added more to my sponge. After a few minutes I noticed that my sponge still wasn’t giving me many suds, so I added more soap.
Just then, Tamar (Yossi’s 11 year old daughter) walked into the kitchen. She looked at me and scrunched up her face and said in her broken English,
“What are you doing?’
“I’m washing the dishes,” I answered.
“Lo, lo (no, no),” said Tamar. “Meats.”
I thought, “Tamar knows which sink is supposed to be used for washing dairy dishes,” so I said,
“Lo, lo, Tamar. The ‘meat’ sink is over there.” (and I pointed to the other counter and the other sink).
Tamar became insistent, “LO, LO,” she said, sternly, “MEATS!”
“Not ‘meats’, Tamar,” I assured her, “Dairy sink.” And I pointed to the dishes in the sink.
Tamar rolled here eyes and sighed as only an 11 year old girl can. She reached over to the counter and grabbed a plastic container which had some blue liquid in it. She shoved it in my face and said, in perfect English,
“THIS is soap. THAT is MEATS!!!” and she pointed to the soap container I was holding in my hand.
I looked at my soap and back at Tamar. She shrugged her shoulders and continued to stare at me.
Suddenly my Hebrew came back to me: “Meats”, in Hebrew, means “Juice”.
My heart sank. I looked back at Tamar and held up the ‘soap’ container. I said lamely, “Juice? This is juice?”
And, then, Tamar began laughing uncontrollably. And, for the next half hour she laughed. And, all that evening, she would think of me washing dishes with the family’s concentrated lemonade and begin laughing all over again. Then, whenever she saw someone, she had to tell them what I had done.
I will never again drink lemonade without thinking of “meats”. And Tamar.