“My answer is yes! I will do it. I will commit to everything that needs to happen so that our camp can become kosher certified,” Avi asserted in his low-pitched, Israeli-accented voice.

Despite his noble resolve, my father was prepared for it to be a very tough sell andMy father was prepared for it to be a tough sell was gratified, even astounded, by this response. It was 1975, the year the Lubavitcher Rebbe launched the Kosher Food Initiative as part of the 10 mitzvah campaigns instituted to encourage Jews to experience a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with their Jewish heritage. My father, Rabbi Dovid Schochet, the Rebbe’s emissary to Toronto, reasoned that outreach to individuals introduced kosher food to families, but koshering camps brought kosher food to hundreds of Jewish children and enabled them to be actively Jewish every day of their summer. Kosher food nurtures a healthy and sound soul, and enables Jewish identification on a very real and fundamental level. Two camps that my father had contacted that week had already signed on, but everyone assumed that approaching the Hashomer Hatzair camp was an effort in futility.

Secular and socialist to the core, Hashomer Hatzair is Israel’s oldest existing Zionist youth movement and notoriously anti-religious. Yet the dignified, warm and gracious manner in which Avi, the Hashomer Hatzair shaliach to Toronto, received my father was heartening. A pleasant meeting of the minds ensued as my father explained the reason for his visit.

“My parents were immigrants from Austria. They brought with them a strong ethnic and Zionist identity,” Avi began. “I spent a few years after the army living in a radical left-wing kibbutz, but I was raised in Lod. We lived right near the Chabad yeshivah there. Due to biases I had been schooled to believe, I watched the yeshivah boys apprehensively until I became acquainted with them. They promoted truth and empathy, and though I am a die-hard trailblazer in my movement, I am honored to count some of them as my friends. It is because of their impact on me that I agree to your request.

“By embodying the values that are inherent and central to Torah, and being champions of morality, of meaningful living, of kindness, ethics and righteousness in every single activity—both interpersonal and religious—they raised the banner of the Master of the Universe and glorified His Name. Their behavior became a symbol of what G‑d and observance of Torah and mitzvahs are all about, and therefore they were able to transform even the most hostile atmosphere. Many of my chevrah (friends) became religious. Like a current flowing through a wire creates a magnetic field, the energy flowing through them affected the environment in my neighborhood. I look forward to making every effort to partner with you in this kosher endeavor,” he concluded.

Avi proved to be as good as his word. And it seemed that his undertaking was the catalyst for all the other obstacles to be overcome. My father oversaw the koshering of the camp and found supervisors who agreed to live onsite for the summer. Not only was the food prepared according to dietary laws, but careful attention was paid to all the minutiae.

The camp remained kosher for three years until Avi was posted elsewhere. Of course, most of the children did not eat strictly kosher food at home, but the Rebbe believed that every commandment has value in and of itself, and we must focus on appreciating the efforts of every person—one mitzvah at a time.

This story my father told me drove home the message that Judaism is not about the truths we know, but about the truths we live. What we love, others will love—and we will show them how. The fate of “G‑d’s name” in the world is dependent on each one of us, His ambassadors. In addition, it underscores to me the lesson of the Rebbe: Each bite of kosher food, full of powerful energy that gives spiritual, intellectual and emotional strength to the Jewish soul, is a mitzvah.

Judaism is not just metaphysical, butThe camp remained kosher for three years part and parcel of your very being; after all, “you are what you eat.” This phrase, coined by nutritionists in the early 1900s to advocate wholesome food for healthy bodies, is relevant to kosher food as well.

I am reminded of a story that I heard in high school that highlights this message of the Rebbe:

World War I was stretching into its second year. The Jews in the town of Radin in Poland were suffering tremendous deprivation. Food was scarce and taxes were high. Nevertheless, at the news that there were many conscripted Jewish soldiers in the army battalion that had camped in their vicinity, the community rallied together to provide them with kosher food. Needless to say, living a Jewish life in the Czar’s army was practically impossible. Kosher food was not available, and the army did not hide their attempts to convert the young Jewish boys who were institutionally underfed.

But upon discovering that the Jewish soldiers were consuming the kosher food and then lining up for their regular meager nonkosher army rations as well, the community decided to discontinue their efforts, believing they were for naught. The saintly Chofetz Chaim—the rabbi of the town and a great leader of world Jewry at the time—urged the townspeople to continue. He said their endeavor was worthwhile, as every bite of kosher food was one bite less of nonkosher food and therefore a mitzvah. Furthermore, the kosher food contained the necessary spiritual nutrition that would enable the soldiers not only to survive physically, but to survive as Jews against all odds. History demonstrates that when kosher observance is strong, Jewish identity remains strong.

Following the destruction of the Holy Temple, a person’s table resembles the Altar1—a reminder that in a world without sacrifices, the food that we eat has the potential to bring us close to the sacred.