There are books, magazines, television shows, even professions, which focus solely on the food we eat: how to cook it, where to get it, and how to dress it. Less fat, nonfat, white or whole-grain. Even our cereal boxes tell the story of how the human relationship to food and cooking has evolved. Culture once defined food. Food now defines culture.

For Jews, the food we eat becomes a part of our very souls. It nurtures our body and our minds. And it can serve as a direct link to G‑dliness.

Food now defines cultureI was not brought up keeping kosher. In fact, my first formal introduction to kosher food was in high school, when I went away for one week to Long Island, New York, to play in the Maccabee Games. The Maccabee Games were a Jewish Olympics of sorts, and I was a basketball player representing a New Jersey JCC. The host family with whom I stayed did keep kosher, and I was also served kosher food throughout the day, before and after games and practices. The Games were an eye-opening experience for many reasons. It was the first time I saw my Jewish name in print, and the first time being Jewish made me feel special. I was happy to be there and proud to be partaking in kosher meals.

Truth be told, the food was not all that tasty. However, with each bite I took I felt like I was doing something good. At that time I had no formal Jewish education, and yet my soul managed to awaken just enough for me to realize that being immersed in a Jewish environment and eating kosher was the right thing for me to be doing. Later on, I discovered that kosher food could be absolutely delicious.

Many years have passed since then. I went to college, got married, had kids, and that tiny kosher experience got pushed back into a corner of my mind. That is, until a year ago when I started learning. Then it once again came flooding into the forefront of my entire Jewish experience. And ironically enough, the first class I sat in on was one on the laws of keeping kosher. Not only did it pique my curiosity about this specific way of eating, but it also enlightened me on, and tempted me to wrestle with, the question: What is food?

It was the first time that being Jewish made me feel specialObviously, the answer is not the same for everyone. And, the answer becomes even more complicated if you are Jewish. In its simplest form, food is something that human beings need in order to survive. It feeds our physical bodies so that our senses stay sharp and we can function on a daily basis. In fact, over the last several years, many people have been leaning toward certain types of food—such as organic and whole-grain—in order improve their health and vitality. For a Jew, food takes on an additional role as fortifier of the soul. Yes, it keeps us walking, jumping, and talking; however, when we nourish ourselves with kosher food rather than non-kosher varieties, it is similar to choosing organic fruits and veggies over those grown with pesticides and chemicals. In other words, a Jew has a heightened sensitivity to food that can either impede or aid us in our pursuit to understand and serve our Creator.

In a philosophical sense, food is a bridge between a Jew’s physicality and spirituality. Eating is a physical activity for everyone. Sometimes it’s as little as lifting an arm to put mustard on a hot dog, biting, chewing and then swallowing. For a Jew, the physical preparation and consumption of food is only half of the equation needed in order to fully reap the benefits of the food we eat. For example, instead of just eating a hot dog, we prepare our kosher frank in a certain way. We eat it with certain utensils and side dishes. Then, just before we take that first, succulent bite, we thank G‑d by reciting the proper blessing. Why? Because the laws of kashrut are a necessity in the life of an observant Jew. Observing them keeps us sharp and receptive on a spiritual plane. And for me, that’s what attracted me to the idea of eating kosher. It’s taking a very primitive action and using it to awaken that slumbering G‑dly soul.

Needless to say, I’ve realized that keeping kosher is an important part of one’s Jewish experience. It is an especially important component of a Jewish woman’s life, because we are concerned not only with the eating part, but with the cooking and maintaining part as well. This is where my quest begins.

Food is a bridge between a Jew’s physicality and spiritualityMy kitchen is not kosher, and I see now that I have a long road ahead of me. This is going to be a step-by-step process, like any other lifestyle change. I think the hardest part is that it’s something that involves the entire family, even those who do not live in your home. For example, half of my family is not Jewish, and the half that is Jewish does not keep kosher. I'm wondering how this will affect the family dynamic. Will they still visit and eat in our home? Honestly, I don’t think the eating will be the hard part. It’s the explaining and understanding that’s going to take a while.

In the meantime, my husband and I have started taking baby steps toward our ultimate goal: a fully kosher kitchen. We love going to the supermarket and playing the “kosher game” (looking for kosher symbols on the products we use, and if they do not have one, then figuring out alternatives). Right now, the objective is to start using only kosher products and getting rid of the others. After that’s taken care of, it’s on to pots, dishes, sinks, and countertops.

I'm guessing that this process of going kosher is different for everyone. The practical part depends on where you live, how much you know, and what kind of support system you have for those days when keeping kosher seems so far away. The spiritual part depends on recognizing what truly is important for physical and spiritual survival, and making it all work together. It’s one gigantic step in finding that balance between the animal soul and the G‑dly soul.

I can now appreciate that one kosher high school experience for many reasons. No, we didn’t win a championship, and no, I never did go on to play for the WNBA. Yet experiencing an entire week immersed in a Jewish environment and keeping kosher made a significant impact on my life, and leaves me searching once again for that same feeling of belonging and spiritual satisfaction. Moving forward, I’m most influenced by the people in my life now, primarily my husband and children. Although today keeping kosher does seem far away, looking at my family gives me incentive to each day take one step closer to nourishing them with love and providing us all with the food that will feed both the body and the soul.