Episode 17: Food & the Jewish Culture Transcript

Sept. 2, 2021
[00:00:00.000] - Olivia

Hello, Ruth. We're going to start off by you telling us and our audience who you are and what you do.


[00:00:07.950] - Ruth Halter

Hi, Olivia.


[00:00:09.090] - Ruth Halter

So my name is Ruth Halter. I am the patient services manager at Tucson Medical Center. I've been there ten years or so now. I got my associates degree from the University of Maine when I started out being a tech, and then I transferred to U of A and finished my bachelors. But I kept on as a tech because I went into management, and management challenges me more than clinical does. So I enjoy it. And that is why I am where I am.


[00:00:43.120] - Olivia

That's really awesome. And we would love to talk about your culture as well. So how would you define your culture?


[00:00:52.020] - Ruth Halter

My culture? My Jewish culture?


[00:00:54.260] - Olivia



[00:00:54.260] - Ruth Halter

So it was something that happened to me in my late 20s when I decided to get married, and Lo and behold, you fall in love with somebody that wasn't your culture. And I changed. I converted to Judaism, and we raised our children Jewish. Not in the most traditional manner, but as traditional as [within] our comfort level with a blended family, or blended religions.


[00:01:23.730] - Ashley Munro

Can I ask what you mean by blended religions? Does that mean your household had a couple?


[00:01:28.340] - Ruth Halter

Well, I'm the only one that converted. My parents didn't convert, and they still celebrate all the regular Christian holidays. And although my parents certainly supported me converting, they still wanted to send Christmas gifts at Christmas, not Hanukkah gifts. So there's still like that blended presence in our household.


[00:01:54.620] - Ashley Munro

Gotcha that makes sense. Alright. So for food and culture, that's specifically the lens we're going to use. So we've got your Jewish culture, and then through that lens, how we can look at food and tradition. So how important would you say food is in the Jewish culture?


[00:02:16.560] - Ruth Halter

Food is important. There's many ways to have a kosher household, but the biggest part is food. So it would be purchasing the food, cooking it correctly, and then making sure that the kosher laws are followed. Kosher is not a preference. It's actually a law. So that's how it's done. So when you attend anything, any building that is Jewish, say, for example, Handmakers, which is the Jewish nursing home in town. Or if you go into the Jewish Community Center, everything in that building is kosher. So I actually brought some things here, just a little show and tell.


[00:02:59.800] - Ruth Halter

I wanted to show you how you can tell something is kosher. So here's some cheese and right here is the symbol "U", and that means that this cheese is kosher.


[00:03:13.150] - Ashley Munro

And is that a specific kind of cheese, or is it just a traditional cheese? I can't pronounce, Cappello?


[00:03:21.670] - Ruth Halter

No, it's Italian. It's just something I like and I buy. But it happens to be, and you would not know if you didn't look for the symbol, that this was kosher.


[00:03:32.110] - Ashley Munro

Is that like a regulated thing within our food system, that products have to be delineated as kosher products?


[00:03:39.160] - Ruth Halter



[00:03:39.790] - Ashley Munro



[00:03:40.300] - Ruth Halter

So I have more...


[00:03:41.200] - Ashley Munro

And I'll have to vocally explain some of these because students won't be able to see, but Ruth is holding up a box of Triscuits, like original Triscuits.


[00:03:50.510] - Ruth Halter

Just plain original Triscuits, but guess what? They are kosher, and you would not know that necessarily, but you have to look for the symbol.


[00:03:58.680] - Ashley Munro

It's a U with a circle around it. But there's another symbol that's used in kosher, right?


[00:04:06.900] - Ruth Halter

Yes, there's a K and there's D. The D means it's dairy. So this cheese has a U with a D.


[00:04:17.210] - Ashley Munro



[00:04:18.200] - Olivia

How does something, or what makes something kosher?


[00:04:21.410] - Ashley Munro

That's a great question, Olivia.


[00:04:23.560] - Ruth Halter

So first of all, let's back up a tiny bit. There's meat, there's dairy, and there's something in the middle called pareve. So pareve is anything, believe it or not, includes eggs, but it's fruits, vegetables, pasta, coffee and soft drinks. So those are examples. So when you are trying to create a meal, a kosher meal, typically  somebody, like in a Christian household might have ham, cheese and milk. Well, that would be the worst thing in the world for kosher because number one, ham is not kosher because the animal, the swine have the cloven hoof.


[00:05:11.490] - Ruth Halter

That's what makes ham or pork not kosher. The other thing, as far as meat goes, and when I was kind of getting ready for this podcast today, I always knew that you had to have your beef slaughtered correctly, but I did not know that if the beef or the cow died naturally, it is not considered kosher.


[00:05:34.680] - Ashley Munro

That's interesting.


[00:05:36.150] - Ruth Halter

And it's partly because they feel that the animal must die humanely. So it's a quick slit to the throat and then they let it bleed out.


[00:05:46.980] - Ashley Munro

Gotcha, so if they die naturally, it can't be established whether that was a humane way of dying?


[00:05:54.690] - Ruth Halter



[00:05:55.280] - Ashley Munro

Gotcha, that makes sense.


[00:05:57.530] - Ruth Halter

When I work on establishing a kosher meal at the hospital, I have a kosher meal setup: breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days. If that happens, I always give them water to drink, or juice or a soft drink, because those are all considered pareve. Our frozen meals that we have typically are fish, Salisbury steak, a pot roast and chicken, and that way as far as a beverage, they've got a beverage that is pareve. I also have whole pieces of fruit: bananas, oranges, apples, nothing cut because I can't guarantee that the staff is going to use a utensil that has never touched dairy or meat.


[00:06:46.840] - Ashley Munro

So it's the combination of the foods that makes it kosher?


[00:06:52.180] - Ruth Halter

So in a kosher householder, or in a kosher facility, you have pots and pans that are designated dairy and pots and pans that are designated meat. You also have your cutting utensils, dairy or meat, and your plate, dairy or meat. So at a big facility like Tucson Medical Center, when somebody comes in as kosher, we serve them on disposable wear because I cannot guarantee anything was not exposed to dairy or meet before.


[00:07:21.830] - Ashley Munro

Do they usually appreciate that? Are patients and people usually like, I'm guessing, that's really important to them?


[00:07:28.860] - Ruth Halter

Well, when I find out they're kosher, I usually try to touch base with them and ask them if they are kosher style or strict kosher. So for example, the patient I had yesterday said to me on the phone that she had to have kosher meat, but it could be on our plates. So that was what her level was.


[00:07:53.960] - Ashley Munro

I like that you kind of have this, well, I'm guessing some level of flexibility or some level of interpretation that each person within the culture religion has towards eating.


[00:08:06.440] - Ruth Halter

There's exceptions that they make for health reasons. So I think in order for her to have good nourishment, it was more important to have that Kosher meat, but not necessarily served on disposable wear.


[00:08:21.310] - Ashley Munro

That makes sense. I was raised Catholic, and I remember during the Lenten season when we were kids, you're young so there wasn't this need to do any of the fasting or any of the meat restrictions on Fridays. It's like oh, you're a kid. It's more important for you to grow and you don't have to be concerned with the restriction or anything. So that makes sense.


[00:08:46.240] - Olivia

I also had one of my best friends, she was my roommate for a couple of years, and she was from Israel. So she was Jewish, and she was not strict with anything. I don't think she ever ate kosher. So that's kind of interesting.


[00:08:59.900] - Ashley Munro

I'm sure it changes, right? Ruth, you have to speak to this since you have kiddos, but if you're raised in a (household) - or raised kosher - do you say it that way? You're raised in a kosher household?


[00:09:10.880] - Ruth Halter

Raised in a kosher household. That's how I describe my husband.


[00:09:13.890] - Ashley Munro

Yeah, raised in a kosher household and then you go away to college leaving the nest. You're reckoning with a lot of beliefs and things in yourself. So I'm sure that that like most things, religion plays into that.


[00:09:25.920] - Ruth Halter

Right, so I think that's interesting, Olivia. That's what I think - she left the nest and wanted to experience some things that might not have been supported in Israel. I know that Hillel on campus, that they're 100% kosher there. So if she always just wanted to feel like being at home, she could probably have stepped foot in there and been reminded of all the ways that she was raised.


[00:09:53.000] - Olivia

Yeah and we would go to, I think, is it called Shabbat?


[00:09:58.520] - Ruth Halter

Yeah, and that's on Friday night.


[00:10:00.320] - Olivia

Yeah, and we would go on Fridays because they have one on campus. It was really fun.


[00:10:03.460] - Ashley Munro

You kind of spoke to this off air a little bit, but there's food and there's growing up in a kosher household, there's designing kosher meals, shopping kosher. And then there's specific holidays or tradition in the week and in the year, right? That make up how you're celebrating around food, correct?


[00:10:24.130] - Ruth Halter

You are quite well versed, yes, that's true. So the biggest one, of course, is Passover. That's when you can't have anything leaven, and that is because they were not allowed to let the bread rise while they escaped to safety. So for that eight days of Passover, you aren't allowed (to eat) anything leaven or anything that rises. So there's certain things that you might not even suspect that have leavening in them, and one thing that you might not realize is Coca Cola. So during Passover in New York, specifically, it's Mexican Coke because Mexican Coke is made with sugar, real sugar and not corn syrup.


[00:11:15.100] - Ruth Halter

So there's an effect with corn syrup of leavening, so during Passover it's Mexican Coke.


[00:11:23.400] - Ashley Munro

I did not know that, that's very specific. So anything that causes a rising, any rising agent then.


[00:11:33.440] - Ruth Halter

Yes, during Passover, only during Passover which is eight days.


[00:11:37.640] - Ashley Munro

And Passover is in what time of year?


[00:11:41.000] - Ruth Halter

It's in the spring but it changes.


[00:11:45.040] - Ruth Halter

The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, so it's always changing.


[00:11:49.700] - Ashley Munro

And you mentioned Shabbat, but is there other days of the traditional work week or work week that have traditional traditions around food? Or is there something that's eaten around Shabbat, like, do you eat specific foods?


[00:12:04.060] - Ruth Halter

Sort of, on Shabbat you cannot light a fire. So what they would have done in my husband's household, or how some people do it, is they light the fire before the sun goes down. That's how you know it's Shabbat on Friday night, and then you can put your roast in. Typically it's a large piece of meat because you can put it into the oven on a slow flame, or a low flame, I should say. Then it can cook all the way until sundown the next day, and then you have not lit fire at that point.


[00:12:39.720] - Ashley Munro

The slow cooker is probably a good invention for that.


[00:12:44.520] - Ruth Halter



[00:12:46.710] - Ashley Munro

Very cool. Are their family favorites? Do your kids or does your husband have very fond memories of specific foods that are kosher?


[00:12:55.590] - Ruth Halter

So one of the things I did get to learn from his mom was how to make matzo ball soup, and the other word for that would be Jewish penicillin. At least we'd joke that way, but it truly does help cure a cold. Well, it doesn't really help cure a cold, but it helps you feel better, naturally. I do it the traditional way. I boil my chicken with the vegetables in there and then, a whole chicken, and that's making my broth.


[00:13:28.060] - Ruth Halter

Then from there, the matzo balls, I use the chicken fat from the boiled chicken to make my matzo ball. And there's certain ways to make them. Most people like the matzo balls nice and fluffy, but they could be dense. And if anybody is horribly sick, especially, there's a few of our friends and relatives that did get COVID over this last pandemic that I would just make a batch of matzo ball soup and put it in a Mason jar and drop it off at the doorway and see if this will make you feel better.


[00:14:06.740] - Ashley Munro

I think there's something to the broth, the chicken, the sodium. There are some, I feel like, true medicinal (properties), and I want to say there's even been some research around the medicinal-ness of chicken noodle soup. I know matzo ball soup isn't necessary chicken noodle soup, but it's chicken broth with salt and some carbohydrates in it. So it's other type. But I feel like that could be real.


[00:14:34.160] - Ashley Munro

I feel like it does give you some-.


[00:14:36.860] - Olivia

It makes you feel so much better.


[00:14:37.920] - Ashley Munro

It makes you feel so much better! I love that. So matzo ball soup is your husband's favorite. Since you kind of had experience, with this evolution into the culture, do you have favorites, too? Do you have favorite things to make?


[00:14:52.250] - Ruth Halter

I'd say it's the brisket.


[00:14:54.390] - Ashley Munro

The brisket.


[00:14:55.250] - Ruth Halter

Brisket and the potato pancakes with apple sauce. That's one of my favorites. And there's a lot of brisket recipes you can do and mix it up. But I usually use one that marinates in wine and cooks slowly, and it's just to die for.


[00:15:17.560] - Ashley Munro

That sounds amazing. And I know we're going back in time, I should have asked this question ten minutes ago, but can you not combine? Did we talk about this like, you can't combine meat and dairy, right?


[00:15:28.450] - Ruth Halter

Correct. So, yeah, you have the meat, the dairy and the pareve, which are like the categories. So, you cannot eat dairy when you're eating meat.


[00:15:39.850] - Ashley Munro



[00:15:40.640] - Ruth Halter

So, for example, what I've done at the hospital is I've done all dairy breakfast, and then lunch and dinner meat meals. So that's far enough apart, I think it has to be 4 hours apart from dairy to meat.


[00:15:56.040] - Ashley Munro



[00:15:56.970] - Ashley Munro

And I guess you don't think about how many things together are dairy and meat, but the eggs you said are pareve, so they're not considered in the dairy category.


[00:16:08.100] - Ashley Munro

So you could do that for breakfast because you can mix dairy and pareve, right?


[00:16:12.790] - Ruth Halter



[00:16:13.290] - Ashley Munro

So you can mix pareve with everything?


[00:16:15.760] - Ruth Halter

Yes, pareve can go with everything.


[00:16:18.120] - Olivia

I know with any culture or religion that's not your own, there's always misconceptions or things that you might assume or think that might not be true. So what are some misconceptions about food and your culture, in the Jewish culture?


[00:16:32.460] - Ruth Halter

Oh wow, that's a good question. I don't know, to be honest with you, but I will tell you that sometimes I know more than my husband knows. Because even though he was raised in it, people want to ask him a question, and then he'll just turn to me and go, "Well, she actually is the one that knows these answers." Because I actually had to kind of study it a little before converting. One of our girlfriends, somebody he went to college with, but she's my friend now. She was raised Jewish also.


[00:17:03.690] - Ruth Halter

And she's like, "well, you're the better Jew in the family anyway." So the misconception that the converted person doesn't know as much as the person that was raised that way, sometimes the converted person is the one that's actually more well versed.


[00:17:19.800] - Ashley Munro

Yeah, that makes sense because for him, he was just in it. It just was a way of living. It didn't really, maybe it doesn't stand out as obvious as something that is not a Western cultural thing.


[00:17:37.610] - Olivia

Right, and versus someone who studied it because you've actually studied, like, the nitty gritty parts and the details and the rules, which makes sense.


[00:17:45.320] - Ashley Munro

What are some resources (available)? So if we have students listening who are interested in learning more about the Jewish culture with food. I know there is resources on campus that we'll link to, I know you already mentioned, Olivia and Ruth. But, when people want to know when it comes to food and Jewish culture, is there resources that you found helpful?


[00:18:10.540] - Ruth Halter

Actually, if I ever had a question and my mother-in-law couldn't help me on things, I actually just called the synagogue. They're always willing to teach and explain things. It's their passion. So if I didn't (know something), they were always very helpful. There's always somebody that is willing to teach and explain things, and a lot of people are very passionate about being Jewish and staying Jewish. So it's always a good resource, and any synagogue I would recommend. We always attended the Reform synagogue in town, which is Temple Emanuel, and that was always my go to place.


[00:18:56.300] - Ashley Munro

I love that you said staying Jewish because I think in lots of cultures that happens, right? We try to kind of be in line with the dominant culture. There's periods in life where maybe we lose a sense of our own culture, and then there's these moments of reclaiming our culture and staying true to our culture. So I think it can change over time. I think we can always come back to our roots, for lack of a better way of describing it.


[00:19:25.770] - Ashley Munro

But I think people that feel really passionate about their traditions and their things, I think that's a big part of what we're trying to share. It is celebrating other people's cultures as a reminder to celebrate your culture. If you've lost touch with it at all, or if you're interested in learning more. Because I know there were things growing up for me that I didn't know that was necessarily specific to our culture. It was just how I grew up, and come to find that's very specific to our culture, and learning that is kind of cool. And that sounds like a little bit like what your husband is describing.


[00:19:58.010] - Ruth Halter

So one of the things that I did when we were in conversion because my husband was a PhD student at the time. So he was still on campus. I went to Hillel, and we did Purim at Hillel. That's a celebration, and everybody gets noise makers. I knew the story growing up Christian, but I didn't know the party that was involved in the celebration. So they make a little play for Purim, with the Queen Ester and the King. And it's just like this little party with noise makers that was like, "Whoa, this is not the Baptist way of celebrating any religion."


[00:20:44.710] - Ruth Halter

So the part of being Jewish and the celebrating that makes it fun too. Naturally, my first Passover, and I found out that you had four glasses of wine during the Passover Seder. I thought, "Well, that again is nothing that I ever grew up with." I thought, "well, that is such a nice way to celebrate."


[00:21:07.960] - Ashley Munro

Yeah, that's so true.


[00:21:09.800] - Olivia

I always think that it's really fun to come into a culture that's not your own and just to be able to experience that, which you've done with your husband. I always think that's really fun.


[00:21:20.010] - Ashley Munro

Absolutely. I was just going to ask Ruth if there's something that you wanted to share, that we haven't asked you yet, that you really want our audience to know.


[00:21:30.050] - Ruth Halter

I wanted to also talk about kosher wine, just a tiny bit, not a lot. I have a bottle of the traditional Manischewitz here, which everybody probably realizes is a kosher wine. But also there are many kosher wines that are available, and you might not think that wine could be kosher or is not kosher because it would typically fall in that pareve category. But there is, believe it or not, kosher wine. They're on the label, when it is Passover, it will say kosher for Passover. So obviously, something with a little leavening in it, probably something sparkly wouldn't be kosher for Passover.


[00:22:17.170] - Ruth Halter

So that's another thing, and there are some lovely kosher wines.


[00:22:22.560] - Ashley Munro

Like little details that you maybe don't think about, as someone who's not used to it or has to do it intentionally. That's really interesting. I have heard the word Manischewitz before though. I appreciate you so much for sharing. Olivia has a couple more questions, and then we can (end).


[00:22:44.280] - Olivia

So we just end every podcast with just three fun questions, (they are) kind of random. So the first one is, if you could only eat three foods ever again, what would they be?


[00:22:55.680] - Ruth Halter

That is a horrible question because I love food. I love so much of food, and I'm going to have to tell you that it might not be kosher.


[00:23:06.780] - Olivia

That's okay.


[00:23:07.330] - Ruth Halter

It might be a lobster, which is not kosher. I see the other question is "breakfast or dinner?", and I could have breakfast for dinner.


[00:23:19.670] - Ashley Munro

That's very true. Is breakfast items one of your three foods that if you could only eat again?


[00:23:27.990] - Ruth Halter

Oh, gosh. Well, I would say lobster, one of them. I like crab as well. And let's just throw in avocado.


[00:23:39.460] - Olivia

That's a good one.


[00:23:41.030] - Ashley Munro

Like a lobster, crab, avocado mix. Tasty!


[00:23:45.880] - Olivia

Maybe make some [inaudible 00:23:47] out of that. Okay, and then you said breakfast would be your go to over dinner?


[00:23:53.380] - Ruth Halter

I think breakfast. I like breakfast for dinner. It's something to mix it up a little bit.


[00:23:59.590] - Olivia

Totally. And then our last question is, if you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would they be?


[00:24:05.860] - Ruth Halter

I have two kids and a husband, and that's who they would be.


[00:24:09.920] - Olivia

I love that!


[00:24:13.110] - Ashley Munro

That is so sweet. I think you're the only person who's ever chose all family members. I love that.


[00:24:21.110] - Ashley Munro

Are your children still living at home?


[00:24:23.880] - Ruth Halter

No, they don't live at home, but they chose different paths than us. They really didn't go to college, they work, and although my son is a medical assistant right now in a naturopath office and my daughter waits tables, but at least they're productive.


[00:24:46.530] - Olivia



[00:24:47.010] - Ashley Munro

Yeah, absolutely. I feel like everyone finds their niche in life, and it's not always that societal traditional road. So I think that's awesome.


[00:24:59.200] - Olivia



[00:25:00.280] - Ashley Munro

Well, that sounds like a lovely time. Well, thank you so much for being on the show today, Ruth. We appreciate you sharing some information about the Jewish culture and also letting us into your home and talking about your family traditions, too. We look forward to sharing this with our students.


[00:25:19.220] - Ruth Halter

Thank you for inviting me. I'm looking forward to seeing this podcast.