July 5, 2012
Thursday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #232: Kosher: From Meal Plan to Ministry
Happy Birthday, USA! (I choose to not say “Happy Independence Day” for what should be obvious reasons.)
The troubling thing about nations and birthdays is this: Who blows out the candles on the cake? In prison, it is further complicated: What cake?!?
Then, there’s the whole issue with birthday gifts. I believe President Kennedy addressed this with his famous phrase: “Ask not.”
Since the view out my 5″ wide window is of the prison, I figured I wouldn’t see fireworks this year. I rarely watch TV other than religious programming or business shows (Shark Tank, Undercover Boss), and I’d watched no TV in the past two months, so I figured a night of “fireworks spectaculars” would be nice. Except all the channels went out, so I pretended the static was lots and lots of dazzling awesomeness. A snowstorm cut the finale kinda short.
Nearly a year ago, I approached the head chaplain and asked if I could be placed on the kosher diet, which only the Jewish inmates were receiving. The reason was that the kosher meals came with lots of fresh fruit (usually at least one orange per day) and vegetables (nearly half a cabbage, a carrot, and a bell pepper each day, often with celery). Besides that, every two to three days, it came with a whole onion as well.
Now, back in California, I would get an apple every day plus some other fruit for breakfast. Here, the normal five-week menu rotation includes fresh fruit twice. I knew that I didn’t want to be another prison statistic due to the lack of adequate medical, dental, and nutritional options. So, for the sake of my health, I asked.
The chaplain told me I was welcome to fill out the application he helpfully gave me but that he would simply deny my request. Wow. I may look dumb, but I knew better than to apply at that point.
Instead, I tried to figure out how I could get approved without giving up Jesus as my Messiah, since He’s worth dying for and kosher meals are not. I wrote to my childhood Jewish friend who now lives in Israel. (Yes, she is already on the kosher diet.) I figured that she could find a rabbi willing to “sponsor” me and tell the prison chaplain to put me on the kosher diet.
She was willing to help, but I decided to not create waves here and dropped the request. I didn’t want to be the only non-Jew on the meal plan, possibly confusing the vast amount of “weaker brothers” we have here. They play their I Corinthians 8:9 Weaker Brother Card at any small thing (“But you must be careful that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble”).
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, the Messianic Jews (those who have found Jesus to fulfill all the prophecies concerning the Messiah) filed a lawsuit to be included on the kosher diet plan. It was won and granted to them this January.
As soon as I found out, I applied for the diet myself. Because I had celebrated the Passover Seder meal a few times before entering prison and I could articulate (in a two-page essay) why I believe Jesus would still celebrate the feasts today, and because of God’s incredible favor, I was approved for the kosher diet.
Prepared in a section of the prison kitchen designated for the kosher meals, the diet is an incredible, all-vegetarian, delicious blessing. The difference in meal quality is unbelievable.
And the main chaplain? Seeing me at the graduation with my choir, he grilled me on my choice to go kosher, since he’s inundated with phony requests. I humbly asserted my intentions and my family history and my beliefs, but what he is most excited about is that I can provide leadership and tactfulness within the currently antagonistic Messianic group. Praise God!
Thank you for your prayers.