There’s a new kosher restaurant right near our office. It’s called Tiberias. The food looks yummy and the decor looks great and, rarest of all for a kosher restaurant (or, as I’m given to understand through reading way too many Anthony Bourdain books, rare for the restaurant business in general), the owners are actually perched by the door, welcoming people, and happy for you to be there. Oh, and hey — they’re giving out free coffee.
And yet, I’m not there.
Let me start from the beginning: Last night, I made the Best Sandwich Ever. (I know because I Twittered about it and everyone else on Twitter agreed.) And, over the course of arguing with one daughter about the social propriety of wearing a bathing suit to school and changing the other daughter’s diapers, I kinda forgot to put it in my backpack.
So here I am, at work, starving, and the day is close to half over. I weigh my choices with all the usual overanalysis — can it be vegan, or do I need protein? how cheap is cheap enough? when’s the last time i ate pizza? — and decide to hit the local kosher Dunkin’ Donuts for a bagel.
And, on the way, I stumble into Tiberias.
At first I don’t even know what’s going on. All I see is two grinning guys out front, kissing hands and shaking babies and looking like they just won the lottery. One of them stops me — the owner, it turns out. Today’s the first day of business. He’s super excited to be there. There is, he mentions several times, free iced coffee.
But the reason I stopped drinking iced coffee is the same reason my brain is working overtime: because I have an anxiety disorder, and I think too much, and caffeine only exacerbates it.
I’m peeking in the counters, and there are actually vegetables (another kosher restaurant rarity) and they look beautiful — the eggplant sliced thick and juicy; corn as yellow as a field of radioactive flowers; perfectly grilled zucchini and red peppers. The menu in my hand lists the prices, and there’s nothing less than $6.95. Except for soup, but I’m talking real stomach-filling food. The real meal meals are closer to $15.
I do the lunchtime math in my head. Packing my own sandwich costs $2 or so. Buying pizza, which is filling but not healthy, is $5 or $6. For another dollar or two, I could eat here, except that that’s 20% of a meal, which is to say, I could eat out 5 times at a junky restaurant for every 4 times that I eat at this place. Or I could just pack lunch, save all that money, and spend it on my kids instead. Or save it for our trip to Australia. Or that subscription to McSweeneys that I really want.
But, really, is all this worth arguing about (or doing math over)? Kosher food, as Tamar says, is expensive. Kosher food in Midtown is expensive squared. We pay for convenience, and that convenience is multiplied when you’re Jewish — you’re not merely paying for the food to be made for you, you’re paying for someone else to pick out your vegetables and look for the kosher markings on the hummus carton and the bagels you would otherwise be checking out yourself. Elie Kaunfer wrote a couple months ago that most Jews don’t know how to make their own matzah, and that’s true, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg — there is no Jewish working class. There are upper-class people who can pay $20 for lunch, and there’s this scraping-the-barrel class that packs our own lunch…or forgets to.
I do the Walk of Shame. I shuffle my feet the three storefronts down, to the donut store. I order a bagel.
The woman beside me turns around and checks out my yarmulke so deliberately that she’s either making sure I’m Jewish or sizing me up for her niece. “You know,” she remarks casually, “there’s a new kosher restaurant that just opened up down the street. They’re serving free iced coffee and it looks really good.”
My face goes from zero to blushing. “I know,” I manage to stammer. “I’m going to check it out when…when I’m eating lunch for real.”
“I’m sorry,” she gasps, seeing that she’s offended me, but not knowing why. Meanwhile, I gaze at the intrepid worker who’s currently toasting my bagel, enabling me to make it to 5:00 today…and wondering whether I shouldn’t be toasting my own bagels instead.