Planning a Kosher Trip to Non-Kosher Land

by Bill Coleman, History, Math and Mishna Teacher

A picnic on one of the 7th grade trips to Springfield,

Trip planning always requires some effort, but for those of us who keep kosher, it can be a real challenge. In addition to leading the annual 7th grade trip to Springfield, I’ve been involved in one school trip to Israel and several to New York City. Here are a few things I’ve learned about providing kosher food to a student group.

The very first issue is the choice of destination. I probably won’t shock you by revealing that kashrut is easier to deal with in Israel and in New York, than it is in Springfield, Illinois. Several times I contemplated taking classes to Washington, D.C. rather than New York, and each time I decided that the absence of kosher restaurants downtown -- all but one were in Maryland -- made a week-long group trip too difficult. (As an aside, by far the easiest European destination for the kashrut observant tourist is Paris.)

On the other hand, problems can arise even in Israel. On that trip I had made a special request to have a meal at Burger King and, to do so while the group was in the Galil/Golan area, we took a lengthy detour to Kiryat Shemona, where we pulled up to a mall and hungrily clamored in for Whoppers. The kids were lined up to order as I scanned the wall looking for the Teudat Kashrut (kosher certificate). None to be seen! On inquiry I was assured, “Don’t worry, the food is all kosher, it’s just that we’re open on Shabbat.” Argh! Luckily, there was exactly one kosher restaurant in the mall, and it was pretty good. But the lesson was: Double check the kashrut ahead of time. Don’t take things for granted.

Since there are no kosher restaurants in Springfield, Illinois, it’s necessary to pack food and figure out in advance where to eat. Aside from the motel, that means locating picnic tables. Fortunately, the Illinois Capitol Visitors Center provides plenty and they are sheltered, which is a darned good thing given that we’ve been rained (and snowed!) upon as often as not.

A hearty and kosher Chinese dinner, ready to eat!

So, what to serve? Since heating food would be difficult, I order cold meat salads for the main meal that we bring along in coolers. The ones from Tein Li Chow taste great, are filling, and have the delightful quality of being ready to serve straight out of the cooler. We have sandwiches for lunch and generally plan to grill hot dogs for the second dinner. I always choose a motel which includes a continental breakfast and bring extra breakfast pastries in case the ones provided lack a Hechsher.

One of the traditions of the Springfield trip is that I treat the kids to ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, which is kosher and thus allows us to eat out, even in otherwise non-kosher Springfield.  How did that tradition arise? Our very first overnight trip was the time it snowed, and therefore grilling outdoors for dinner seemed really unwise. I decided to skip dinner and drive home early, but the kids had to eat something, right? And they will hardly say no to ice cream even in cold weather. From such misfortunes are traditions born.


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