Eitan rolled the large rounded treat around his mouth before biting in. Magnificent—simply the best meatball he’d ever tasted in his life. This was the eighth meatball he had tried, so delectable and moist. He wasn’t planning to taste them but then he heard another party-goer, “oh they’re truly so wonderful!”
“Thank you!” the woman behind the table was all aglow. “And they’re made in a separate kosher kitchen.”
“Oh, you’re much more diligent than me! I’m only kosher when my brother comes to town,” winked the older lady.
After this exchange, Eitan shuffled over to the catering table willing to sample the offerings. He tried one then started to make his way to his seat but halted, pivoted, and returned for another, then another. His love for cooking overshadowed his shyness, especially shyness around women.
“Please. I must have it, the recipe.”
Another member of the mitzvah party stepped over and popped a ball into her mouth from the end of a speared pick. “Yum, I’d love the recipe too.”
Greta smiled, “so sorry, but it’s a family secret, closely guarded. Thank you for the compliments though,” she blushed. Thankfully the blushing seemed to come as a genuine reaction to the sincerity of the comments rather than a betrayal of the shameful truth.
Just three days ago a friend had asked her to take over a gig, a mitzvah party. A norovirus was running its course through the family and her friend would not be able to cater the event. Carried even through cooked or baked items the whole party was at risk of contracting the ailment should her friend do the job. The Mitzvah’s family was beside themselves in preparations. Greta’s friend had promised to find a replacement and Greta jumped at the chance. She had been trying for just over six years to launch her catering business full-time.
“It’s no problem,” she’d told her friend. She immediately began on her coveted meatball recipe. Two days later her friend called her up. She was so sorry, just out of her mind that day. She’d forgotten to make sure Greta was familiar with the dietary rules of keeping kosher. Many of the guests coming into town were quite orthodox in their practices. The client had stressed the importance of creating kosher dishes but Greta had catered a mitzvah party before, right? She was familiar with the guidelines. She had seemed so confident, primed to go, and though they resided in a small southern town the Jewish population had been growing steadily the past couple of years. Many caterers were now familiar with the occasions, there were a couple of mitzvahs held at the recreation room of the local community center every year or two.
“Oh, of course, not to worry,” assured Greta. She researched the rules for keeping kosher. Guests could choose to eat all the dairy items or the meat items. She would keep the cheese plate near the cake and make a meat and cracker section on the other end. But her grandmother’s meatball recipe, well, it strictly broke the rules. There wasn’t time to make an alternate, subpar version.
She could toss them to the side or deliver them to the local soup kitchen, but they were going to be her staple. They were, in fact, her secret weapon. She assured herself that it was a classic situation of ignorance as bliss. If they don’t know it isn’t kosher, then surely, no harm would come.
But this young man, he was so determined, he just couldn’t let the secret be. This awkward man in his early twenties was clearly among the more orthodox of the guests. His small cap was still atop his head even when most of the other guests had unclipped them upon arriving and they now sat discarded on tables next to name cards. The pleated fringe hanging beneath his coat, she reasoned, was something held up by those more traditional. Though he seemed sweet and harmless at first, he quickly became overbearing. His shuffling around the table time and time again. His hands clasped behind his back. His leaning forward to study the meatballs or utter another plea, always keeping an odd distance from Greta. “Beg your pardon,” and “I understand it’s meant to be a well-kept secret,” and, “I will never share the recipe,” and, “I view myself as a budding chef—“
—“Please.” Greta stopped the onslaught. “I’m so sorry but I just didn’t have the time. It was harmless, supposed to be harmless. I should have known better. I should have asked before I agreed to the job but I’ve just been trying to get going and it’s taken me all my savings as a preschool helper. The meatballs, they’re not kosher. Milk, with bread, as a binder. That’s the secret, that’s Grandma’s secret. I’m so sorry. I don’t expect you to understand and I really didn’t mean any harm.” All the excuses she now realized were just petty reasoning poured out in a jumble. “It was so foolish,” she mumbled, “please, just please don’t tell.”
His warm eyes seemed to swell and his feet quickly shifted from side to side. His clasped hands, Greta thought, now appeared as a sign of restraint. Was he in physical pain? Would he go into shock? Was he going to vomit right atop her comfort pumps? Just please don’t yell, please don’t freak out, Greta prayed silently.
“Nobody shall know,” he whispered to assuage her fears. “But I suppose I don’t need the recipe.” Eitan swiveled on a heel and scuffled away.
Greta barely held back the tears. Humiliated, she vowed to herself that she would never try to pass one over again.
Eitan, for his part, could not sleep that night. As was expected after an accidental transgression, he would place his tzedakah into the wooden box at his temple. Although some amount of distress over the event was foreseeable, this overwhelming torment was different than anticipated. Instead of feeling led astray, he had a fitful night contemplating other cuisines he may be missing.
When dawn came not only was the world unchanged by his consumption of such treif but, moreover, it didn’t seem to care. He thought about the meatballs while on the flight home. He thought about them on the bus, and he thought about them in the subway on the way to place his tzedakah into the box at the door of his congregation. In fact, he was still considering them when his train car suddenly halted springing a young woman into the pit of his arm.
“I’m so sorry.” she apologized as she gathered herself. Though this wasn’t the first time a woman was thrust at him during a subway ride, the train cars getting very crowded during rush hour, this time he took more notice, or rather, took notice. The faint encounter lingered with him, her momentary touch intertwining itself with taboo thoughts of the prohibited meat. The train lurched forward but not fast enough for Eitan as he wondered; what other forbidden pleasures had he yet to taste?