I grew up in Berlin in a strictly kosher home. I was often reminded by my mother that we don’t eat pork, bacon or ham. However, my father while he was fully supportive of my mother’s kosher home, owning a non-kosher Hungarian restaurant located on one of Berlin’s main streets, did not observe the dietary laws. Very frequently after school and on my way home, I would stop at the restaurant and do my homework in the corner of my father’s restaurant. There I was engulfed by the tantalizing aroma of Hungarian pork goulash, chicken paprikacz, paprika schnitzel and so many other mouthwatering Hungarian specialties that my father’s restaurant was famous for. Regardless of the temptations, I always obeyed my mother’s advice that we were not allowed to eat pork, ham or bacon. In fact many years later when I met someone who had eaten in the Eszterhazy Keller, he expressed great pity for me that I had missed the experience of tasting the many wonderful Hungarian specialties that were served to the guests there.
Ironically, many years later after having escaped from Europe during the war, history repeated itself in my life. A few years after I had successfully opened my own advertising agency in New York, I was fortunate to have landed what was eventually to become my largest account in the agency. I was awarded the Polish ham industry’s advertising account, entrusting me with the promotion of their ham products in the U.S. Although no longer observing the dietary laws such as meats that have been through the “koshered” process or mixing dairy with meat, I still would not eat any kind of pork product, even while serving in the Army. My mother’s often repeated words were always running through my mind… “we don’t eat ‘ chaser’ (pork)”. My Polish clients quickly realized that I, a nice Jewish boy, had never tasted ham and obviously never even tasted their products. Often asking me how it is possible to create campaigns for a product that I have never even tasted. However respecting my kosher upbringing, they were amused and marveled that I was able to create highly effective and prize-winning advertising. In fact, when they were entertaining me in Warsaw, they made sure that the dishes I ordered did not contain pork. My agency’s efforts in the many years of our association helped them triple their volume in sales and earned me a medal from the Polish government.
Now, after so many years, I realize what I always was aware of: it’s not easy to be a Jew and certainly more difficult if you have been brought up to observe kosher dietary laws. Just look how I missed out on the many fabulous free meals which I could have enjoyed in my father’s restaurant. And imagine that for over 35 years that I handled the advertising of Polish ham, I missed out on all the free hams available to me. But I also realize what a special gift my mother gave me by letting me know of my kosher heritage.
Luckily my agency also promoted Polish vodka. Gratefully there is no restriction on vodka. No little voice from the past prevented me from enjoying a drink now and then.