Chicago Memories: The Kosher House

Cute growing method at the kosher house. (I somehow took no pictures of the indoors...)

After we stayed with Abby, we stayed in a three story communal house home to eight young Jewish folks. They kept a strict kosher house but also dumpster dived most of their food. It was really amazing to see how religion brought them together and gave them, from my point of view, a common ground that simplified communal living.

We were a little freaked out at first because it was so empty during the day: we would wake up around 9 or 10 and the house would be empty except for maybe one quiet person upstairs on a laptop. No one was very friendly at first. We’ve decided that we just hit the house at a bad time, because by the end of our six day stay the feel in the house had changed drastically. The house was warmer – literally and in terms of friendliness – and there was more laughter.

We slept in a loft that one of the housemates had built, under half a dozen soft, heavy blankets. He, we were told, was very into making beds. There were two bedrooms on the first floor, both with lofts as well as beds on the ground. Even the kitchen had a bed in it, built beautifully out of light-colored wood slats. And almost all the beds had lots of slatted shelving around them, too. Our room was also home to a big computer desk covered in papers and a comfy chair. The steps up to the loft had shelves underneath them, perfect for setting things on when sitting in the chair. The other room had a hammock, too, and steps that led to the basement.

The rest of the first floor was unfinished and big and open. We were told there was an indoor fish pond there up until a few days before we arrived. Apparently they were thinking of raising fish but it had started to leak. There was a big mural above where the fish pond had been, unfinished but gorgeous nonetheless. When we first pulled up to the house, I spied the mural through the window and knew we’d found the right house. There were a ton of bikes piled in a corner of the first floor, too, and nearby stairs up to the second floor.

The whole place was full of projects like the fish pond. The small backyard had a huge compost bin, a garden, and a small chicken coop full of pullets (grown up chicks who aren’t quite adults yet – it’s the awkward teenage stage for poultry). The bikes that were on the first floor and in the basement were often in states of disrepair, being rebuilt or used for parts.

This stairway was painted a beautiful shade of teal blue. The color petered out about half way up, big brush strokes implying someone had either run out of paint or inspiration. Upstairs was much cozier: couches, a record and CD player and big windows looking out on the street in the southern most room; a kitchen table in the middle room; and then the kitchen to the north.

Their CD collection included John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Songs of Israel and more. The cozy living room had three or four bookcases, too. In fact, the house in general had quite a collection of books. Everything from medical textbooks to books in Hebrew to one titled “The Joy of Yiddish”. The living room also had a bedroom off of it, the most private room in the house. I think it is the only room in the place that we never went. From what we saw, it was chock full of beds and heavy comforters.

A butterfly made of bikes! (Unrelated to the kosher house.)

The middle room, we were told, was where they had their weekly feasts, during which tons of friends and community members would attend. Books shelves and beautiful art adorned the walls.

The kitchen, as this room in any community house is wont to be, was pretty chaotic. The fridge was chock full of homemade things, big pots of things, and produce. We were told they buy mostly bulk and then dumpster pretty much all of their produce. So cool! There always seemed to be bags of bagels or bowls of fruit on the kitchen table. And we, as guests, were highly encouraged to eat whatever we found, especially since we couldn’t bring anything (no food, no utensils, not even water bottles) into the house because they kept kosher.

Because there was always food on hand, kosher didn’t feel all that strict, but Casper is used to being able to cook us beautiful dinners and wasn’t able to here. Luckily, the last night at Abby’s, I’d finally grated all the carrots that we’d brought with us from the food bank in Cincinnati and made two huge, delicious carrot cakes. We left the smaller one for Abby and took the bigger one with us. Every morning at the kosher house, we’d trek out to the car in our PJs and nom on my delicious carrot cake. We ate almost the whole thing before it ended up going bad from being in the car the whole time.

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