Remembering Titanic 100 Years Later - The Jewish Connection
Ship’s Kosher Recipes Sank to the Bottom of the Atlantic with Kosher Cook
During my recent flight back from Israel to Toronto aboard Air Canada, I did as my wife had instructed me years earlier.
“Always order the kosher meal on the flight, even though you’re not really kosher,” she instructed me.
And, I did just that. Much to the dismay of my non-Jewish seat neighbour who, while looking at my delicious sub sandwich dripping in cheese, lamented his lunch which was nothing more than an “ordinary” cheese sandwich on white bread, and asked me how he could get a kosher version.
After trying to explain to him just what makes kosher, kosher - a mind-boggling conversation that saw us through at least two vodkas and far too many stale pretzels, I told him to simply tell the stewardess that he ordered the kosher meal.
Too late. The good stuff was gone, and I believe my new friend, Chris, may already be looking into conversion.
But, the thought of kosher law – kashruth, if you will, and the kosher dietary needs of Jews being taken care of 30,000 feet in the air in this, the new millennium, made me think about how it was handled a century ago. Surely observant Jews back then travelled on public transportation whether it was a train or a horse-drawn carriage and, as they would have probably told you themselves, keeping kosher is not particularly difficult in and of itself; what makes it difficult to keep kosher is the fact that the rest of the world does not do so.
Consider, if you will, as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the iconic Titanic which went down in the frigid waters of the Atlantic early on April 15, 1912, that some of the names that appeared on the passenger log of the maiden –and ill-fated – voyage were surely Jewish. Most of them were from Eastern Europe and could only afford third-class steerage tickets as they looked to make their way to Ellis Island where their heads were filled with the dreams of starting a new life in a place where surely the streets were paved with gold.
In fact, while various versions of Hollywood productions infer that it was mostly British, Irish and Americans who were on board the RMS Titanic, there were, in fact, 29 different nationalities aboard. A United Nations on the sea, if you will.
And, of the 75,000 pounds of fresh meat and 11,000 pounds of fish (at least they could swim) that were listed as cargo on the ship, one could wonder if there was also a masgiach on board, and that some of that meat was kosher.
Let’s face it, up until now, there has been little made of any true Jewish connection to the most infamous ship disaster in history other than the old jokes that Jews were responsible for the tragedy, claiming that the Titanic sank after it hit a Jew named “Iceberg!”
The truth is, many passenger lines crossing the Atlantic had started to provide kosher food for their Jewish passengers by the time the Titanic left port. In fact, of the 1,512 passengers and crew members who lost their lives to the Atlantic that day, 30-year-old Charles Kennell, was one of them. Charles happened to be the ship’s Hebrew cook, who was responsible for the ship’s kosher food service.
Unfortunately, the exact amount – and variety -of kosher food available to Titanic’s observant passengers will probably never be known, as that knowledge sank to its final resting place on the bottom of the Atlantic with poor Mr. Kennell.
So, as the world remembers the horrific tragedy that was the Titanic, on April 15th, 2012, perhaps we should all take a moment to remember Charles, who, prior to the ship’s demise, undoubtedly did all he could to make the last voyage of Jewish men, women and children, a comfortable, hearty and kosher one.