Kosher Water

As I refilled my water bottle from my school’s water fountain today, I remembered this incident:

When I started college, I realized I needed to carry water with me or else I would waste money buying drinks every day. I carried a thermos, filled with water from home, and refilled it from the school’s water fountains throughout the day.

A few weeks into the semester, I was chatting with my older sister and happened to mention this practice.

“But the water fountains aren’t filtered, are they?” she asked.

This was just a few years after the whole “bugs-in-the-water” debacle. A filter in the reservoir had broken (so the story went – I’ve never verified this) and the city hadn’t bothered to fix it because the tiny organisms that would wind up in New York drinking water were harmless.

To ultra-Orthodox Jews, though, these tiny organisms were more religiously lethal than pig meat.

And so every Jewish household invested in all kinds of filters, and a booming business in “kosher filters” began, including a sophisticated device which screwed onto the faucet and was safe to use on shabbos, when filtering is forbidden.

Of course the fountains in City College of New York weren’t filtered.

A heated debate ensued between my siblings about whether the reservoir whose filter had broken feeds both Brooklyn and Harlem. I sat in silence and watched as the inevitable conclusion was reached: we don’t know, so it’s best to just not drink City College’s water.

I started buying coffee. That led to me drinking chalav stam and eventually eating donuts from a Dunkin Donuts with no hechsher, but at least I wasn’t drinking tiny microscopic bugs, I guess.


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