Tapestry

Jewish Inuk woman argues seal meat can be kosher

Killaq Enuaraq-Strauss says it might be more challenging to be an observant Jew in the far north — but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
In addition to an emphasis on family and community, Killaq Enuaraq-Strauss says both cultures seek to treat animals humanely. (Provided by Killaq Enuaraq-Strauss)

Growing up in Iqaluit, Killaq Enuaraq-Strauss was usually the only kid in her class with an Inuk mother and a Jewish father. She says balancing these two parts of her identity was sometimes tricky. 

"Within Inuit communities, I always felt a little bit removed and a little bit unsure of what my place," says Enuaraq-Strauss. "It felt like it wasn't my culture to love, because I also had another culture."

When she was a teenager, Enuaraq-Strauss moved to British Columbia to attend boarding school. While there, she started exploring her Judaism by attending synagogue and connecting with other Jewish students. The experience opened her eyes to some important similarities between Jewish and Inuit cultures. 

Surprising similarities

In addition to an emphasis on family and community, Enuaraq-Strauss says both cultures seek to treat animals humanely.

She points to the Inuit belief that humans have a holistic relationship to nature and important rituals surrounding hunting. After catching a seal, for instance, Enuaraq-Strauss says Inuit are expected to provide water for the seal to drink. 

While at school in B.C., Enuaraq-Strauss tried keeping kosher and fasting for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. (Provided by Killaq Enuaraq-Strauss)

"There's different understandings as to why we do this, but one elder from Kimmirut told me the reason we do this is to say thank you to the seal for giving their life so you can survive," says Enuaraq-Strauss. 

Once Enuaraq-Strauss moved to B.C. and learned more about Jewish dietary laws, she says it was interesting to see a similar emphasis on the humane treatment of animals in Judaism. 

Enuaraq-Strauss, who is passionate about environmental sustainability, had always drawn on her Inuit values. But she quickly realized she could draw on her Jewish culture, too. 

Keeping kosher 

"There's a law called in Judaism called 'pikuach nefesh', which essentially says that your survival is more important than most other law in Judaism and therefore can be overridden in a case of necessity. So to me, as an Indigenous person, that strongly means that seal, although is a marine mammal that is not at all considered kosher because it doesn't follow in line with any of the laws of kosher...to me, it's still kosher."

 "Although... a marine mammal that is not at all considered kosher because it doesn't follow in line with any of the laws of kosher...to me, it's still kosher."-  Killaq   Enuaraq-Strauss  

While at school in B.C., Enuaraq-Strauss tried keeping kosher and fasting for the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, in an effort to connect to her Jewish heritage.

She says it was difficult, especially since her meals came from a cafeteria. The teasing she experienced from fellow students, who taunted her while eating pulled pork sandwiches, taught her how food can be used to target people. 

"In that moment, I felt so sad. My heart broke because I realized just how ignorant people still are," she says. "I realized how similar that heartbreak felt to all of the heartbreak I felt when I was being treated differently for being Inuk, when people at the same school were throwing scraps of meat at me."

(Provided by Killaq Enuaraq-Strauss)

Now, several years later, Enuaraq-Strauss says she's still learning about how her two cultures overlap. She's excited to see where the journey takes her. 

"I'm trying to come to a place where I'm totally at peace with having two amazing, brilliant cultures that have survived so much hardship. And that strength and that resilience is really what's allowed me to become truly comfortable with myself as a Jewish Inuk," she says.  

now