I went to Congregation Rodeph Shalomâs Purim celebration this year. (Or last year, by the Hebrew calendar.)
The shul went all out. The theme was âA Night in Persia,â and congregants came dressed in robes, bedecked themselves in scarves and beads, and happily buzzed around the room. Our cantor and one of our rabbis, both female, dressed as Women of the Wall; the other rabbis, both male, wore police costumes, looking like the Village Peopleâs second string. And of course there was drinking. Lots of drinking.
I didn’t dress up. I didn’t schmooze. And I didn’t drink.
When I told a friend about it the next day, she laughed. âIâd expect nothing less of a Reform Jew,â she said, âto know the âright wayâ to do something and then do the opposite,â playing on the Reform movementâs ideal of informed practice, by which individual congregants educate themselves regarding traditions and then deciding which to follow and to what degree. I laughed, too. In my experience, there are few things Jews enjoy more than knowing what they should do, even when theyâre doing the opposite.
For instance, I donât keep kosher. Now, I am not sitting here with a wad of bacon in my mouth, drooling grease onto the keyboard. I donât even particularly like pork. But I still havenât been able to bring myself to quit it altogether. It isn’t that I havenât thought about it; I have. I didn’t grow up kosher, though, and, more importantly, while I respect halakhah, I have little patience for the way it can devolve into tedium. Consider this recipe for pretzel challah, shared by The Shiksa in the Kitchen. Great recipe. But the real treat is in the comments: If you scroll down, youâll find two halakhically-minded women arguing over whether or not one can say motzi over pretzel challah for Shabbat, since the bread is boiled rather than baked. It reminds me of the joke about the Jew on the desert island who built two synagogues. Why two? âNu, one I pray in, the other I wonât set foot in.â
I recently stopped eating pork, though, quietly, assuming it would slip past Shannonâs radar. Of course it didn’t. âYou stopped eating pork?â she asked me at a fair we attended a few weeks ago. She just knew. âDoes that mean I canât make it anymore?â I hesitated. âIâll eat it if you cook it,â I said, âbut otherwise, no.â I paused, waiting for an argument to start. Food and foodways are such personal things; they evoke strong responses. âI donât think I could give up pork,â Shannon said. âPork and sauerkraut on New Yearsâ, mmm!â (A Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.) And that was it. Shannon accepted the new paradigm.
I think Shannon is so accepting of such sudden changes on my part because she knows how important Judaism is to me, and because of how we’ve learned to accommodate one another. Several years ago I read Barbara Kingsolverâs book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which she recounts her familyâs sustainable lifestyle. Kingsolverâs clan attempted to reduce their carbon footprint by eating locally, permitting themselves only one âluxuryâ item, such as coffee or tea. When a family friend visits and asks for bananas, the Kingsolvers explain their philosophy to her. The scene stuck with me for years, and it wasn’t until I converted to Judaism that I realized why: Kingsolver and her family lived their lives as if they mattered, as if individual choices have meaning and consequence. Thatâs what Judaism has done for me. I think Shannon knows that.
In last weekâs parsha, Lekh Lâkha, God tells Abraham (then Abram) to decamp for Canaan. âLekh lâkhaâ is usually translated as âGo forth,â but it literally means âGo to (or for) you.â Thus âGo forth from your native land might be read as, âGo, for you, from your native land.â âGo,â God tells Abraham, âand I will make of you a great nation, / And I will bless you; / I will make your name great, / And you shall be a blessing.â (Breishit / Genesis 12:1-3.)
Shannon and I, like Sarah and Abraham, are journeying, heading from the safety of the ânative landsâ of singlehood to the unknown territories of marriage. We find security in our knowledge of one another, even in Shannonâs ability to intuit on my part a change in my attitude towards kashrut. We head forth together, as individuals, but also âfor us,â as a couple. And that shall be a blessing.