A Cognitive Dissonant Salami

Gilad Muth // Brooklyn, NY

When I was younger, before my parents were comfortable with leaving me home by myself from school if I were sick, I would go into work with one of them. I was pretty excited to spend the day with my mom or dad, though usually after only a couple of hours of not receiving the attention I so craved, I wished that I weren’t sick anymore.

Instead of measuring the desirability of my parents’ jobs as an adult would (benefits package, workplace environment, etc), I would inspect the quality of the hot cocoa, the assortment of snacks/drink in the food pantry, and the quality and choices at the lunch counter.

My dad had just taken a job at TimeWarner, which soon became the mecca of all offices. The highlight of my sick day was when my dad would take me to the lunch buffet and I would order a Genoa salami sandwich, which clearly had to be beef salami, I thought, like the salami we ate at home.

A number of years later when I got to high school, I switched from the Jewish day school in my county to the local public school. While many of my classmates were Jewish, it was the first time I had ever been in a formal education environment with non-Jews. In fact, my closest friend, David, was an Italian-Catholic.

One day, we were sitting around the lunch table and we happened to start talking about different types of food that we enjoyed. Now, growing up in a kosher home and keeping some sort of adherence to Kashrut when I left the house, my knowledge of worldly cuisines was limited to sushi and the local kosher Chinese take-out joint. When it came to my turn to share my favorites, the conversation went something like this:

Gilad: You know what I enjoy the most? Genoa salami!
David: Gilad, um…you know that Genoa salami isn’t kosher?
G: Can’t be….salami is beef. That’s what my parents get from the local kosher butcher.
D: No, Gilad, salami is pork.
G: No, it’s beef. Trust me, I’m Jewish. I would never eat non-kosher meat.
D: No….trust me, I’m Italian.

And then it hit me. I had broken Kashrut, even before my own Bar Mitzvah. For the next few moments, time and space had ceased to exist and I sat there silently as my friends continued to talk about their palates. I tried to reason with myself that there was no way that David was right, but his “Italian defense” was fool-proof. I just sat there and let it sink in.

Over the next couple of years as I started interacting more with the secular world, I made my best attempt to adhere to some sort of kosher structure, but every so often I’d find myself entering a deli. “Genoa salami on a roll….”

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