Karen Katz • New York, NY
I dunked three years ago. In some ways it feels like a lifetime away, yet it is only a mere thirty six months, give or take a few. For those not in the know, in order to convert to Judaism, the ritual includes submersion in a very specific ritual bath called a mikvah. Upon exit from this water, presto-change-o, you are a Jew! This concise explanation clearly leaves out much. The mental, spiritual and emotional experiences which leads one to so drastically change religions are not brief nor easy.
Did I mention that at the time of my conversion I was a Buddhist Unitarian Universalist?
I have embraced this new life and the many choices that come with it. Some people would claim that these choices are actually rules or laws. I prefer the word “choice” because I have chosen this path with an open mind and heart. This includes choosing to keep kosher.
Kosher is a complex system of food regulations, choices and yes, religious laws that the Jewish people have been following for thousands of years. Having been Buddhist for approximately 20 years, I have spent a good portion of my adult life flirting with various forms of food restrictions, such as vegetarianism. Clearly, I am accustomed to being out of step with the mainstream regarding gastronomy. I have been, in my life at times, the queen of food issues. So keeping kosher shouldn’t be such a big change, right? Well, maybe not.
I miss bacon. I miss pancetta, an Italian bacon. Did I mention I have a strong Italian family heritage? I miss the experience of cooking with it, the smoky flavor of it and generally the entire gestaltof it. I remember being at a diner with a vegetarian friend during my strictest vegetarian days. This friend was complaining vigorously about the smell of the animal flesh and the bacon. Even then I loved that aroma! But now I have chosen to forsake the porcine delight…forever.
I truly do not want to eat pork. Currently my convictions are stronger than my urges. Yet I can’t help but wonder, does loving the smell and the taste of bacon make me a failed Jew somehow? Has my firsthand understanding of the power of that savory slice made it impossible for me to join the rest of the tribe?
Being a convert has some extra pressures to it. In some ways I feel as if I am held to a stricter standard if only in my own mind. If I dream about eating that delectable treyf, is that a violation? If I get my pathetic fix with kosher, artificially bacon-flavored food products, am I cheating?
Alas, perhaps my only choice is to keep my cochon (pork) dreams a secret and rely on another pre-dunk legacy: guilt.
Did I mention I was once Catholic?