Avigail Hurvitz Prinz • Tel Aviv, Israel
These days I live in Israel. Here I’m referred to as an “Anglo Saxon” because I’m a native English speaker, but when I returned to America this past summer, to work at a summer program hosted by a fancy prep school, I was surrounded by the real Anglo Saxons, the WASPs of New England that most Israelis will never meet. Never have I had to try so hard to avoid pork products, or to simply be a vegetarian.
Growing up, my family kept milk and meat separated, but we were the kind of kosher keepers who ate ice cream for dessert after chicken dinner as long as we cleared the table. This was totally normal to us until my whole family became vegetarian.
I do keep to an exception in my kosher practice in which I will try a new kind of shellfish when it is presented to me. I have willingly tried shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, catfish … none of which have ranked high on my must-eat-again list. Though I still can’t stomach the idea of eating pork.
I arrived in New England this summer after living for the year in Jerusalem, where all of my friends held to the very strict rules of fully kosher households, which was new for me. I kept separate sponges for milk and meat, I noted the special sponge for the Sabbath and even adhered to the color-coded knife and cutting board system that is standard in most very kosher homes.
“Didn’t you know that onions, lemon and hot pepper transfer between meat and dairy dishes?” a friend once said to me, highlighting my ignorance of some of the intricacies of a fully kosher practice.
I was only just beginning to integrate these dietary rules into my life when I traveled to New England for my waspy summer.
Once I got settled into my dorm room-cum-faulty housing, I went to eat in the dining hall. First meal was a barbecue. The veggie options were corn on the cob, potato salad and dessert—not my favorite items, nor did they include much protein, but it would be okay, I thought. Every meal after that felt the same. The salad bar accoutrements weren’t filling enough, so even though garbanzo and kidney beans topped my greens nearly every day, I felt like I was eating the wimpiest, coldest food.
I wanted hot food, hence my excitement about the glorious omelet bar at breakfast. The omelet station offered a couple of options for vegetables, in addition to lots of cheese and pork three ways—bacon, ham or sausage (“you can have all three if you like,” they would say). I could wait in line, place my order and receive a fresh omelet, made custom for me.
I stood in the omelet line each morning just to order my simple standby of peppers, onion, mushroom and cheese. Thing is, my omelet was always covered with the grease of someone else’s three kinds of pork. Some days I picked bacon out of my eggs, other days I just closed my eyes and thought of Israel.
I bonded with a Sikh student over not eating pork one day. “I’m not used to eating all this white people food,” he said to me in disgust. “Beef, pork…my stomach hurts just being here… I can’t eat anything they serve.”
He was lucky enough that his family would pack him meals that he could warm up and eat once or twice a day.
At the end of the summer, the staff and faculty were treated to a surf and turf picnic. It was my first. The meal did not feature pork, but did offer typicalWASP fare: beef, clams, lobster and strawberry shortcake.
I wanted to eat something besides salad and the festive atmosphere was catchy. Treyf (non-kosher) as it was, and after a summer of restraint, I said “the hell with it,” and ate the lobster, my first ever, with a bib and everything. But it wasn’t pork. No way. Ick.