Chanel Dubofsky // Brooklyn, NY
Throughout my childhood and adolescent years, there was this one sandwich I associated with Saturday afternoons. My mother and I would sit on plastic chairs in the food court at the mall and eat them. The sandwich was a bacon cheeseburger, sweet and salty and chewy and endless. It came on a soft yellow roll with a round, perfectly-sized tomato slice. When you bit into it, there was a crush of lettuce. (It happened to come with French fries, but those are hardly of interest.) We ate with pleasure and with many napkins, and then we headed into the mall to perform our consumer duties. There was no remorse about any of it.
My mother died when I was in college, propelling me into this weird universe in which I suddenly wanted to learn about Judaism. Before then, being Jewish was something I acknowledged, but it hadn’t necessarily interested me. Once I started investigating again, though, it became harder to shirk what I was learning. I started to study menus a little harder and avoid the deliberate mixing of milk and meat. I’d try to do this “being Jewish” thing; I jumped in, and would figure out the rest along the way, I thought.
For ten years I checked food labels and separated and boiled and avoided. I told myself, and everyone who asked, that this was about not being able to have everything I wanted, that I needed some kind of barrier between myself and the rest of the gluttonous, capitalist world. I kept up with this lifestyle until all the logic I’d created around it began to seep out of me, like air from a balloon.
Throughout all the years of keeping kosher, the bacon cheeseburger lingered, greasily, on the periphery of my mind. It was accompanied by Pu Pu platters, with piles of bright pink spare ribs, tightly wrapped egg rolls and crispy fried shrimp. It wasn’t a craving for these foods that I was experiencing as much as the acute memories of when, where and with whom I had eaten them: with my mother on those plastic mall chairs with those ridges that left marks on our thighs when we’d sit in them in the summer wearing shorts or with my mother and grandmother in a long red booth in a Chinese restaurant on Thanksgiving holding glistening meats over the fire pot without apology. There was a sense that this food made us bad, or even different from other Jews.
When I quit keeping kosher, I quit hard. I ate everything I could remember eating before I declared treyf off limits. Except, peculiarly enough, for that particular bacon cheeseburger. Truthfully, I’m afraid to eat it, the way you might be afraid to see someone very dear to you whom you haven’t seen for years. What if it’s not the way I remember it? Or worse, what if it’s exactly how I remember it? And there I am, sitting on a plastic bench in a mall in the middle of somewhere, sobbing like a toddler.
Chanel Dubofsky has been published in The Frisky, Tablet, The Billfold, and the Forward. She’s the creator and editor of The Marriage Project and blogs at Diverge