Dana • Tel Aviv, Israel
Editor’s Note: Dana’s memoir about an ultra-Orthodox man in Tel Aviv was among the first five collected for Pork Memoirs. This memoir is the story of a Hareidi man (in black hat and all) who seeks out pork in the street of sins in Tel Aviv. The man abandoned his faith but not his community. The story seems more and more poignant given recent accounts of sexual abuse scandals in Hasidic communities of Brooklyn and sexual assault incidents in Israel.
I see another lapsed Hasidic man at a hip cafe in Brooklyn that I frequent. The man, with a full white beard, glasses and black Rockport sneaker/shoes, tries to disguise himself in a long black wig and an over-sized black t-shirt. He looks ridiculous. But it’s enough to allow him the chance to sit down, stare at his phone and revel in moments of freedom. He stares at men and women clad in revealing Brooklyn outfits. He is so clearly uncomfortable in the cafe, yet he comes back regularly since it seems to be his only respite from his daily religious life, a life that he philosophically left behind some time ago.
The identity conflicts of these men, both the man in the story and the Hasid in the cafe, are unfortunate, though they are not unique.
I was walking down Shenkin street in Tel Aviv at around 5 pm on Saturday when a black-hatted ultra-Orthodox man stopped to ask if there were any restaurants open in the area. At first I didn’t find it odd that he was ultra-Orthodox and asking about open restaurants before Shabbat ended, so I told him that Orna and Ella was open. Then he asked me if they served pork.
“Oh, yes, they probably aren’t kosher,” I said.
“No, I want them to serve pork,” he said. “I want to eat pork, and I heard that here, on Shenkin street, you can eat pork.”
“Why do you want to eat pork?” I asked, confused, because even I, a secular Israeli, have never eaten pork, and here was this ultra religious man asking me about where to eat pork.
“I live in a ultra religious society, in Rishon LeZion, but I don’t believe in God,” he explained. “I’m unhappily married, I have children, but I don’t feel connected to any of it. I grew up in that society, but I did not choose it. So now I want to try pork for the first time in my life. I thought Shenkin was the street of sins.”