“Did you like bacon before you were Jewish?”
This question from one or both of my sons comes up periodically, at the dinner table, or in the car. There often seems no clear context to the question. It just pops up, now and then.
I generally answer “Yes, I did, but I don’t really want to eat bacon now. There are other things that I used to eat that aren’t kosher, that I really do miss.”
“Like what?”, the questioner will ask.
“Well, like crab cake (a specialty of the state I have resided in for most of my Jewish life), or eel sushi, or blue cheese on hamburgers.” I usually reply.
“What about pepperoni pizza?”, asks our younger son, who is currently fascinated with pepperoni pizza, and feels that this restriction is the ultimate deprivation of kashrut.
“No, I never really liked pepperoni pizza.” I usually neglect to mention that a favorite of my childhood was a Hawaiian pizza – ham and pineapple on a bed of cheese. Yum!
If my husband is in on the conversation, he will often volunteer that he used to eat traif, even though he was born Jewish. It’s a lovely gesture of solidarity, although it raises yet more questions – how can you be Jewish and eat non-kosher foods. Of course, the fact that some Jews eat non-kosher foods is increasingly familiar to our boys, as they meet more friends at their public school who fit that demographic. It’s yet another reminder of how much easier observant Jewish living would be with our boys in a Jewish Day School (along with the constant conflicts with holidays, and deciding where the balance lies in attending school versus observing the Jewish calendar).
Our older son, now aged nine, sometimes bursts out with the accusation that, if we had not adopted them, they would have been able to eat pork. But, the truth is that they were born into a Muslim family, so they likely did not have pork as a dietary option even in their native family.
Our discussions on this topic generally end with either I or my husband observing to the boys that, when they reach the age of 18, they will be free to make whatever choices they want to, and feels right to them at the time, but that until then, they live in our home, and they follow our practices.
It is one of the distinguishing features of creating a family through adoption – we are always juggling the life that we live now with our kids, and honoring their heritage and origins. If you give birth to a child, you have all the same choices, but you don’t question the life your child would have had growing up with their family of origin. Often our friends and acquaintances will offer the unwelcome observation that we did something noble and self-sacrificing in adopting our boys. Nothing could be further from the truth. We created a family through adoption to more fully live our Jewish experience – Judaism is so full of family-centered traditions. Our Shabbat observance and day-to-day living are enriched by the participation of our wonderful boys.
And despite not being able eat bacon, they seem to be enjoying the journey with us…so far.