By Michelle Collins
My first memory of realizing I was different was in elementary school. I attended a public school, and we occasionally had catered lunches. I have a vivid memory of crying at the lunch table because everyone was eating hamburgers and I couldn’t. What a drama queen, amirite? I’m sure I didn’t go hungry that day.
I’ve kept kosher my whole life. Even though I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, densely populated with fellow Jews, very few of my classmates abided by the same dietary guidelines.
My mom’s dad (my Zaidie) is from Czechoslovakia and is a Holocaust survivor. My mom grew up in a Traditional congregation, observing Shabbat and kept kosher. My dad’s family was Reform, and I tell people that they met in the middle and settled into the Conservative movement.
My sister and I attended Hebrew School three times a week and went to Saturday morning services as well. This continued until I graduated high school—I was literally one of two students who stuck around to complete “Hebrew High” at our synagogue. It was impressed upon me from a young age that I should be proud to be a Jew, and that I should want to carry on the associated traditions.
When I left for college, I suppose I could have gone ham on bacon. My mom wasn’t calling me every day to ask what I had been eating, but it was expected that I’d continue to keep kosher (I think they call that Jewish guilt). Senior year, my best friend and I made a pact that we’d “break kosher” together and ordered cheeseburgers from a bar. I don’t know if it was the guilt or the quality of the burger, but I didn’t really enjoy it.
When we were dating, my now-husband and I had a lot of discussions about living together in an apartment with a kosher kitchen (in his defense, he does almost all of the cooking).
Things that were brought up:
• “Why can’t we eat chicken and cheese?”
• We have four sets of dishes and not enough space
• Kosher meat is so much more expensive!
He’s definitely not wrong about the markup on the meat, but I continue to stand by my conviction that keeping kosher is the one thing that reminds me each and every day that I am Jewish. I value tradition and culture, and I think it’s pretty amazing to carry on something that my ancestors have done for centuries.
My parents always told me to be cautious about telling people that I’m Jewish and that I keep kosher because you never know what you’re going to be met with. Fortunately, one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had was a few years ago. I was eating lunch with a former coworker, and when he learned about my faith, he was excited to tell me, “I bought salt made from your people!”
I’m not the most observant Jew—I don’t go to services every week, but try to attend more often than just for the High Holidays. I’m also fortunate enough to have three best friends (we’re all USY alumni) who live in Chicago and keep kosher. What I love about the Conservative movement is that tradition and culture are so important, but how you choose to celebrate and observe your faith is entirely up to you.
About the Author
Michelle Collins is a CHUSY alumnus and former staff. She hails from the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, and lives in the city with her husband and rescue pup. She is currently marketing and communications specialist at the National Association of REALTORS® and, while not a member, attends services at Anshe Emet.
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