blogitto ergo sum

June 14, 2011

#188 – a Loaded Pig

Note: this post was first published on, a website dedicated to pork and identity, and how our choices surrounding the pig often reveal our cultural backgrounds and worldviews.  Jeffery is a long time friend who earlier this year launched the story project Pork Memoirs.  This is my loaded pig story.  I’m sure most Jews have one.


There’s a Chinese folk saying, “Chinese can eat everything that has four legs, except tables; everything that flies, except for airplanes; and everything that is found on water, except boats!”  From the point of view of the hungry, making a choice to avoid a certain food is viewed as less than smart.  Why would you avoid a good source of proteins [OK, fat too]?

The Pig, among few other animals, is a loaded meat for Jews.  Dear old bible orders us, “the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven footed, yet he chews not the cud; he is unclean to you. Of their flesh shall you not eat, and their carcass shall you not touch; they are unclean to you“[Leviticus 11:7-8].  This is the pig load Jews have been carrying around ever since.

My parents grew up in religious homes; strictly orthodox on my mom’s side, kid-friendly orthodox on my dad’s side.  I grew up in a looser Israeli home, yet, a Kosher one.  Spaghetti Bolognese was made of beef/turkey and served without cheese; chopped liver was never fried in butter, and we never had milk with our meat-based lunch.  Yes, the observant doesn’t mix dairy and meats together.

But… in the pantry, well sealed in hiding, we had one small frying pan and a knife.  These were used on the rare occasion of some good swine making it to home.  In a house were everything was open for discussion, we didn’t talk about it.  Every now and then it provided delicious teasing material about hypocrisy.  My own place has no aspirations to be called kosher.

In 1991, I landed in Canada, Director of Academic Affairs, Tel Aviv U.  My job took me to Canada’s universities, Israel-centered events, Study Abroad Program fairs… I met with university staff, overseas programs’ officials, Jewish student organizations, community activists and many others.

Then the unexpected happened.  I was working hard representing Tel Aviv University, Israel’s largest university, and an open minded, knowledge seeking institute.  Yet, for many if not all, I first and foremost represented Israel.  Slowly, I realized that whether I cared or not, I was expected to act Jewish.  Funny.  No one actually forced me; no one accused me of not making the Jewish threshold.  But after saying once too many “it’s OK, I can eat this [Pork/Ham/Bacon] sandwich, no problem” and getting an awkward look, I got to the point of accepting the expectation.  I stopped eating pork in all public events.  No pig for me.

As much as I hate hypocrisy, I become a public kosher Jew by choice; my choice.  The non-Jews I was interacting with felt more comfortable when I avoided pork and other piggy meats.  By standing out [as the kosher one among all those other international academic program’ representatives], I was fitting in.  Go figure.

Source: Marc Boy's photostream on Flickr

Afterthought: Years later, I no longer tease my parents about their hidden pan.  I don’t bring bacon or ham into my home, only prosciutto on occasion.  Logical?  No.  Rational?  It doesn’t have to be.  My inconsistent relations with the pig are part of my identity.  Judaism is a part of it too; not the orthodox Jewish practice, but Judaism as a culture, heritage and tradition, a tribe I was born into, with collective memories and shared past.



  1. Hi Yael,

    This posting put a smile on my face this afternoon (here), and also reminded me about the discussion (should I call it dispute) we had on identity a few months ago. When you write ‘I was expected to act Jewish’ you probably realize that ‘acting Jewish’ is a very context and education and place and time-related concept. For me it is ‘acting Jewish’ is very little related to dietary customs and to how somebody else judges my ‘Jewishness’. After all many of these folks who know as much as ‘Jews do not it pork’ do not know that ‘Jews do not it shrimps’ either, and are astonished when they are being told about it (did it happen to you? check this with some of the non-Jewish friends of yours). So why should we submit something that is important for some of us (the ‘Jewishness’) to such judgments, and not rather stick to what we believe is important? After all your Jewishness was not defined by the fact that your parents kept kosher most of the time or diminished because of the secret frying pan but by other aspects much more deep and fondamental (I think).

    Comment by Dan Romascanu — June 14, 2011 @ 08:27 | Reply

  2. I’m smiling too. BTW, our discussion was about being Israeli, not Jewish. a different set of expectations, behaviors, culture. and no, we should not restart it. 😉
    one of the earlier drafts for this blog included a reference to shrimp cocktail. i later removed it, along with a discussion about peer pressure.
    i was trying to communicate the absurd of my decision being a work-related decision, which makes no sense. we all “know” of course that one’s religion and religious practice should remain out of academic work.
    since then, Tel Aviv U. gave in to $ and donation politics and now there’s a synagogue on the university’s premises, which goes against the very idea of open-minded knowledge seeking.
    “look and feel” is a key component in marketing. i was marketing academic programs that are taught in Israel. whether i liked it or not, i represented a product. there was a dress code i had to learn, and a pig code. didn’t change who i am, or what i ate once off work. interestingly enough, the Jewish students cares much less about my easting habits.
    my Jewish identity was defined as much by a hidden non-Kosher frying pan as it was by my amazing grandfather Moshe, who took us-kids to synagogue with him on holidays and made it a great fun thing to do. it was defined by the potato koogle my grandmother Sarah made. given that she spoke only Yiddish, this was the best mean of communication we had – her Jewish cooking. her cholent [] was out of this world too. my Jewish identity was defined by thousands of acts of love, sharing, learning… doesn’t have to be deep. and it is my choice what i do with it. i am not proud of letting work dictate religious observance, nor i am ashamed of it. I’m a proud Jew. and it didn’t seem like a real sacrifice.
    would you insist on eating beef when sharing a meal with dear Indian friends, or any Indian, will you insist on ordering the biggest filet mignon off the menu, or will you find a non-beef dish? do you think of it as hypocrisy?

    Comment by yael [ya-el] wagner — June 14, 2011 @ 09:34 | Reply

  3. Yes, I remember THAT discussion was about being an Israeli – I was just bringing the two together unde the ‘discussions about identity’ label 🙂

    As the last paragraph includes direct questions, let me anwer them:

    > would you insist on eating beef when sharing a meal with dear Indian friends, or any Indian, will you insist on ordering the biggest filet mignon off the menu, or will you find a non-beef dish? do you think of it as hypocrisy?

    I would absolutely not do any such thing that hurts somebody else’s feelings or make him/her feel unconfortable, and I do not think that this would be hypocrisy but basic respect. At the same time I would not judge their ‘Indianess’ (is there such a word) but what they eat. And I would try to explain my own conception about ‘Jewishness’ if they are intrigued by the fact that I order shrimps cocktail as a starter and ribs as a main course 🙂

    Comment by Dan Romascanu — June 14, 2011 @ 10:06 | Reply

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