I love bacon! Well, not me. I don’t eat it, but this slogan appears next to the blue HDS magnet on the bumper of a car that frequents our school parking lot during drop-off. I hear about this bumper sticker from time to time. One parent even asked me if it offends me.
I must admit that the idea of an “I Love Bacon” sticker positioned right next to the HDS sticker did make me a little squeamish at first. But should it? And what might this mean about who we are as a school community?
As a community Jewish day school we observe Jewish law (Halacha) at school. We are strictly kosher, observe Shabbat, observe the holidays and pray daily. We believe that holding to these standards makes our school more inclusive to a wide range of Jews who observe differently. A Hillel family can belong to Temple Israel, B’nai Israel or Young Israel and find a comfortable place at Hillel. It doesn’t mean that everything we do, or what our families do, will make everyone comfortable all of the time. That’s what it means to be a pluralistic community Jewish day school. As a pluralistic Jewish day school we strive to create an environment where we actively seek understanding where differences exist.
The most recent Pew study on religions in America reports that 57% of American Jews identify as eating pork products. You may ask, what do Jews who keep kosher have in common with Jews who eat pork? As Professor Howard Lupovitch points out, they share a common heritage. They may not eat the same way, but as Jews, both know there are Jewish laws concerning eating pork. One observes, the other does not. This represents a difference in observance, and not in being Jewish. And while I may observe the mitzvah of Kashrut, I need to recognize and respect that not all Jews engage in the same way.
Judaism is more than the observance of ritual mitzvot. We are more than a religion; we are a people. In fact, we are a people with a common homeland, common language and common values. We share a common history and a narrative as a people. We share the same Bible. And we share the same mitzvot, whether we consider them obligatory or not. There are many Jews who believe that we are commanded to observe these mitzvot. There are others who do not. Many Jews believe that we have an obligation to live by the ethical mitzvot that deal with how we treat others, even if they do not identify them as commandments.
The bumper sticker reminds me of the question of who feels welcomed inside Hillel’s tent. I fear that some Jews get too caught up judging other Jews simply by whether they observe ritual mitzvot. I believe that striving to observe these ritual mitzvot is an essential expression of our identity as a Jewish people, and for many, a way to become closer to God; and I believe we are more than just what (and how) we observe. To focus on ideological frameworks that over-emphasize one dimension of the larger Jewish experience eliminates the starting point for understanding how individuals connect to the Jewish People.
We are a complicated and beautifully diverse and creative people. There are many ways to express our Jewishness and our identity as a people. A family who chooses to send their children to Hillel, supports Israel, travels to Israel, supports the Jewish community, and engages in Jewish rituals in a way that makes sense to them is no less Jewish than the family who is shomer Shabbat. One may be more observant than the other but not more Jewish.
We are a proud and diverse Jewish community at Hillel. We observe mitzvot at school, but we do not intrude on each family’s personal practices in the home.
We are a school where a parent may love bacon, and love that their children are getting a great Jewish education surrounded by different kinds of observing, and less observing, Jews. We should celebrate that so many Jewish families are engaged Jewishly, and are providing a serious and meaningful Jewish education for their children!
So, I am not going to be uncomfortable that there is a parent with a bumper sticker professing a love for bacon next to our HDS sticker. I am concerned, however, that a recently published study links bacon and other processed foods to cancer. So, keep the sticker – but please stop eating bacon for your health, if not for kashrut!