Zack Bodner is Chief Executive Officer of the OFJCC. He also served
for 14 years as the Pacific Northwest Regional Director of the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Zack holds a
Bachelor’s degree from Yale and a Master’s degree in Philosophy of
Religion and Theology with a focus on Zionist thought and Jewish
history from Claremont Graduate University. He is an accomplished
speaker on the national stage, and his writing on Israel and Judaism
appears frequently in publications throughout the U.S. and Israel.
While we won't be hosting Bacon with Bodner at the OFJCC any time soon, we did just host a successful Bourbon with Bodner, bringing together more than fifty people for booze and schmooze. And in the next couple weeks, we will be celebrating Hanukkah here at the OFJCC and out in our community as well.
This time of year always makes me think about how we ritualize our heritage. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus or some combination of them, how we do Jewish is an ever-evolving experiment for many in our community.
Personally, I'm a bit of a traditionalist wrapped in innovator's clothing. That phrase is probably best unpacked by telling you about my relationship with bacon.
I love bacon. Or at least, I used to love bacon back when I ate bacon…and pepperoni and short ribs and, well, you get the idea. I stopped eating treyf as a New Year's resolution back in December of 1994, when I returned from studying abroad in Israel and wanted a way to hold on to my experience.
You might be saying, "There are surely easier ways!" And yes, there are. But this is what I came up with at the time. Now, over twenty years later, married with three children, I still stick to it. We don't eat treyf…at least, not in the house.
Okay, yes, I know—there are a few inconsistencies in my philosophy. But like Gandhi said, "My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment."
The truth is, this is how I was raised: no pepperoni pizza in the house, but mu-shu pork at the local Chinese restaurant on Sunday night was ok (as long as we didn't bring home any left-overs). In his later years, my dad (of blessed memory), was famous for ordering lobster bisque in restaurants, asking them to "Hold the lobster garnish."
And now we do it similarly in my house. No treyf in the house. Though we have taken it one step further: we also don't eat anything that went "oink" outside the house as well. (Shellfish is ok, however; we call this "Pacific Northwest Kosher.")
Today, I have three kids in Jewish day school and they are old enough to ask the tough questions, challenge their parents, and put us on the hot seat with our inconsistencies—which is really why we pay for them to go to Jewish day school, right? (I have to keep reminding myself of that.)
So when we were with my extended family over Thanksgiving, including the three step-siblings who married non-Jews, they mercilessly teased my 12-year-old, daring her to try some bacon over brunch. She looked at me, not knowing what to do. She knows the rules of kashrut; she knows we don't eat bacon; and she herself had never had bacon before. So she was torn.
I said to her, "You are about to have your Bat Mitzvah. You are learning the different ways Jews do Jewish and what being Jewish means to you. And I think you are old enough to make your own decisions about how you want to do Jewish."
I explained to her why we don't eat bacon and continued, "If you want to try bacon, you can. And then you should make up your own mind as to whether or not you want to keep eating bacon or not. But know this: you're going to love it."
Every day, we all make big and small decisions about how to live Jewishly. That brunch was one of those times for my family. And perhaps as December 25 approaches, the rituals of this season will be one of those times for you and your family.
Here at the OFJCC, we welcome those moments and those tough decisions. We want this to be a place of tradition and innovation. We want to help you experiment with how to do Jewish in your family. So if you have a question about how to live Jewishly, come explore it with us here at the OFJCC. We are likely going through the same journey as you.
In my family's case, I am not sure what will happen the next time my daughter encounters some delicious, crispy bacon, but I will respect her decision either way. Come to think of it, maybe Bacon with Bodner at the JCC isn't such a bad idea after all…