I Can Have My Bacon And Eat It, Too
Religion is a funny thing. Last week the Jewish high holidays happened, and every year right about now, I tend to get introspective and unordinarily gung-ho about “recommitting” myself to Judaism (or whatever you want to call efforts I should be making year-round to not be considered the horrible Jew I am).
I don’t think you have to follow all the rules and believe every story to be part of a religion. In fact, one of the things I love about Judaism, in extremely simple terms, is that it’s so much more than a religion.
Religion is just a small part of what’s involved in being a Jew. But then again, anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Seinfeld or been to a Channukah party knows that.
The high holidays, for my gentile friends not in the know, consist of two main parts, the first being Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. It’s a two-night holiday that starts a ten-day period of introspection (that’s actually supposed to go on the entire month leading up to Rosh Hashanah), capped off by the second part of the holidays, Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, which you may know as the day we sit schvitzing in temple, saying “I’m sorry” and promising to be better Jews, all the while bitching about our growling stomachs and how it’s totally not fair that we can’t even chew gum to hold us over.
Now, I openly admit that I’m a bad Jew. I don’t go to synagogue, I don’t keep kosher (I sincerely believe if God really didn’t want us to eat bacon, he wouldn’t have made it so delicious), I wear polyester… But every year at Rosh Hashanah, I get nostalgic for Hebrew school and retreats and baking challah and singing and, believe it or not, sitting in temple.
Of course, I’m sitting at my desk as I write this, having awkwardly dodged my boss’s question of why I wasn’t in temple today. But it means something that it’s at least on my mind, right?
Somewhere in that crazy brain of mine is a piece reserved for religion, carved out early on, in my formative years spent in Jewish preschool and summer camps, singing “Pharaoh, Pharoah” to the tune of “Louie, Louie.” During the first ten days of the year, it gets overstimulated, then craps out at Christmas parties, where they serve delicious things like bacon-wrapped dates and honey-glazed ham.
Still, I take the meaning of the holiday to heart and am generally a nicer person in September and October, trying to make up for broken promises, severed ties, and anything else I might have done to just piss someone off.
A large part of me considers my religious oscillation complete hypocrisy, and my lame attempt at annual redemption a veritable joke. It’s a typical example of how the average person will take something some people consider to be the holiest, most solemn time and take advantage of it—make light of it—so they can feel like a better person.
Just because I fast for a day doesn’t make up for the fact that the rest of the year, I “sin” and enjoy it. Just because I fast for a day doesn’t mean all those people I’ve wronged will forgive me, or that I’m one step closer to the promised land. All it means is that I fast for a day and unintentionally lose a few pounds.
Giving something up for a short period of time—say, for Yom Kippur or Lent—doesn’t make you a better Jew or Catholic. But I still do it, and I still feel that I’m fulfilling an obligation, that I’m being at least somewhat dutiful, connecting to the community I love, reminding myself why I love it, remembering that there’s more to religion than standing in the pews reciting Kaddish and the Amidah.
When all the horrible Jews get together to break the fast, and we’re kvetching about the sun taking too long to set, just to piss us off, I know what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than yourself, to participate in millennium-long traditions, to have a place somewhere.
And if they have bacon and cheeseburgers in that place, even better.