“I am now a vegetarian,” our daughter, 11, announced proudly one night in 2001. “Why now,” I wanted to know? “I just bought one of your favorite foods — hot dogs.”
To many people, becoming a vegetarian can appear to be a phase until the newness and excitement wear off. Our Gila, however, is a person who stands by her beliefs. When she is committed to a goal, she follows through no matter what. To her dismay, my husband, of blessed memory, our 6-year old son and I were not going to change with her. After all, we were already limited to what we could eat by keeping kosher and watching our weight. My husband was in remission from cancer and finally starting to enjoy food again. No way was he going to give up eating meat, chicken and fish.
Now that we had a vegetarian in the family, I had to rethink my view of vegetarians. There was, perhaps, some sense to their idealism, even though I wasn’t ready to make that change for myself. As a child of the 1960s and 1970s, I remember eating meat or chicken for dinner almost every night, except during the nine days before Tisha B’Av, a time which still is quite difficult for us carnivores.
With the transition to a vegetarian way of life, Gila developed a great interest in cooking and trying out new foods and spices. While I don’t always enjoy everything she cooks, I am amazed and fascinated by her creativity in the kitchen and the joy she finds in putting together a healthy and attractive vegetarian meal.
Do I wish to call myself a vegetarian and become a “member of the club?” I am not ready to make that commitment now, but I do consider myself to be a vegetarian sympathizer.
Vegetarianism, I have learned, has become much more common and accepted. Although eating animals is so much a part of Jewish culture, the Jewish community is more open to the ideas of those who avoid eating meat. The world of food, including the kosher industry, has also expanded, making it easier for vegetarians to enjoy creative and gourmet meals.
My family members may not all agree on our lifestyles and values, but there is room for diversity. Over the years, we have made peace with our choices, and we try to accommodate one another’s needs. Our sages had various opinions about Judaism and vegetarianism. Richard Schwartz, an Orthodox Jewish vegetarian, writes about this topic in his book, “Judaism and Vegetarianism.” I will be presenting a workshop on this subject at Baltimore’s third annual LimmudFEST at Goucher College on Sunday, Sept. 7.
As Jews, we can learn from one another and appreciate our diversity, a core value of Limmud. At LimmudFEST, Jews of all ages and levels of religious observance will unite in celebration of Jewish study, culture, and identity. Coming together to celebrate our commonalities and differences helps us build lasting connections with one another, just like my family and our vegetarian trailblazer.
Hannah M. Heller is Torah reading coordinator at Chevrei Tzedek Congregation, a Bnei Mitzvah tutor at Beth El Congregation and a standardized patient educator for Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.