I grew up in a community where seldom did people look at me oddly when I told them I kept Kosher. The most outrageous reaction I received was in third grade when my friend asked me if I would explode if I ate bacon. Luckily for elementary school me, my teacher was Jewish and calmly explained to her what it meant.
For those who don’t know what it means to keep kosher, it’s a pretty easy concept. The more conservative you are, there more rules there are, and I keep it at a basic level. To keep it simple, I don’t eat pork, keep meat and dairy products separate when eating (e.g., no cheeseburgers), and don’t eat shellfish. At home I have separate sets of silverware and plates for both meat and dairy, but here that’s not necessary.
I had a lot of friends growing up, Jewish and otherwise, that didn’t keep Kosher, and so I figured going to college I wouldn’t find difficulties. Keeping Kosher never felt like much of a restriction. And with such a large Jewish population, Kenyon seemed like the place where I would find other students keeping Kosher. It never seemed like a large part of my identity until I got here.
Starting from pre-orientation and continuing after that, I was incredibly mindful of my dietary restrictions. I kept vegetarian on the outdoors pre-orientation just so I wouldn’t even have to think about what I was putting in my mouth. When attending several weenie roasts for various clubs, I felt annoying asking to check the packets to see if they contained pork. At Peirce, I can feel people’s frustration as I hold up the line looking at all the different dietary info to clarify if what’s being served is Kosher. Even then, on several occasions I’ve accidentally eaten bacon, or have had to ask a friend to sniff unidentified meat to see if it was pork or not.
Keeping Judaism as a fundamental part of my identity has certainly been more difficult at Kenyon. While there is a large Jewish population, it’s quiet, and almost a Create Your Own Adventure situation. I’ve picked and chosen what Hillel events to go to, which holidays to celebrate, and what religion will mean to me in college. Judaism was always a cultural thing to me more than a structured guideline of how to live my life, so I’ve enjoyed exploring the culture here and what I can make of it.
For other students who keep Kosher or want to learn how to incorporate religion into college life, there are resources. I’ve found a lot of comfort in finding my small communities of other Jewish students who can relate. I’ve gone to Hillel events, I’m taking a class that studies the Old Testament, and I attended services. But I’ve also enjoyed having friends who aren’t religious at all, and are interested in learning about all these terms and holidays. It’s definitely been interesting trying to figure out how to incorporate Judaism here at Kenyon, where previously I never had to think about consciously activating that part of my life.
There are days when I walk into Peirce and get frustrated by the lack of options that I have. There have been Friday nights and holidays where I wished I was home with my family that understood the ways in which I utilized and appreciated religion. But I’ve also relished finding other students who were counselors at Jewish sleepaway camp, and understand all the little quirks of cultural Judaism that I love.
I keep Kosher because it’s something I’ve done my entire life. I practice Judaism because I love the cultural aspect and how it allows me to explore what parts of the religion I like and dislike. I’m not going to shout bible verses at you, and I’m not going to cringe if you eat bacon in front of me or practice another religion or don’t believe in God. You eat your cheeseburger, and I’ll find my own option. Overall, I enjoy that religion is a choice that I can choose in college. I don’t have to keep Kosher, and I don’t have to celebrate holidays, but I’m choosing to, whereas at home my Jewish identity is a given. I can be so many other things here; I’m a writer for The Thrill, I’m on the frisbee team, I’m a freshman who has no idea what I’m going to study, and I’m a Kenyon student. And I’m happy with how my identity is changing, and how I’m finding other things at Kenyon that help me express who I am.