Hey guys! Hope your semesters and breaks went well! No, I am not acknowledging all of you fine people who are still on break. It’s a matter of dignity.
I happen to be pretty excited to go back to school. Back to the grind. Back to the meal-to-meal, meeting-to-meeting mindset. Back to the less-than-six-minute commute to all of my classes. Back to the library. Just kidding. The stench of finals is certainly still hovering in the stuffy air in the random computer cluster next to the Judaica Section.
In my previous post, which was somewhat of a “this is my life, please stop harassing me with questions about the moderately contentious things I do on campus and let me study for Psych Stats” essay, I mentioned that I was becoming deeply involved with the independent community and minyan that my friends and I put together on campus this semester (Kehillat Sha’ar). I name-dropped the famed Hadar for reference, noting that the model on the Brandeis campus is essentially inspired by this flagship institution on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And lo and behold, I have spent nearly my entire break learning the ways of that community.
I practically dove straight from finals into the Mechon Hadar Singing Communities Intensive program, which was a comprehensive introduction to revamping Jewish music through prayer and song in the context of the high holidays. Yes, we were shuckling and singing“Avinu Malkeinu” from the very bottom of our end-of-December hearts.
And yup, the girl who was never incredibly keen on liturgical music was just singing a slow tune to “Vechol Ma’aminim.” In January. While folding laundry. The bush may not have have been consumed, but the Hadar Kool-Aid sure has.
At any rate, that was beyond fantastic and I have so much more to say about that experience, but I have another important note to share with you guys, based on insights I picked up during my second week at Hadar. If you were there, don’t skip to the bottom and be all like “I already heard her reflection.” This part I didn’t share in public, so read on, Hadarniks.
During the Winter Learning Seminar, we spoke about the complexities we find within the relationship of Judaism and food. One morning, one of the faculty members posed the following question: Have you ever been given something to eat that you didn’t mean to consume, whether that pertains to some sort of dietary restriction, including Kashrut, or allergies, etc.?
My thoughts pushed toward the latter part of the question. No, I don’t have any allergies. At least not those whose reactions are induced by food consumption of any sort. I do have weird eye allergy issues, but that is simply so far beyond the bounds of anything relevant to my point.
I am lactose intolerant. I have been since I was nearly five. It has been an inextricable part of my identity since. Thank God it’s not a really dangerous situation, but it does require a certain level of vigilance.
To take a step into my mind, you need to understand the strangely raised anxiety levels I incur when I watch a character on TV eat a cookie without taking a Lactaid pill. God, I hope that cookie’s pareve (non-dairy), my mind asserts. And with a glass of milk!? They must be out of their minds. Or, gosh, that’s irresponsible.
And naturally I’ve grown up to think that way…to really think twice about even the smallest snack that I may be offered. Lactose is freaking everywhere. Underrated. But lately I’ve been considering the times where I take more of a carefree stance on the situation, where I might just take something that someone offers me, and consciously decide not to take a pill, for whatever reason. Or have something that I simply shouldn’t be having to begin with, even if medicated.
For instance, this past semester, the various coffee vendors on campus were constantly running out of skim milk, and yet I would still order whatever I normally would and take the 2% milk willingly although with sufficient concern. For all the times I claim that my “stomach is going to die,” it only has gotten angry once or twice, so I haven’t really learned my lesson. Or we can think about the time last week that I went to Pinkberry with a few friends. I didn’t order anything, but a friend offered me a bite of his. I gladly accepted. Nope, no pill. Yikes. It was totally fine, but somewhat unwise. It’s what happens when you begin to take a condition for granted.
But the question of this YOLO approach can be discussed pertaining to certain religious texts we discussed over the course of my program. Granted that this was in reference to a discussion regarding the permissibility of smoking and transfats, we took a look at the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, in the section hilkhot de’ot. He writes that you may not consume things that cause illness, and that in essence lessen your ability to worship God fully. This is part of a larger recurring theme in the Jewish tradition that emphasizes the concept of shmirat haguf, literally meaning the guarding/safekeeping of the body. According to these precepts, there is a certain expectation that one must be responsible in their decisions with respect to what he or she puts in his or her body, based on his or her respective limits.
I may be only 15 years into my diagnosis and may not have logged a fully comprehensive listing of my limits, but I get the general idea. No more shenanigans. No ifs, ands or buts.
Growing up I was “that kid” who was lactose intolerant. No one else around me was (except my mother), and no one really knew what it was. They just knew that I had these little white square packets that magically allowed me to eat ice cream. Now, it seems like more and more people are joining the party. The most amazing moment for me was at one of my first a cappella rehearsals, when during a birthday celebration, nearly half of the other girls there reached into their backpack pockets to pull out a pill. I was beside myself. Although at first I was alarmed that my distinctiveness was essentially gone, I later realized that it bode well for me that almost all of my friends carry around Lactaid pills. Being intolerant no longer causes me to be unnecessarily dietetic. Thanks, y’all.
And also the media has recently become kinder to us folk (maybe because everyone is realizing that most humans aren’t really meant to digest lactose anyways). “White Chicks”, a movie that came out in the early 2000’s, was not only incredibly offensive and unsophisticated in a larger discussion of race and gender, but also had a crude scene in which both main characters suffer from an “attack” of Lactose Intolerance. It’s not really like that, guys. During that movie, which I must have seen when I was eight or nine, I all of a sudden felt incredibly objectified and left the room. Probably the most dramatic thing I did at that age. Especially at someone else’s house. I didn’t really have many other crusades. Luckily movie producers are busy with other farces nowadays.
The bottom line is that the biggest part of growing up is learning to make these situational distinctions on our own and enduring the consequences of our faulty decisions. I have been dabbling at this since 1999 and have pretty much been calling the shots since, but nonetheless, having a greater understanding as an adult, especially with backing from various textual sources, has bolstered the profound nature of shmirat haguf and self-awareness. Oftentimes I say “self-awareness is key,” often in jest (insert bitter sarcasm) and in response to a friend who has just admitted to doing something ridiculous, but it really translates to just about everything we do.
You might be wondering the backstory of the title. Good question. So basically, the phrase “in the kishkes” has framed my winter break experience. Essentially meaning “in the gut” (kishkes is Yiddish), this phrase is a go-to favorite of Joey Weisenberg, the Hadar faculty member who basically ran the singing program and made a guest appearance at the end of the Winter Learning Seminar. He takes it to mean the process of really truly internalizing a certain piece of music (“first it’s all about knowing of the melody’s existence, then it’s about getting it in the kishkes…”). I clearly did that with the various liturgical pieces we learned that week, but I also am replanting the phrase into the food-centric exploration I’ve just laid out for you all.
And with that, I’m wishing you all the best and hope you’ve enjoyed this post! As usual, feel free to comment and ask away!
Hannah Z. Kober
P.S.-Click here for the promo video us Brandesians at the singing program made for Kehillat Sha’ar: