Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Faith and Stinky Cheese

When we first moved here, we found ourselves frustrated by the poor selection of fancy stinky cheese. (We are obnoxious cheese snobs.) The local wine shop carried a small, massively overpriced selection, which we quickly tapped. After that, we stocked up on our periodic trips to the Whole Foods 60 miles away. In between Whole Foods runs, we settled for the chunks of brie available from Costco, which were massive in size rather than price. Still, the memory of the most perfect cheese ever lingered. A blue chevre we’d had a couple of times in our old city, it was the perfect balance of all that makes chevre and blue cheese good. It seemed laughable to think we would ever track it down here. I scoured the internet. Nothing. Yet, how could I give up on perfection?

The lack of blue chevre seemed to represent everything that chafed about small town life. You have to cling to the memory of how good the blue chevre was, because if you don't, you slowly become accustomed to the huge chunks of brie available at Costco, which are not altogether bad, but are not blue chevre. It takes work to get blue chevre, and it's easy to get brie from Costco. Plus, there's more of it, and it's cheaper. After awhile, you find yourself wondering what was so great about blue chevre, because after all, it's been over a year since you last had it, and it's probably not nearly as good as you remembered it, anyway. Certainly not worth driving 60 miles.

Our experience of being an interfaith family is quite similar to our experience of being obnoxious cheese snobs, and it’s one of the reasons we strongly feel the need to move back to an urban environment. Our first year here, we were preparing to celebrate Hanukkah and realized we couldn’t find Hanukkah candles. We looked in several stores with no luck. At Passover we had the same struggle with finding the right type of matzo meal. The overwhelming majority of the population here is Baptist, whereas in our old city, we knew a number of Jewish/Christian families. We lived a mile away from a great Jewish Community Center, and within walking distance of an incredibly open and welcoming Catholic Church. There, it was easy to feel like part of a community.

Here, we find ourselves feeling a bit like an island. It’s easy to find yourself slowly losing the things you once valued, simply because they are harder to come by. If you can’t find blue chevre, you pick up some Costco brie. If you can’t find Hanukkah candles, you improvise lighting the menorah with votives, but in both cases, you are left feeling unsatisfied and unsettled, as if something about you just doesn’t quite fit. These are the things that make it hard, but these are also the things that make us more focused on celebrating the traditions of our respective faiths within our family. If we let them go now, there is nothing here that will bring them back to us.

In our old city, there was a community that could have anchored us to those traditions, but here we must anchor ourselves. Ultimately, I think we will be thankful for the time we spend in this town, as it's prompted us to really examine our faiths and the roles they play in our family's everyday life and traditions. Until then, I look forward to the day I can go to the store and pick up blue chevre and Hanukkah candles, all in one easy transaction.

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