My neighbors went out of their way to get kosher meat for my family for our upcoming block party. They were so kind and accommodating, and I appreciated it so much that I forgot to check the calendar. Turns out, the block party is during the Nine Days, a time when we don’t eat meat. What can I do not to rebuff their thoughtfulness?
Oops it’s Av
Before I launch into an answer, let me provide a little context for those who are unfamiliar: Tisha B’Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, is considered the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, a day for mourning the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem along with every other tragedy that has befallen the Jewish people. In preparation for this communal mourning experience, many Jews abstain from meat (and practice other mourning-like rituals) in the days leading up to this solemn day, with a culmination on the actual day with a complete fast day.
Just like all Jewish holidays, Tisha B’Av moves around the secular calendar, and it can get overlooked in the midst of summer vacations and gatherings. Now that you’ve made this understandable oversight, though, you have to figure out how to hold to your observance while also not alienating your neighbors.
As important as it is for other people to accommodate your needs, it’s only truly gracious if it comes with an understanding of what the needs really are and why. Straightforward honesty seems like the best possible course.
As soon as possible, stop by your neighbor’s house. Say something like, “I wanted to come by before the block party to thank you again for accommodating my family by getting kosher meat. Normally, everything you’ve done would be perfect to make us completely comfortable and able to eat with everyone. I made a mistake with the calendar, though, and I wanted to explain. This week is part of a sad time in the Jewish calendar when many people, my family included, don’t eat meat for nine days.
“I can tell you more about why if you’re interested, but the bottom line is, we won’t be eating the kosher meat this week. I’m happy to buy it from you and to bring our own veggie burgers to the barbeque for us and anyone else who wants to eat vegetarian, but there’s no need to serve the kosher meat at the block party if we’re the only ones who were going to eat it.”
You might be met with a blank stare. You might never have your neighbors go out of their way to accommodate your kashrut again. But you’re not trying to fake something or pretend away either your mistake or your beliefs.
There’s another column I could have written in which I might have suggested not saying a word to your neighbors, taking a hamburger and not eating it or even relying on other people’s lack of consideration to eat the kosher meat that wasn’t intended for them. But you would gain nothing by those strategies, whereas, by being honest with your neighbor, you might come to a better understanding of each other’s higher existential experiences, thus contributing to the greater good.
Too much? Maybe, but as a former vegetarian turned reluctant occasional meat eater, and as someone with an ever-challenging relationship to Tisha B’Av, it’s important to own your discomfort and own up to what’s really going on. I had multiple experiences in my vegetarian days where someone would make me a portabella roast, or some such noxious thing as my main dish, and I would have to explain, repeatedly, that, yes, I was a vegetarian who hates mushrooms. The problem with accommodations is that when someone makes them for you in a way that you don’t want, both you and the other person are left feeling unsatisfied and put out and misunderstood.
Though this isn’t the issue you stated, Tisha B’Av can be hard to deal with for a lot of contemporary Jews. A prescribed day of mourning for centuries-old tragedies isn’t something that a society that has car sales for Memorial Day can really understand.
I like to think that part of the lesson of the day is figuring out how to be a modern person who can contextualize what ancient tragedies would look like if they happened today. Or, as with much of Judaism in America today, to see Tisha B’Av as an opportunity to inhabit two realities, two cultures, two realities at the same time.
I know — you asked me about a barbecue, and I answered about civilization as a whole. But if we don’t see our observance as connected to something larger — sometimes much, much larger — maybe just eating the burger would a more logical choice. If that’s not the direction for you, then I hope all this context adds meaning to your choices and enhances your connection to your neighbors.