Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

My relationship with Christmas has evolved since I became a Jew. In the beginning, it felt very weird to participate at all because it wasn't "my" holiday anymore. We have always celebrated with family because my mother would be devastated (and alone) if we didn't. But it didn't mean much to me.

I've taken a lot of heat for that. The majority culture celebrates Christmas and sees no reason why a Jew of any striped should not. But to my family Christmas is a religious holiday and it has taken some time for me to remove that context and just celebrate the season.

I guess that is part of being a Jew in the US--having the cadence of your holidays just be slightly off from everyone else's. That difference, that off rhythm feeling is part of Jewish identity.

This year I took my daughter to see Santa. It didn't occur to me that she has had no exposure to Santa and wouldn't know who he was. Stripped of that context it is a pretty weird ritual. I guess that I should have done some ground work, though I confess the Santa trip was an impulse--a photo op for the Grandmas (who were thrilled). I wonder at the difference between my daughter's childhood and mine--and I am finding myself weirdly glad that she is getting a touch of the fun of Santa. I doubt she will ever BELIEVE but she will get to have that magic anyway.

Tomorrow we will spend the day with people we love. We will get to watch our girl open up toys and have that excitement that only little kids can really muster. We will eat and nap and feel lucky all day. No matter what you celebrate (or not), I hope you can do the same.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Happy Holidays

Since Hanukkah began I have been treated to my least favorite, most likely to cause rage, douchey thing people say to me around Jewish holidays three times.

The cadence of Jewish holidays--especially those more demanding in nature than Hanukkah which, lets face it, is mainly about eating and fun--is different than that of the majority of people in the US. Even those who are not Christian tend to follow that calendar since it is the dominant culture here. The customs of Judaism are foreign and different and Other to a lot of people.

And, unfortunately, people say some ugly or clueless things. Last week I was stressed at work, it has just been a madhouse and well, as often happens, people were not being very respectful of my time and the deadlines sucked and BAH. I was worrying aloud because Friday was the holiday and also J's birthday and I just wanted to get HOME in time to do the holiday. And some one piped up, "You know, God doesn't care if you light candles."

Believe me when I say that I said this more professionally at work but the tone and my expression are exactly what you are imagining though I was as neutral as possible. But let me say here what I think.


Ok, let me expand on that. No, I don't think a supreme being cares about my candle lighting. Nor do I think he/she/they care if I eat leavened bread during Passover or fast during the fasts. I don't think God gives a flying fuck if I run naked through the street singing Yankee Doodle Dandy.

I also don't think if God cares if you celebrate Christmas or go to church or pray before meals.

Those things are religious constructs. They are an expression of faith and part of an identity. I want to be home for candle lighting because it is important to ME. It is part of our family identity. It is part of how we are Jewish. It is part of how we interact with the world. It is just as important to me as your family shit is to you.

I am tired of the smug attitude that those of us who are something different are lesser. Your celebrations and prayers and the things you find meaning in are not more important than mine. I made my choices last week--I finished my work and I was late to our celebration--and I don't know if I made the right ones. I did what I think we all do, which is the best that I can in the moment. My priorities have to be fluid and I just have to keep moving. But I have gotten this smarm before and it isn't about work being more important, it is about the person not thinking that the practice has any value.

My father does this before Passover every year. He says "well God doesn't care if you eat bread."

It is the shittiest thing he says to me all year. I am pretty sure he doesn't see it that way, and would be surprised that I feel it that way. And I can't just say it baldly to him the way I would anyone else because my dad and I don't communicate that way. But basically he is saying that something I do to be part of a community and as a religious practice and whatever has no value. Let me tell you that the whole point of Passover is that the diet sucks and it is a time honored tradition to bitch about it. I am pretty sure the Jews wandering the desert bitched and moaned unless they were really insufferable. But that doesn't mean that you just pack it in and eat a pizza. It is just part of the deal.

It is 2010 and we live in a diverse culture. Maybe instead of worrying about the War on Christmas or school prayer or whatever bullshit worry that people who have the majority position in the country (and therefore the power) are doing today they could think about how if we all just respected each other's beliefs and needs and how we expressed ourselves we wouldn't have to worry about those lines in the sand. We could say Happy Holidays and people would know that people mean it in a kind and generous way. Kids could pray or not in however they see fit.

And no one would be an asshole again.

Happy Holidays.