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December 25, 2011

Yes Jake, We're Jewish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Dad.”

“Yes, Jake.”

“Why don’t we have a Christmas tree?”

“We’re Jewish, Jake.” 

“My mom always had a Christmas tree, and she did everything right,” Murphy muttered as he stayed curled up in his house.

“I heard that Murphy.  You’ll survive.”

“I’m not sure,” he grumbled then went back to sleep.

“But dad,” piped in Jake once more, “All the other huskies have Christmas trees.  Some even got to choose theirs.  Can’t we at least have----what is it----oh ya, a Hannuka bush?”

“Nope, no Hannuka bush, Jake.  I’m not religious so we don’t even have a menorah.”

“Hmm, so we’re a little different from almost everybody here, aren’t we?”

“Yes, Jake.”

“I don’t like being different!” cried Cameo.

“We do!” piped in everybody else.  Even Murphy.  I love Siberian Huskies.

I went on, “When I was a pup, I was more like Cam.  I really didn’t want to be different.  It was hard enough being the kid who enjoyed math problems.  It was only as a young adult that I started to like being different.”

“So did you have a Hannuka bush growing up?” asked Fondue, her curiosity a little piqued. 

“No my family was moderately religious and we did celebrate Hannuka, menorah and all.  But Christmas was hard.  A lot of the time, I was the only Jewish kid in my class.  I was always uncomfortable having to explain Hannuka each and every year right before Christmas break.  That’s not in an eight-year-old’s repertoire.  On top of this, Hannuka isn’t a very important Jewish Holiday.  If schools really wanted to match Christmas with the important Jewish holiday of the year, it would be Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.  I may have been too young to be comfortable with being different, but I had been taught the basic annual cycle of Jewish holidays and knew Hannuka was a minor holiday.  And when the words, ‘Christ our savior is born’ came along, I didn’t know what to do, be silent and different or sing along saying something I didn’t believe in.  My dad was brought up in a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx, and he said they still had kids sing Silent Night.  Of course, the room went silent during that phrase.  I suppose Christian kids would have felt like outsiders then. 

“I remember when I was in graduate school, and still somewhat religious, that a member of the Seattle attorney’s office came to the University of Washington Hillel and explained that songs and decorations and so forth that were cultural in nature were allowed in public schools, but those that were religious in nature were not.  He had a devil of a time explaining exactly what that difference was to college and graduate school students.  I didn’t say what I was thinking which was, if he’s having so much difficulty explaining that difference to college students, how does anybody explain it to a first grader?”

“But isn’t taking Christmas out of public schools----I think I saw a special on Fox----part of the war on Christmas? “ piped in Tempest.

“There’s never been a war on Christmas.  Get real, Temp.  In the U.S., Christmas is everywhere.  There are fanatics who want to take Christmas out of public view, but very few.  Any private institution has the right to do anything it wants.  Most non-Christians just say it doesn’t belong in a government institution any more than Jewish or Muslim holidays do.   The real point is any kid should be able to go to a public school and not have the school pointing out their difference, at least not as an eight year old. 

“I was pretty hurt as a kid.  My dilemma about singing Silent Night would have been the same as giving a Christian kid the choice between staying silent and being different or singing, ‘Christ, the false messiah with the best public relations team was born.’  Having had the experiences I had, I’d certainly fight to make sure no Christian child is asked to sing that in their public school.  Or any Muslim child or Hindu or Buddhist.

“As a teenager, I was pretty angry about this.  In high school, my best friend was Jewish.  The pastor who was asked to give the invocation our senior year was specifically asked not to use “Jesus” in his address.  Of course, he neglected this just like Rich and I figured he would.  We had fantasized about hanging out in the back and yelling out, ‘Jesus who?’  Of course, we just stayed home.  We were starting to develop a bit of wisdom.  Yelling ‘Jesus who?’ works much better as a fantasy than a reality. 

“It wasn’t until graduate school that I realized that Christmas was my friends’ holiday, and if it made them happy, it made me happy too.  I have to think that if there hadn’t been Christmas festivals in elementary school, I would have figured that out a lot earlier in my life.

“So how do you feel when friends say, “Merry Christmas” to you piped in Mitzi.

“If I don’t know them well, I’ll just say Merry Christmas back.  They’re just being friendly and that’s what counts.  I will correct closer friends because I do want them to know I don’t celebrate Christmas.  Usually, I’ll just say, ‘Happy Hannuka,’ with a friendly smile.  I do prefer that to ‘Happy Holidays’ which sounds a bit disingenuous.  If we want to show hospitality, we find out what works for our friends.  And I really do prefer hospitality over tolerance.  We tolerate flaws in people we love.  We are hospitable to our friends.  And of course if Christian friends say Happy Hannuka to me, I say Merry Christmas to them.

“How about New Years?” asked Jake.

“Well, New Years has always been a cultural holiday for me, so I’ve usually celebrated it along with everybody else.  But Jake, do you know what New Years actually celebrates?”

“No, what?”

“It celebrates Christ’s bris, his circumcision and naming.  Kind of ironic that it actually celebrates a major Jewish tradition.”

“Dad, you talk too much.  You should feed us instead,” piped in Tempest. 

After a few quiet minutes Tok came to a realization and asked in a horrified voice, “Wait a second, if we’re Jewish, does that mean we have to be circumcised?” 

“No Tok, there’s no Jewish tradition of circumcising animals.  However, if you look closely, you’ll find that you have been neutered.”

“What??????”

 “Dad, you really do talk too much.”  Temp piped in once more.

She was probably right.

   
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