(I love this pic from a Hanukkah several years ago….)
It’s always at this time of year that I start thinking more about interfaith issues. After last year, I promised myself that I was going to go off-line for the month of December. Close myself in a little cocoon, and surround myself only with people who knew and understood where I was coming from, when it came to celebrating Christmas. Last year was when I had an article published on kveller.com, and the response caught me totally off guard. Especially when the next day, a rabbi posted her response, questioning whether I was providing my children with a strong enough spiritual foundation to sustain them as they grew up.
I’ve thought a lot about this, over the past several months. Because I know it’s coming – December. That time of year, every year, when all the decisions I’ve made fall under the microscope and I question whether I’m doing anything right. When I stumble into a conversation with another Jewish mama, and we start talking about interfaith issues, I feel myself lighting up. Because this is a huge part of who I am, and what I struggle with, and the more I talk about it, the more WE talk about, the easier and less scary it becomes.
The rest of the year, I’m a happy Jewish girl. Lighting Shabbat candles, braiding challah, running the Sisterhood at the synagogue and reading PJ Library books to my kids. But then the fall comes, and I celebrate the Jewish holidays. I spend so much time thinking about my Judaism, and talking with the kids about it. It’s so much more in the forefront when I’m at the synagogue four or five times a week, with religious school and other commitments. I know that December is coming, and there’s a part of me that’s already dreading it.
December is about family and about childhood memories, and about honoring my traditions and where I come from. It’s about passing down those things to my children. My Jewish children. There’s a conflict inherent in that, and it’s not one that I handle well. I think I could, by myself. Left to my own devices, I’m very much at peace with it all. I love being Jewish, I feel at home and safe within the traditions, and it’s exactly what I want for my children. But I also want my kids to honor their heritage from my side of the family – and that means Christmas.
(Four Jewish kids decorating my tree)
Converting to Judaism has added so much to my life, but it has also added some additional complications. Hurt feelings on the part of my mother, who loves me and wants only for what’s best for me and the kids. But she can’t help wishing that we celebrated her holidays more fully. Confusion and anger on the part of my sister, because why am I giving up so much? My husband would rather skip the whole Christmas thing too – and there’s that added level of knowing that it’s hard for him to have what, for him and so many other Jews, is a Christian symbol of a tree in the living room. Plus there’s that balance of deciding what to give for Hanukkah or Christmas, and knowing that we aren’t celebrating Hanukkah as fully as other Jewish families, because my kids are also getting gifts later on in the month. Some part of Jewish identity is tied up in NOT celebrating Christmas. That’s an element of Jewish identity that I’m not passing on to my kids.
December is coming and I’m aware of it. It’s there, waiting. I know I won’t be able to avoid the judgement or the condemnation, the confusion or the hurt feelings. But I’m hoping that this year, I’ll be able to focus a little more on the beauty that comes from melding two different cultures. Because that’s what we do – every year. We teach the kids about the traditions we grew up with, I make my grandmother’s donut recipe and serve them with latkes at our Hanukkah party, and Marc gets the kids psyched about watching “Santa Claus is coming to town” and fixes my tree when it topples over. I hope that this year, I’m able to survive December without the angst. To light the Hanukkah candles, and hang the candy canes with joy and celebration, and not guilt and feelings of isolation. To not worry so much about what everyone thinks about the way we celebrate in the middle of the winter, but embrace the traditions that come from both of us.