Hate and homophobia cannot stand

My synagogue is holding a joint vigil for the Pulse nightclub victims with our interfaith council and our local LGBT center tonight.

I could not be there in person, because I have been having some really rotten anxiety over the last few weeks that keeps me from being able to leave my home without help. Instead, I am watching the livestream, and liveblogging it here and on Facebook.

Our cantor began the song with “We Shall Overcome.” I sang along here at home.

So far, our rabbi, a local imam, another member of the interfaith council, our cantor, and several other people have spoken. There has been music and song and a defiant refusal to let this stop us and hurt us.

There have been acknowledgments of the harm that the fundamentalist and conservative wings of the Abrahamic religions have done to those who are GSM (gender and sexual minorities). There have been offerings of brotherhood from the Muslim community. There have been expressions of solidarity from the LGBT community. Our mayor is a gay Latino man and sent his well-wishes with the LGBT community center director.

There are two ASL signers at the front of the room.

The imam: “Dear brothers and sisters, they are never going to break us. Be the way you want to be. Be Christian if you want, be a Jew if you want, be a Muslim if you want, be an atheist if you want, be no religion if you want. We are the people of peace, and we’re going to keep doing it. It doesn’t matter what. Salaam aleikum.”

“Love wins when love is a verb.” – LGBT center director

Our rabbi: “We are going to show others that our diversity does not undermine our community – it is the foundation of the very strength of our community!”

The city councilwoman for the district where our temple is located said that our cantor’s voice makes her feel like, if Heaven has music, that’s the sound that pipes through the halls of Heaven.

(I can’t guarantee exact wording here. Sorry. I don’t type as fast as they’re talking.)

She’s also discussing the level of hate that exists in this country. She says, “This recent tragedy (in Orlando) is part of the culture of violence we’re witnessing. How did we get to this place where mass shootings are just another news story? They always involve someone who is ostracized from their community and feel they have to be part of something bigger.”

She says, “I’ve been a prosecutor for seventeen years and I’ve never seen a homeowner use a machine gun to protect their home. We need to talk about gun violence…. Once the grief and tears are past, we have to think about solutions.”

Our congressman’s representative speaks – he could not be here, as he was in D.C. this morning (we’re on the other side of the country). She talks about the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, the Stonewall riots, and other examples of the fear and hate that drive these kinds of atrocities leading right up to Pulse. She also talks about how the guns are far too easily to access and obtain. And finally, she calls for equality for all Americans.

Our cantor speaks about the work that needs to be done, and mentions Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony acceptance sonnet/speech: “Nothing here is promised; not one day… and love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be swept aside; now fill the world with music, love and pride.”

She sings Daniel Nahmood’s “Last Song”:

If this is my last song / If this is my final day
If tomorrow I’ll be gone / What do I want to say
If this is my last song / If it’s my time to go
When my body’s moved on / What will I have to show
No not fortune or fame – they scatter to the wind
The things that make a name – just don’t matter in the end

(chorus)
Is the world a little more peaceful
Oceans and sky a little more blue
Is humankind a little bit wiser
About the good that we can do
Does the sun shine a little bit brighter
Where before there was only rain
If so, then I’m glad I came

If these are my last words / For all of the earth to hear
If all that I have ever been / Is about to disappear
If these are my last words / There’s nothing that I need to say
I have only tried to serve / It’s never been about talking anyway
So much hurt there is to heal – it’s hard to understand
All I can hope to feel is that I am doing what I can

(chorus)

(chorus 2)

Have I given hope to the hopeless / Has a hungry soul been fed
Has a child stood a little bit taller ’cause of something that I said
Have I left a little kindness / Have I eased a little pain
If so, then I’m glad I came
For that, I’m so glad I came

If this is my last song / What do I leave behind
What do I pass on / If I am out of time

She broke down on the last line, and I can’t blame her! Not. A. Dry. Eye.

A pastor from the First Congregational Church of our town speaks next “When I came out, I lived in Jackson, Mississippi.” There’s an uncomfortable titter. He mentions Jack and Jill’s – a gay bar that I heard about earlier today on Facebook in a thread titled “What Was Your First Gay Bar?” He talks about how that bar was a safe place, where he could be himself. “I assure you that some of those folks who entered Pulse Nightclub last Saturday night felt the same sense of safety.”

And it was an illusion. It always is. A place that is supposed to be a sanctuary is not a safe place after all. How do we move forward when our sense of security has been taken from us? What is the antidote to fear? He says it’s love – and not just “holding hands and singing kumbayah” – but with action and with truth.

Our Rabbi speaks now, about “El Malei Rachamim” – a prayer we Jews recite when we are remembering and honoring someone who has died – and then our cantor sings it a capella.

(El malei rakhamim shokhen ba-m’romim ha-m’tzei m’nukhah n’khonah takhat kanfei ha-sh’khinah b’ma’alot k’doshim u’t’horim k’zohar ha-rakiah maz’hirim l’nishmot yakireinu u’k’dosheinu she-hal’khu l’olamam. Ana ba’al ha-rakhamim ha-s’tirem b’tzel k’nafekha l’olamim u-tz’ror bitz’ror ha-khayim et nishmatam. Adonai hu nakhalatam v’yanukhu b’shalom al mish’kabam v’nomar, amen.)

Rabbi gives a closing prayer, and the cantor closes the service with “True Colors.” Yes, that one – the one that Cyndi Lauper and Phil Collins both recorded back in the 1980s.

It’s appropriate.

I’m glad I was able to watch the livestream. I’ve been emotionally locked down and numb since I woke up on Sunday morning. But tonight, hearing my temple’s cantor sing and hearing the community’s words and views, I was finally able to cry.

Hate and homophobia cannot stand against an alliance like this, of all faiths, of all nations. It cannot stand.

For the first time in four days, I have hope again.

 

2 Comments

Filed under GLBT, Judaism

In remembrance of Orlando

I cannot say it better so I’m not going to try.

Kol ALEPH

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, expresses horror, shock and grief for the victims of Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We stand with all – LGBTQA or straight, Christian, Jew or Muslim – whose hearts break for the victims, for their loved ones, for a community’s peace shattered, for hope and safety shaken, for rights and dignity trampled, and for political rhetoric arousing religious hatred in its wake. We fervently pray to heal the injured, and we re-dedicate our hearts and hands to building a world in which the twin scourges of violence and hatred end.

In grief and solidarity, we offer this liturgical poem by Rabbi David Evan Markus for use in vigils and prayer services. May the Source of Peace bring comfort to all who mourn, and inspire all to build an ever more just world, speedily and soon.

– Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi…

View original post 533 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Judaism

Back to Shul Night

13239323_1043186402383629_2280513267283682438_nLast night, my husband and I and my best friend went back to shul for the first time in about four months. Our shul is a welcoming congregation, and they were holding Pride Shabbat last night, in celebration of GLBT Pride happening in our community specifically, and Pride more generally. (This month’s tzedakah box is being donated to the local LGBT center.) There was an actual dinner before the service (donation $18 per adult).

Most of the people who came to this Shabbat were straight couples and families. Many of them were older folks, too. This gives me hope that being gay and being Jewish are not mutually exclusive, at least not for our congregation.

The service was wonderful. Our cantor was hired last summer and it appears she’s made a lot of changes in the musical programs, all to the better. She was on my husband’s beit din last October, which made him very happy because she’s just an awesome person. She included not just a ton of traditional Hebrew prayers but also some modern music that spoke to both acceptance and the gay rights movement. The words were projected onto a screen at the front of the sanctuary in both English and Hebrew, and much of the music was new arrangements by our cantor and two of the other musicians who are congregation members.

At the dinner, the cantor asked all three of us to do a short reading after the Mi Kamocha.

Mine was:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

My best friend read this:

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.” – Harvey Milk

The cantor gave my husband what I feel is the most moving Harvey Milk quote ever:

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” – Harvey Milk

Each of us had a small breakdown moment. My husband cried during the Sh’ma; I cried during the silent meditation after the Mi Kamocha; and my best friend had a few moments during the Hashkivenu and the Mi Shebeirach. But it did what it was supposed to do; it was an emotional service that touched and got to everyone.

Was it good to be back at shul? Yes.

Will we be back again soon? Yes.

Am I glad we went? Yes.

But like I said – emotional.

Shabbat shalom, everyone.

2 Comments

Filed under Day-to-Day, Judaism

The Problem I Have With Yom HaShoah

Yom HaShoah, or The Day of Holocaust Remembrance.  27 Nisan.  It’s an Israeli holy day (rather than holiday), observed by Jews around the world, to remember the six million Jews who perished during the Shoah – the Holocaust. “Never again” and “Never forget” are common themes of the day. Light candles, say a prayer remembering those whom we lost. Sounds pretty simple, right?
2016-05-04 at 21.35.59

It’s not.

You see, the Shoah did not just kill Jews, although we were certainly the most systematically targeted. It also killed intellectuals, political dissidents, homosexuals, Gypsies, the disabled, Christians who disagreed with Hitler, and other groups that the Nazis considered less than human.

However, Yom HaShoah is specifically focused on the Jews who died. It is a Jewish-centric (and one might even argue Israel-centric) observance. There is an international day that recognizes all Holocaust victims in January every year, approved by some United Nations council or other. And that’s fine.

But as a Jewish man who is also a gay man, a disabled person, and an intellectual, I have some conflict about the way we observe Yom HaShoah, because only part of my personhood is included in that day’s observances. I cannot remember the Shoah without remembering all of the people who died in it. I cannot remember the Jews who died without remembering the gay men, both Jewish and Gentile, who died in the Shoah as well. I cannot remember the Jews who died without also remembering the disabled who were murdered just as systematically. And I cannot ignore the purging of intellectuals, because they were also part of the millions who were sacrificed on the altar of Hitler’s insanity.

When we partition out our grief, we risk losing empathy for those who are not like us. When we say “Today we’re only grieving for this group, the one that shared our peoplehood, even though lots of other groups died too,” we are drawing the boundaries of our peoplehood a little too closely for my comfort.

Remember the verses about welcoming the stranger?

Let’s do better with that.

Today I remember not just the six million Jews who died in the Shoah, but the five million gays, intellectuals, disabled, Gypsies, political dissidents (those brave people) and Christians who also died because a madman took over a nation and led them into calculated, planned insanity.

1 Comment

Filed under Holy Days, Judaism

The Lie I Told Myself About Being a Good Jew

So today, scrolling through Facebook, I came across this article on Kveller:

The Lie I told Myself About Good Jewish Mothers

Much of it resonated with me – not because I’m a mother, of course, but because I’m a Jew who is also struggling with what it means to be a “good Jew.”

I’ve probably said before that I’m a perfectionist and that I want to do everything “right.” It’s hard to remember that “doing Jewish” means doing it the way I can do it, the way I am equipped to do it, and the way that I am able to do it – and that may not look like the way everyone else does it.

Before conversion, and even right after conversion, I really thought that I was going to be that Torah-reading, tallit-wearing, Hebrew-studying, reaaaaaally observant Jew who went to shul weekly, attended Torah study every Saturday morning without fail, and made my Judaism the first and most important thing about my life. But the world got in the way, and, well….

Since November, less than three months after my husband and I completed our conversion processes, we have had to be – paradoxically – far less active Jews than we were hoping to be. We haven’t been able to attend a real Friday night shul service in several months, because of his work schedule (he works for an amusement park; November to March is “peak holiday time” and lots of mandatory overtime for him) and the inopportune arrival of several illnesses that kept me and him both flat on our backs and unable to function. Due to a personal conflict at our Torah study group, we stopped going for a while because it made us uncomfortable, and we still haven’t really resolved that, either.

In short, we have not been good members of our community, and although the reasons are valid, guilt’s still a real thing and I’ve been feeling it.

Here’s the thing about feeling guilt for not measuring up to some standard that you or others have set for your behavior: it makes it less likely that you’re going to try to fix it. At least, it makes it less likely that I’m going to try to fix it. Every time I’ve thought about going back to shul, the guilt has come up and hit me with “but then people would ask you where you’ve been and you know that that would really mean ‘why are you only showing up now, you half-asser?'” That’s a deterrent, not an incentive.

We missed Purim entirely, because we were sick; but was that a good enough reason? We haven’t been to Torah study in months because of illness and over-stress; is that a good enough reason? We missed a concert at our shul with a Jewish musician that I love because of stress and exhaustion; is that a good enough reason? And of course there’s also the cost, and right now we’ve had to penny-pinch, so we haven’t had the money to buy tickets to concerts or food for Purim baskets or, well, pretty much anything.

And yet…

All during that time, we still managed to have Shabbat dinner with a friend at least twice a month, and take Shabbat pretty much “off,” even if that meant catching up on missed sleep the majority of the time.

I have still worn my kippah and my Mogen David, and I haven’t backed down when someone says something anti-Semitic.

I have still said the Sh’ma every night, and meant it.

I have still experienced the world as a Jew, even if I’m not especially active at my synagogue right now.

And that has to count for something, doesn’t it?

As the author of the Kveller article said:

Embracing Jewish motherhood (and motherhood in general) isn’t about following every rule and winning the game. It’s about showing up and staying in the game, even when you don’t know which rules apply to you, or what it even means to win.

I’d argue that the same thing applies to Jewish identity. Recently, I have not been able to follow every rule. But I have done what I can to keep my foot in the door, even if it’s been mostly outside of the community of Jews in my area. And once I have recovered from the stress, exhaustion, and overwork, I’ll be getting back in the game in more substantial ways. For starters, we’re going to a Seder on Saturday evening, and hosting one here the following Thursday, and ideally we’ll be going back to shul after Pesach is over.

But I also think Adonai will understand if, just at the moment, I can’t quite do it all.

6 Comments

Filed under Day-to-Day, Identities, Jewish Practices, Judaism, Wrestling Matches

Differing opinion? That’s fine, but…

Recently I had someone do what I can only call an anti-Israel, pro-Palestine info dump in a comment to my post about why I’m voting for Bernie Sanders.

I realize not everyone will agree with me. That’s fine. You don’t have to.

But you do have to understand that I’m not interested in having a fight about this, especially when you sail out of nowhere and give me a broadside blast.

If you have a differing opinion from one of mine, and you can’t express it without insulting people who hold my opinion, feel free to start your own blog to talk about it and make it public. I have no obligation to host your opinion on mine, and I reserve the right to delete and block any commenter who decides to push that particular envelope too far.

Have a nice day now.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Torah Study: Yitro

Today’s parshah was Yitro, Exodus 18:1 – 20:23, which is the story of the giving of what we colloquially label the 10 Commandments. But it’s also the story of Yitro (Jethro), Moses’ Midianite father-in-law, telling Moses: “Hey, you know what? You’re trying to do everything. You need to delegate some of this work to other people.”

Let’s look at Moses for a minute, first. He’s been the (semi-reluctant) leader of the Israelites for quite some time now. He’s also his people’s head judge – everyone comes to him with their questions and their disputes to get them resolved, whether those are petty disputes or big ones. And, of course, he’s a prophet – he and God have conversations about the Israelites and what needs to be done or should be done.

You know, that’s kind of a heavy load to bear. When is he supposed to sleep, eat, bathe, spend time with his wife and kids? Is he supposed to do any of those things?

So when Jethro takes him aside and says, “Mose old son, you might want to establish a court system so that only the really big problems come to you to resolve,” Moses does just that.

Now hold that thought, “Moses delegating jobs to others,” while I bring in a few other thoughts and tie them together for you.

In our Torah study session today, someone brought up the question of when, exactly, the Israelites shifted to the belief that there was only One God – when did they actually adopt monotheism? Was it when HaShem stated here in Exodus that The Eternal was the only God and that the Israelites were to worship that God and no other?

This created a lively discussion. One of the participants brought up Maimonides’ conclusion that we cannot know the true nature of God, and it’s useless to try, so turn your mind to other things. Someone else pointed out that in the parshah (in verse 19:9), HaShem tells Moses “See, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will be able to hear when I speak with you and also to trust in you forever,” and asked why, after everything HaShem had already taken them through and preserved them from (the Egyptian slavery, the parting of the seas, manna from heaven) they would still need proof in order to trust Moses. My note here was that the move for the Israelites was to begin to have faith without necessarily having proof – that they were growing up and learning to hold contradictions in their minds, moving beyond concrete reasoning.

The third thing that came up in Torah study today was the question of the types of rules the Israelites were given in the 10 Commandments – some of them were “don’t do that” kinds of rules, or what we call “proscriptive law,” but others were “you must do this” kinds of rules, or prescriptive law. It made me think of the statement in the Ethics of the Fathers by Rabbi Tarfon, about tikkun olam: “You are not obliged to complete the work, but neither are you free to evade it.” Up to this point, most law was proscriptive – you are not allowed to do these bad things. But now, we have laws commanding people to actively do things that are good and that have good effects. To me, this means that HaShem was demanding active engagement with, and not just passive acceptance of, the Commandments (and indeed, the entire Torah). Again, this is demanding that the Israelites grow beyond their spiritual childishness and move towards adulthood, an active adulthood in which their behavior was oriented towards healing the world.

Now let me tie these three thoughts together.

Before humans knew about HaShem, humans figured that gods were like bigger people – but they still had to specialize. The work, in a sense, was delegated. This god took care of trees, that one took care of small animals, that one dealt with water and the other took care of weather. But no single god, in early belief systems, could possibly handle every process and every demand of the system we call the universe.

When HaShem became the God of the Israelites, that changed everything. A god that could literally handle everything? Unheard of. But that also put pressure on some human leaders to try to do everything, too. We still see this today – people who can’t delegate.

What I’m trying to get at here is, when we delegate, we admit we are not God. We are accepting that we have to complete a piece of the work and we’re not free to refuse that piece, but we are also accepting that we cannot do all the work ourselves, no matter how pressured we feel to do so. When Jethro points out to Moses, “You know, you have to give some of the work to others, here,” he was, in a sense, saying, “Hey, you’re the leader of your people – but you’re still not God.”

By taking our part of the work and taking an active part in the work, by following not just the proscriptive but the prescriptive commandments, we are admitting both the fact that we are not God, and that we are approaching the work as adults with the knowledge that we are not God.

I remember reading somewhere that Judaism is a religion for adults, not for children. This seems to support that point.

Leave a comment

Filed under D'vrei Torah, Judaism

My father’s yahrzeit

Today is my father’s yahrzeit. He has been dead seven years today. I lit a candle this morning, but I didn’t have a clue what to say while I did it, so I just stayed silent.

I have been really emotionally down all day. Yesterday was my first day back at work after the winter break, and although it went well, it also wiped me out. We haven’t been able to go to shul since last month because of an ongoing dental issue that finally got resolved last Friday (I broke a molar; don’t ask). I was in a lot of physical pain this past month or so, not to mention the ongoing feelings of guilt that I haven’t been at shul regularly.

So I am not exactly in the best of shape to remember and mourn my father today.

He would have been proud of me for my conversion, I think. I wish he’d lived long enough to see it.

He was a deeply religious man. I hope someday to be a little like him in terms of my certainty that God won’t punish me for the life I’ve lived. We’ll see.

I just needed to mention that it’s his yahrzeit today.

1 Comment

Filed under Judaism

Hyper-religiosity

My mother-in-law is an awesome person. She’s done a lot of growing since I came into her son’s life. She’s accepted that he’s gay, that we’re married, and even that we’re Jews. It’s been a lot for a conservative, Catholic Republican to take in, and mostly, she’s managed to take it in.

But I still can’t take the hyper-religiosity. With her it’s mainly through Facebook. Around this time of year, I know I’m going to be using “Hide Post” quite a bit when it comes to her posts.

My husband’s mom and one of his older aunts LOVE Jesus, okay? They don’t just think Jesus was a good guy, or even just that he was the son of God. They LOOOOOOVE him the way teenage girls LOOOOOOVED Elvis back in the day, and they’re militant about it.

It’s disturbing to me.

So far this morning, I’ve had to hide three posts my mother-in-law made to Facebook which were so Jesus-y that even the other Merry Christmas posts from fairly religious friends were mild by comparison. The cross-shaped birthday cake, for example, was just… over the top for me. The memes that demand a “Merry Christmas” instead of a “Happy Holidays” were downright offensive. But that’s not something I can say to my mother-in-law without hurting her, because she wouldn’t understand. She’s hyper-religious.

Hyper-religiosity and fundamentalism aren’t the same thing, for me. Fundamentalism is Mike Huckabee, or the W*stb*r* Baptists, or Hamas/Daesh/Hezbollah, or the haredim who are zealously guarding the Western Wall from – gasp shock horror – women who want to pray with a Torah scroll. Fundamentalism is the attitude that “I have the ONE TRUE WAY and if you don’t agree with me I will, at minimum, make your life miserable.”

Hyper-religiosity may go along with fundamentalism, but it’s not the same. Hyper-religiosity is the sense that of COURSE you’ll agree with me! Why WOULDN’T you agree with me? It makes no SENSE that you wouldn’t agree with me, because this is just The Way Things Are, don’t you see? How can you have a problem with a Nativity scene on the front lawn of City Hall? Why can’t you understand that saying anything other than “Merry Christmas” is offensive? What’s wrong with you for not understanding that Jesus Is The Reason For The Season? Well, bless your heart, as they say in the South. You’ll understand eventually.

Unlike fundamentalism, which is generally in-your-face and usually aggressive about your refusal to accept their views as the One True Way, hyper-religiosity is passive-aggressive. It never comes right out and says “You must believe what I believe,” but it’s patronizing and condescending. A gigantic cross-shaped birthday cake? A meme saying “It’s MERRY CHRISTMAS, not HAPPY HOLIDAYS”?

Those are hyper-religiosity.

In a way, it’s like dealing with fans of a certain sports team, or even in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom world (fights about who was the better captain – Kirk or Picard?). You don’t want to get on the wrong side of someone’s fandom. And the hyper-religious Christians like my mother-in-law and my husband’s aunt are Jesus fangirls. It’s almost like they’ve turned Christianity into a cult of personality, where Jesus is the focus.

When I look at it like this, I can relax a little bit. It’s just the way they are, and they’re not going to change.

But it’s why I’m glad that Facebook comes with a “hide post” option.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

White Wine in the Sun

I won’t deny that I miss Christmas.

There, I said it. I miss Christmas. I missed it last year, and I miss it this year. And I’ll probably always miss it, at least a little.

See, I grew up on Christmas being a Really Big Deal. Catholic family, you know. Catholic church musician family, to put a finer point on it. My mother was an organist and pianist, and my dad was a choir leader, music director, and cantor (yes, the Catholics call it that – but in the Catholic sense it’s more like “soloist,” rather than “song leader”). My dad composed Masses and we used his music in church.

Christmas week was always incredibly hairy and stressful. There was Midnight Mass, and then Christmas morning Mass, and then the big family Christmas dinner in the afternoon, which both of my parents practically killed themselves to pull off every year.

So it was a Big, Big Deal, okay?

When something is part of your childhood, and you were deeply involved in it, of course you will miss it. I miss the songs. I miss the decorations and the anticipation and all the little holiday rituals my parents had built up over the years:

  • Buying the tree at a tree farm on the Friday of Thanksgiving weekend (back before they started calling it “Black Friday”) and then picking it up/cutting it down on the anniversary of my father’s father’s death, on December 18, to put it up in the house…
  • Christmas cookie and fruitcake baking on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend…
  • Putting up the house decorations on the first of December, including the lights all over the outside of the house; the mantelpiece (which my mother covered with juniper branches from the juniper bushes in the front yard, and then filled in with lots of kitschy decorations, including a Santa head candle that got progressively more smooshed, damaged, melted, and unrecognizable as the years went on – but it was tradition); the handmade Advent calendar that my father built – an enormous three-foot-tall by five-foot-wide rectangle of green-and-white-and-red plywood, with impossibly detailed day markers for the four weeks of Advent, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Epiphany; green garlands up the stair railing, Hickory Dickory Dock (the Christmas Mouse) sitting on the grandfather clock, the Santa candy jar on the dining table, my mother’s little “old-fashioned” fir in a pot with bubble lights and gingham bows and hand-crocheted snowflakes…
  • Hanging our stockings on December 6th, because it was St. Nicholas’ Day, and picking Secret Santas for the remainder of Advent out of the Santa candy jar…
  • The tree-raising party my parents held on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, where everyone had to bring a potluck contribution, have a cup of soup my parents prepared (French onion or split-pea, or both), and hang at least three things on the tree – and to which they invited all the neighbors for three blocks around, because at about 9 pm my mother would sit at the piano and the sixty or so people in attendance would belt out the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah in four-part harmony (they were all music people)…

And, of course, there were rehearsals with the choir and the professional vocalists and small chamber orchestra that my father contracted every year to perform at the church for the Masses and the pre-Midnight Mass concert, which included the aforementioned Messiah oratorio.

Like I said, Christmas was a Big, Big Deal.

Last year we had our first Hanukkah. I was determined to celebrate it as Jewishly as possible, to kind of gloss over missing Christmas, and since it ended only two days before Christmas, it wasn’t that big of a loss for me that year. It covered up the things I was missing. I considered an Eitz HaMoed (Tree of the Seasons) and then decided against it, feeling it wasn’t a properly Jewish thing to do. All the decorations I’ve lugged around with me for years stayed in a box in the back of the office closet. We exchanged Hanukkah gifts and lit the menorah, sang the songs and spun the dreidel, learned how to make latkes and went out for Chinese and a movie on the day itself… and it seemed to be a relief not to have to do all the hoopla.

But this year, I don’t know. I’m a Jew, I know that in my heart, and as such the religious meaning of Christmas is no longer relevant to me. I don’t miss the pontificating or the moralizing or any of the trappings of the faith I was raised in.

But it’s not the religious meaning that I miss. It’s the traditions that I miss. And those traditions are not necessarily religious. They’re just… family. Memory. Things I grew up with, that I don’t know how to translate into a Jewish setting. Yet.

It’s things like the smell of evergreens and hot apple cider. It’s the white lights twinkling against glass balls hung on a tall pine tree. It’s the train set my father set up under the tree every year and delighted over. It’s humming along with songs that are part of me to my bones.

And it’s missing my dad, too. It was one of his favorite times of year – the entire month of December, really. And he was told the day after Christmas in 2008 that he had about two weeks to live. (It turned out to be a month.)

So, I’m a Jew who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. That’s not going to change. I shy away from singing any Christmas carol that references the religious aspects of this increasingly secular holiday in any way. I admit to singing along with Deck the Halls at my daughter’s high-school choir concert earlier this month, because that’s just a song that celebrates the winter holiday.

But next year, I want to find a way to have some of that feeling come back to me. I want to find a way to make December a month of celebration again. I mean, learning Hanukkah songs has helped, but there’s only so many times you can sing O Hanukkah before it all starts to sound the same.

Here. Have a song from Tim Minchin. Apart from the Dawkins bit, it’s pretty much how I feel.


I want to thank my readers for hanging on and hanging in with me after the overwhelming experience of having gone to the mikveh and the beit din a few months ago. I’ve been slammed with work and very tired most of this fall, but I hope to get back to this blog now that things are easing off. In the meantime, I hope you have or did have a great holiday-of-your-choice, and I’ll hope to be back in the swing of things soon. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Judaism