Thursday, December 24, 2009


So it turns out the children think we're Jewish.  Which isn't a problem, I guess, except that...we're not. I've been heading up the Hanukkah party at their school for a few years now, and somewhere between my standing latke order and leftover dreidels, they've claimed the holiday as their own. A few weeks ago in music class, Winnie raised her hand when the teacher asked if any of the Early Learners celebrated Hanukkah. And then, a few days later, Lauren came in demanding to know where we kept our "nemorah".
"We're Jewish, right?"
"No", I said very simply-slightly apologetic.
"But we're a little Jewish, aren't we?"
No, I said again. It is an awkward thing to explain-Jesus as the fly in the ointment.
"What's the big deal?" he demanded. "Being Christian means you're half-Jewish, doesn't it?" Incredulous doesn't even begin to describe his tone. I decided to leave it.
Later that night, when the subject came up again, I took another stab at relaying the fundamentals of Judaism vs. Christianity, but every time I got down to it, I faltered. In some ways I believe that a seven-year-old isn't really old enough to understand, certainly not mature enough to appreciate this distinction. And does it matter, right now? Right now our big ideas are: God loves you; don't pick your nose. And let me just say we are up to our EARS with that. Besides, seven is the age where the boxes start showing up-a box for you, a box for you over there....oh-you, you don't fit in a box...cue head-scratching. Know what I mean?
So Sunday, after catching wind of a Hanukkah festival right down the street, we were in the car with bells on at the very mention of free gelt. As a child, my parents were always dragging me and my sister to stuff like this-international festivals and maple syrup demonstrations and boring speakers where we'd be the only kids in the audience not laughing at the slideshow.  Oh, and Cats. A wise man once said, "Of Cats, I know only this: the line "Rum Tum Tugger is a curious cat" is not found anywhere in great theatre.  I think experiences like this broaden a person's outlook, though-they did mine. And children, especially, need to know there's a larger landscape. Besides, they might meet a new friend, I thought. Someone who might want to adopt them for long weekends. My hopes were high.
But, then-I started to panic, just a tiny bit, right around the time the giant inflatable menorah came into view, which coincided with both children caroling from the back seat. Twelve days of Christmas and ready to crescendo.
"Kids," I said. "Now, we've talked about how we're not Jewish, right? But we love our Jewish friends, and God loves them, and this is a really special time-Hanukkah, and how lucky we are that we get to share in their celebration and learn about a different culture?"
"MAN, I love that part!" this was said in reference to "five golden rings" and accompanied by a rousing fist pump. Apparently, the children were not concerned about the possibility of worlds colliding.
Joshua and I looked at each other-no longer sure if this was such a good idea. I had a brief vision of that scene in Invasion of the Body Snatchers-when Veronica Cartwright spies a "duplicated" Donald Sutherland outside City Hall, and thinking he is still human, calls out to him, to which he responds with (horror!) a piercing POD SCREAM! Was this like pretending to be Jewish? Trying to pass? Were we becoming the Michaele and Tareq Salahi of the Jewish community? I could just see it: the Chabad Times feature story, our front-page photo in black and white, cheeks stuffed with chocolate coins.
We parked the car and the kids ran in.
"Don't worry, Mom! If they know I'm Christian, they'll know I'm Jewish, too!"

The experience, for all our worry, proved to be delightful. The kids loved it, we were welcomed graciously and treated to all manner of activities-crafts, a bounce-house, sandbox, olive oil pressing, and my favorite: the Hanukkah computer games. Nothing like using one's mouse to steer a snowboarding rabbi down a hill while simultaneously harnessing avalanching menorahs to capture the true meaning of the holiday. But then again, I'm not really Jewish. My children? That's another story. 


Gremlina said...

what a terrific post for a gal like me. raised christian, my husband & I are now on a journey through the "jewishnesses" of our faith & draggin our kids along. We had a great experience with the chabad in our area this year--& after several years of butting our way in we're starting to feel less of the awkwardities you've described SO well. Thanks for sharing!

Deborah said...

Oh. My. I want to climb Mt. Olives and shoosh with rabbis! Oh, what fun it is!!