Even though I believe that one respects other’s traditions by not co-opting them, I do live in the real world.
In the real world, my partner and I are lesbians moms to a boy, my sister is married to a Catholic, my Jewish cousin has secretly (all his 67 years) wanted to decorate a Christmas tree and my son thinks that Hannukah wouldn’t be Hannukah without presents. There, you have it. A typical American family trying to navigate the traditions without losing our minds in the process.
Friday night, we started the festive weekend at the children’s Hannukah service and potluck at our synagogue. Our synagogue meets at the Church of the Holy Apostles (Chasidim Kadoshim, to the Jews). As if to show me that I am not the clueless among Jews, someone said, “It smells so wonderful in here, like pine trees!” Really? Really? Ever hear of “deck the halls with bows of holly . . . ” and the recipe, “kill a tree, attach chachkas to them, and one week later reduce to mulch. Repeat each year.” ??????
We also stayed for the adult service. It is difficult to take seriously a rabbi who has a Santa’s elves’ styled hat with a menorah on it but she did take it off when she spoke some words of Torah. It was an important drash to hear. There were three main themes: our viewpoint is imbued with our baggage, for every light there is a shadow and vice-versa and, finally, don’t accept the heroes of a story at face value.
First, the baggage. The story of Hannukah is simply the miracle that oil enough for one day lasted eight days so that the Jews who recaptured the Temple could perform the necessary re-sanctification rituals. But if it is 1948 Palestine, the story is about a military victory by a small group against mighty armies. If it is 1498, during the Inquisition, it is about the subjugation of a people. If you gather rabbis, it is about a miracle. If it is 2011, you might wonder if the Maccabees were zealots somewhat akin to today’s radical fundamentalists. (In fact, history bears that out.) So, who you are, where you’ve come from, and who you want to be, can shade the way you tell the story, and emphasize the elements.
Light of the Hannukah candles casts a shadow. For advance, there are detractors, some of whom are merely engaging in a power struggle. The shadow can be dangerous and it can be restful. The light can be the path but it can also burn. Light and shadow need each other. Success lies in the right balance. And that is the greatest challenge. The rabbi told us of settlers in the Israeli occupied territories who, whenever there is a threat to their settlement or way of life, burn down a mosque inside Israel. (Israel immediately rebuilds the mosques and other Jewish organizations provide Qurans and prayer rugs.) In the light of peace there is darkness. Darkness of zealots who use the cover of Judaism to perpetrate atrocities. Have they forgotten their parents’ and grandparents’ ordeals in Europe? How could this be? The light needs to shine a light on this darkness. These “Jews” do not deserve a place in Israel or anywhere in the quasi-civilized world.
For the first time in a long time, I was glad to to synagogue and learn about things that the mainstream media doesn’t cover. It made me think, rather than go to synagogue again, I should visit a mosque, Sikh temple or a church and listen.
After leaving synagogue, we looked up at the Empire State Building. Blue and white adorned two sides, and red and green, the other. I love New York.
Saturday, the Blogger family gathered with assorted cousins and in-laws to celebrate both traditions. In my sister’s house was a small Christmas tree decorated in blue and white with a rabbi as an ornament. Cousin Gentle was so excited because he thinks ornaments are sooooooo adorable that he wants to decorate the tree next year. I told Cousin Gentle that it had to have an irreverent theme, like that the Hasidic rabbi and the dreidel that was at the foot of the tree. He had a look of total inspiration that I believe he may have been visiting after-Christmas sales these last two days.
I LOVE how politically and religiously incorrect it was. And, of course, there was a Yahrzeit candle burning for my Catholic brother-in-law’s father who recently died. And my brother-in-law made the latkes.
Saturday night, everyone was Jewish and Christian and all was good with the world.