Jewish& is a blog by Be’chol Lashon, which gives voice to the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of Jewish identity and experience. The original multicultural people, Jews have lived around the world for millennia. Today, with globalism and inclusion so key in making choices about engaging in Jewish life,Jewish& provides a forum for personal reflection, discussion, and debate.
My wife and I are a multiracial couple. She’s Black. I’m White. Our 4-year-old son is biracial.
My wife grew up Christian and converted to Judaism. She is, as they say, a “Jew by choice.” Her choice, to be sure (though, if pressed, I’m sure my mother would say it was her choice as well).
Although my wife converted, her family did not (though I continue to work on that in an effort to get my picture on the wall of the Knesset as “Jewish Person of the Month”).
You know who also didn’t convert? The whole rest of the world. Yes, though I am apparently a persuasive salesman for Judaism, I am apparently not convincing enough to get the rest of humanity to follow suit. I haven’t even really been able to make any inroads in the U.S. despite the fact that the number of people in the U.S. calling themselves “Christian” dropped from more than 78 percent of the population in 2007 to just more than 70 percent in 2014.
By the way, if you put the U.S. population at 320 million, that 8 percent drop represents almost 26 million people, which is 10 million more than all the Jewish people in the whole world.
The point is, that notwithstanding the drop in numbers and my wife’s conversion, America – with approximately 225 million Christians – still is overwhelmingly a Christian country.
Which brings us to every Jewish person’s favorite topic – what do you at Christmas? When I was single, it was easy. I ordered Chinese food and rented movies. It was great because I got a day off and didn’t have to fret over spending an inordinate amount of money to buy gifts for people I barely knew and rarely saw.
Fast forward to now when I’m the dad of a 4-year-old who loves basically everything that is Christmas. You name it, he loves it: bells, lights, snowmen, Santa, Frosty, Rudolph, trees, cookies, family, and, especially, toys. And, what’s not to love? All that stuff is fun. He loves it so much that every time it snows – even if it’s March – he says “Yay! It’s Christmas!”
And, I have to tell you his joy, his unbridled enthusiasm, his sheer excitement is so pure and unadulterated it makes my heart swell and makes me so happy and grateful to be his dad. There’s only one hiccup.
Thing is, half of my son’s Judaism is from his mom, and that’s not eons old. She didn’t pass on to him generations of preternatural anxiety, and Yiddishisms, and heightened radar for when people use the noun “Jew” but you know they don’t mean it in a nice way. So, that strand of his Jewishness is still developing and evolving. It’s not fully formed, like the neurotic Redwood of angst that is my family’s Judaism. Don’t get me wrong, my wife is a committed Jewish person. But, the paint’s still drying on her version. My family’s Judaism is so baked into our fibers, we sweat chicken soup.
Add to that the fact that my brother-in-law (my wife’s brother) and his wife and two young sons are a nauseatingly good-looking, Hallmark Christmas card of a family, and you can understand why my son has a heightened desire to participate in Christmas. His cousins (who are about the same age as he is) get toys and a tree and Santa and stockings with more toys and cookies. Meantime, despite all my efforts, my son (though only 4) has seen through the ridiculous charade that is “Hanukkah Harry,” the ersatz, Jewish Santa, and realized that is no Christmas. It’s still a great holiday, but it’s the difference between the Knicks and, well, basically whoever wins the NBA title in any given year – i.e., it just doesn’t seem quite as awesome.
Because of this, it’s easy to see why at this holiday time of year, my son’s commitment to Hanukkah is a little shaky, while his love of Christmas knows no bounds.
And, as a Jewish person who grew up being taught that celebrating Christmas, even a little, was tantamount to renouncing your Jewishness, this is a tough nut to swallow.
So as we approach the holidays, I do admit to some trepidation. But then I remembered one thing: at Hanukkah we light fire! For eight nights in a row we light ‘em up. And, my son loves that. LOVES THAT! If it were up to him, we’d light Hanukkah candles every night of the year.
Can’t do that with a Christmas tree now can you?
Pronounced: KHAH-nuh-kah, also ha-new-KAH, an eight-day festival commemorating the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and subsequent rededication of the temple. Falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually corresponds with December.