I’ve been a bad, bad Jew. How bad? I can’t even remember the last time I celebrated a Jewish holiday. I think it was in my early 20s, about 15 years ago (cough, cough), when I was visiting my dad when he lived in Montreal. It was Passover, and we celebrated it not one, but two, nights at his Orthodox Jewish second cousin’s house. If you have ever sat through an orthodox Passover, it’s no fun the first night, let alone the second. The words ‘loooooooooooooooong’ and ‘painful’ come to mind. I think I was so scarred by the experience I haven’t honored a Jewish holiday since.
Since my kids have started attending an after-school program at the local Baptist church, however, I’ve realized that all that has got to change. (If you’re wondering why I send my kids there, I live in a small town and the church is one of my only choices for after school programs. Plus it’s super cheap.) I’ve been thinking about it ever since I had kids, but could never get motivated to dust off the menorah we got for a wedding present that hasn’t moved since, or try to remember the rituals that go with each holiday. And every time I planned on taking my kids to synagogue, just to introduce them, and Siig for that matter, to the Jewish religion, something would come up – Siig would work late, or we would be too tired, or it was snowing, or I just plumb didn’t feel like it.
But when Kaya came home the other day singing “Christmas without Christ,” I knew it was time. Neither Siig or I are religious, I just don’t want my kids thinking Christianity is the only game in town. They are welcome to choose for themselves what religion, if any, they want to follow when they are older. But introducing them to Judaism is also important to me since it’s part of my culture as well. More so for me because my father is from Israel and half my family lives over there. One day, when I am not so daunted by a 24-hour plane ride with 2 kids and the potential to walk in the path of a suicide bomber, I’ll take my kids to Israel. The last time I was there was in 2003, when Siig and I went as part of our honeymoon.
What sealed the deal was when I got an email from the church saying they were going to have a Christmas party called “Baby Jesus Christmas.” Now, I have nothing against Christmas – we have always celebrated the secular side of the holiday. Growing up, my Jewish family would have a tree and stockings and exchange gifts on Christmas morning. We just did, you know, the fun stuff. We also celebrated Hanukkah. This never seemed weird to me. In fact, my extended family still all gets together over Christmas to give gifts. And eat. Can’t forget the eating.
This year, for the first time ever, we have a tree at our house. That’s all fine and dandy, but I have to draw the line at my kids singing about Sweet Baby Jesus and not knowing about their Jewish heritage. So, finally, after 5 years of thinking about it, I decided we would celebrate Hanukkah.
Well, easier said than done.
First, I had to find Hanukkah candles. I went to one grocery store, and then another, only to find not that not only did they have no Hanukkah candles, but they had nothing for Hanukkah at all. Not a single dradle or chocolate coin to be seen. One store manager brought me over to the “Ethnic” section, where on the second shelf from the bottom sat about four Jewish food items. He said that if they had Hanukkah candles, it would be here, sandwiched between the Matzah ball and Gefilte fish mixes. So much for diversity.
I have to say, I was a tad upset. It was one thing if I didn’t celebrate Jewish holidays all these years, but it’s quite the other thing if a major grocery chain doesn’t carry a single item for a holiday of the country’s second major religion. Now I was really motivated to light this damn menorah. I’d just do it with birthday candles. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Fortunately, a half-Jewish friend of mine who I had complained to about the situation managed to find some Hanukkah candles at the one store I didn’t go to (of course), and bought me a box. So now I was committed. I turned to my “Bible” – Google – to look up the correct way to light the menorah and the prayers that go along with it.
Tonight is the fifth night of Hanukkah, and I’ve managed to light candles two of the five nights. Guess I’m still not a very good Jew.