December 15, 2012

Obligatory Dual Religion Check-In During the Chanukah/Christmas Season

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 1:47 pm by chavalah

A standard blend of traditions.

A standard blend of traditions.

My mother and father both have stories concerning feeling betrayed by cover-ups within their respective religions. For my father, this involved the papal blind eye to sexual abuse by priests; for my mother it was the admission that Israel evicted Palestinians from the new Jewish state in 1948. I suppose they would both say that “betrayed” is too harsh a word, particularly my mother who insisted that I be raised Jewish. On a broader level this speaks to the betrayal of childhood, where my father was doubtless taught that priests and the Papacy could never harm a child, and my mother was taught that Israel was wholly righteous and that Palestinians elected to leave on their own.

My own childhood betrayal was far more personal. I grew up in a pluralistic, liberal society—Hebrew School was peppered with discussions about Palestinian suffering, but it was only after I left Judaism in early-teen disgust and apathy, and later returned out of a sense of spiritual curiosity that I realized how much I had cheated myself out of having my own place to belong. And Christmas, once an Americanized spectacle of vibrant carols (mostly written by Jews), gift lists, candy canes, brightly-lit pine trees and waiting for Santa was suddenly debunked as… Christian. As other.

I’ve come to new terms with Christmas, I think, now that I’ve moved out of my parents’ house. Christmas is now a one-night holiday where I sleep in my childhood bedroom and exchange gifts with my family in the morning (I’m too poor to afford 8 per person anyway. :P) I’ve seen some Catholic family members, in recent weeks, posting graphics to Facebook along the lines of “Keep the Christ in Christmas” but if they’ve voiced personal complaint about my interfaith family’s celebration of the event, my parents haven’t told me for certainty that it would end up chronicled here. 😛 All names omitted, of course. My parents have taken to watching the midnight mass at the Vatican—my mother constantly interrupting to ask, “What’s happening now?”, “What does this mean?” but my father, I think, is more interested in b-roll footage of the Roman skyline. 😛 His return to “Italianism” is similar to my return to Judaism, as I’ve mentioned several times.

As a proud Italian-American myself, I’ve also separated my paternal culture from Christendom. Christianity to me, much like G-d, is divided into two attributes. One is the association with my Catholic family, which largely boils down to the occasional prayer or lifecycle mass amidst our more regular, secular get-togethers. The other is the association with the West’s predominant, overly-powerful and sometimes repressive culture, as exhibited by the conservative bent towards religious influence on American liberties or some of my favorite books like The Mists of Avalon, The Poisonwood Bible and The Witch of Blackbird Pond. And let’s face it—although The Witch of Blackbird Pond tells a more truthful story of physical hardship and Puritanical disdain of other peoples in the colonies, we as Americans identify far more strongly with the Jewish-themed refugee-immigrant tale of Molly’s Pilgrim. 😛

Not to dismiss that there are plenty of beautiful and meaningful aspects to Christianity that many of my family and friends take comfort and strength from. It is just not my place to have to sift through the beauty and lies, the wisdom and hypocrisy of one of the world’s largest religions. My task is to do so in one of it’s smallest and, baruch hashem, to embrace the Jewish community beyond myself.

Christmas will always be a holiday without Christ for me, but it will be a holiday to honor my childhood and my father. Chanukah, meanwhile, is a holiday about standing up for yourself against religious persecution. I actually feel closer to Chanukah than I have in a long while, perhaps because I watched a Shalom TV program that emphasized that point. 😛 And although I am alone with my cat in my apartment, every night I have called my parents and we light our menorahs together. My father now feels overly-confident in his application of the word “shamash.” 😛 Mazel tov, abba.

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