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Oct 3 2014

The One Day of the Year When I Always Felt Jewish

By at 9:56 am


Growing up as the only Jewish family in town meant that we missed out on a lot of things. We didn’t go to Hebrew School, we barely acknowledged Shabbat, and we had very little connection to the Jewish community. My Israeli mother did her best to give us a basis in Judaism, but since my dad did not have a Jewish background and there were no other Jews for miles around, being Jewish was more of an abstract concept than a way of life.

But, every year, when the air turned cooler and the leaves turned colors, something would change in our house. My mother would grow quieter, more solemn. Instead of laughing and scolding us in the kitchen, she’d be in her room, poring over prayer books and muttering to herself in Hebrew. Even the air would feel heavier.

On Rosh Hashanah, we’d pick a few apples from the old orchard behind our house. We’d dip them in honey, wish each other a Shana Tova, and go back to our lives. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 7 2013

Dissecting That Poll About Secular & Assimilated American Jews

By at 1:48 pm

jordana horn and daughter doing shabbat

The Pew Research Center recently released the results of a major survey of American Jews and the results have a LOT of people talking. One-in-five Jews (22%) now describe themselves as having no religion and two-thirds of these “Jews of no religion” say they are not raising their kids Jewish or partially Jewish, according to the survey. Our contributing editors Jordana Horn and Adina Kay-Gross respond to the survey and one controversial article on on Slate entitled “American Jews are Secular, Intermarried, and Assimilated. Great News!

Jordana: Okay, Adina, let’s talk tachlis (bottom-line) about this Slate piece by author Gabriel Roth, in which he says the Pew report’s news about the degeneration of American Jews is A-OK by him. The report, in relevant part, states that “Increasing numbers of Jews are not religious, are married to non-Jews, and are raising their children outside the faith.”

Roth (whose fiction work I’ve read and loved) says he, personally, exemplifies the problem: he considers himself Jewish but not religious, he’s married to a non-Jew, and his kid is being raised as “partially Jewish,” whatever that may mean.

I guess my blood started boiling when I read, “And as an intermarried Jewish nonbeliever, I think it’s time we anxious Jews stopped worrying and learned to love our assimilated condition—even if it means that our children call themselves half-Jewish and our grandchildren don’t consider themselves Jews at all.” Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 24 2012

Celebrating Christmas with My Jewish Grandmother

By at 5:09 pm

stockings“Mommy, is Grandma Dede Christian?”
“No, sweetie, she’s not. She’s Jewish.”
“Then why are we doing Christmas with her?”

This is the conversation I had with my 4-year-old daughter the other night over dinner. Grandma Dede is my beloved paternal grandmother, and today we are driving to New York to celebrate Christmas with her and the rest of my extended family. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 29 2011

Why Do Jews Send Out “Holiday” Cards?

By at 11:37 am
happy holidays

Which holidays are we celebrating, exactly?

This is around the time of year that people want my address. I am always reluctant to give it to them, because I know why they want it. They want to send me a holiday card, which is really nice. However, they won’t be getting one from me, and that makes me feel bad.

As you may recall, I love mail. I love thank you notes. I check my mail ardently every day to see if there is anything being delivered for me that bears a human touch, as opposed to mean notifications from LabCorp or Verizon (am I the only one who thinks bills are inherently nasty little critters?). So you would think holiday cards would be right up my alley.

But they’re not.

First, let’s not beat around the Hanukkah bush anymore. These are not really “holiday” cards we’re talking about. The reason people send cards around this time of year is to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And that makes sense. Christmas is an extremely important holiday for Christians. But not for me.

You can dance your way around this one, of course, by saying your card says “Happy Holidays!” or “Happy Hanukkah!” or “ Happy New Year.” Well, “Happy Holidays” means more than one holiday – and I’m assuming you’re not talking about Hanukkah and Shabbat. You’re talking about the “holiday season,” i.e. the fact that Hanukkah happens to fall around the same time of year as Christmas. But those two holidays could not be less alike, and shouldn’t be equated. Christmas is a sacred holiday for Christians. Hanukkah is a historical commemoration that is pretty minor in the scheme of things. They’re not the same at all. You want to wish your Christian friends a happy holiday? That’s nice – but why is it that Christians feel secure enough in who they are to wish me a Happy New Year in September without sending apples and honey to my house?

Okay, how about a card that says “Happy Hanukkah”? Well, maybe I’m just not a card person, but that seems weird. All those Sukkot and Simchat Torah cards you guys sent me got lost in the mail. Also, again, Hanukkah is meant to commemorate not assimilating – so why appropriate a Christian tradition to celebrate it? And a “Happy New Year” card? Eh. I’ve got much more invested – my identity, history, culture, and ethics – in 5772 than I do in 2012, which will just be something I fail to write on my checks until April.

I’m going to alienate lots of people, I’m sure, by saying this, but when I see Jewish families sending out “holiday” cards, I wonder if they’ve given enough thought as to why they’re doing it. As I’ve written before, Hannukah is not one and the same as Christmas – in fact, Hannukah’s entire purpose is to celebrate Jews who refused to appropriate other people’s traditions as their own. Read the rest of this entry →


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