Merry Christmas – Just say it!

ImageFirst off, I should tell you that I’m Jewish – not particularly observant, but very traditional. I enjoy Passover, eating matzo for a week; I light Chanukah candles, go to synagogue and pray for forgiveness on the high holidays etc.

However, I live in Canada and everywhere I’m reminded of Christmas, and I actually get into the “Christmas spirit.” I sing along with all the songs on the radio. Yesterday, I couldn’t get the song I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas out of my head and I walked around humming it all day, (now it’s stuck in my head again).

As a matter of fact, I am the daughter of two holocaust survivors. My family moved to Toronto when I was a small child and my parents were barely able to make ends meet. My mother worked as a seamstress in a factory and had nowhere to put me while she was at work. The closest daycare was in a nearby church. The nuns were my teachers and prayer was very much a part of our every day routine. My mother told me that when kneel to pray, I should only do it on one knee and it wouldn’t count. I remember one evening, when my parents had their friends over for a game of cards, I came into the room to show off all what I had learned at school and I crossed myself. After that night, I never had to go back to that school.

Sorry, I got off topic.

So, last night, Christmas eve, after doing the traditional movie and Chinese restaurant thing, my husband and I and a couple of friends drove around enjoying the beautifully decorated homes, with spectacular Christmas lights. We peered into the windows to see the fully lit Christmas trees centered in the windows, many homes had a fire burning and the scenes exuded warmth and spirit – which is actually a little ironic because we’re just recovering from an ice storm where over 300,000 homes were without power, and many still are.

We even have a family gift exchange at this time of year, some Jews would say it’s related to Chanukah, but they can’t say that this year because Chanukah was a month ago. I think any opportunity to get together with friends and family and enjoy gift giving, fun, laughter, good food and drink is fine with me.

Of course the religious part of Christmas has no part in my life, as Jews don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that he is the Messiah. We acknowledge that Jesus existed, in fact he was Jewish. Does that mean I can’t wish my Christian friends a Merry Christmas? What about the girl at the supermarket, who was so busy yesterday servicing people replenishing from the power outage as well as people stocking up for Christmas, who wished me a Merry Christmas and I wished her one right back? We were both Jewish and we knew it, yet we wished each other a Merry Christmas because we live in Canada, a multi-cultural country, and neither of us were afraid to offend or embarrass each other.

I say embrace any opportunity to make people feel good. Don’t correct someone wishing you a Merry Christmas if you don’t celebrate, just say thank you and wish them a Merry Christmas right back.

It’s a good thing – really.

Interfaith Challenges

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My column in this week’s CJN deals with Interfaith problems around the holidays.

Dear Ella,

My daughter married a man who isn’t Jewish, and this is the first year that I’m invited to their house for a holiday/Christmas dinner.

When Rose first brought Richard home, we really liked him. He’s a gentleman, educated, has a good career, and he treats our Rose with respect and love. His parents are soft-spoken, fine people and we all get along very well. However, religion has always been the elephant in the room.

Rose warned me in advance that they have a Christmas tree in their home, and that she doesn’t want to hear a word about it. I raised both my children in a Jewish home and they both went to Hebrew school. We celebrated every holiday with family, from Passover seders to attending High Holiday services – even the lighting of the Chanukah candles was always done as a family.

I never for one second thought there would be a possibility that our grandchildren would not be raised Jewish, but it looks as if organized religion is not important to either my daughter or her husband.

When I try to bring up the subject to Rose she puts her hand out and stops me immediately. She doesn’t want to hear my opinion, and she tells me very firmly that she and Richard will bring up their children the way they see fit, and it’s a private and personal choice that will be decided between them alone.

I know this is premature, as Rose has only been married since June and there are no children yet. But I think this is a very important decision they should have made before they got married. I don’t want to lose my daughter. I love her dearly, and if it means that I have to sit back and let it happen, then I’ll have no choice.

But I am heartbroken and my husband has taken this very personally. I hope it doesn’t break up our family. What would you do?

Religious Woes

Dear Religious Woes,

You and your husband have done your best for your two children. You have raised them in a loving home, put a roof over their heads, made sure they had a Jewish education, celebrated all the holidays as a family and attended synagogue on High Holidays. You’ve done the best job as a parent that you could. Rose is right in saying this is a private and personal choice.  Trust that the values you’ve instilled in Rose are pure and wise.

Rose has made her choice with Richard, and by your own admission, he is a decent, fine young man who comes from a good family.

According to Jewish law, if a child is born to a Jewish mother, that child is Jewish. However, if the child is not raised with Jewish values, that point may be moot.

It’s not your place to dictate to Rose how to raise her children – in fact, if you do, it may backfire. Instead, you need to support Rose and Richard. That doesn’t mean you can’t make your wishes clear: you are entitled to your opinion, but why not wait and see? Don’t make a problem where there isn’t one yet.

If and when the time comes that Rose and Richard have children, you can continue to invite them over to your home for Passover seders, lighting of the menorah and latkes, have them eat in a sukkah, teach them the traditions in which their mother was raised. Invite Richard’s parents too, let them learn about Judaism along with their grandchildren. Make sure those times are about family, love and learning. Tell them why you are eating matzah, or why there are eight candles on a menorah. Don’t preach, make it a relaxed and positive experience.

This way you can contribute to making sure your grandchildren have a taste of what their Jewish heritage is about. Richard’s family may do the same with their faith, but in the end, it will be Rose and Richard who will decide what kind of a home they will raise their children in. Raising a child in an interfaith marriage can be confusing, especially if the child is raised to follow both religions. Rose and Richard will do what they feel is best for their family.

Take control where you can. Do your part as grandparents, teach and show the beauty and history of the Jewish faith, while, at the same time, teaching tolerance and acceptance of other faiths as well. Armed with knowledge, cloaked in love of family, these children will eventually end up making their own choices.

– See more at: http://www.cjnews.com/columnists/interfaith-challenges#sthash.IYvmXYxr.dpuf