I think religion is interesting because for some people it’s terribly personal and for others, it is absolutely not. Living in a predominantly Christian society has been interesting. I, like many of you, was stuck in an elementary school class doing something that was not part of my Jewish culture. In the 4th grade, I had to write a letter to Santa Claus. Interestingly enough, he never showed up to my house to deliver the million dollars as per my request. To make matters worse, the Easter Bunny rejected my 100lb of chocolate request. In jest, as an adult I claim these two Pagan features of the Christian religion are anti-Semitic and do not want to share their goodies with Jewish kids. However, in my humor, there is some rage. In high school, I had to fight with my choir director. He repeatedly tried to make me sing about Christ and even threatened to fail me. I was appalled. I felt like there was this constant battle between church and state in my public education. And of course, it got so bad my parents had to follow up the issue with a Jewish stereotype and call a lawyer. I, now as an educator, do not allow any holiday parties. I do allow healthy discussion, but in no way do I allow judgment or ridicule.
I think the classroom has led to many misconceptions about what is appropriate in the realm of religious tolerance. In school, Hitler jokes and Holocaust jokes are not permitted, but it’s okay to dye Easter eggs. Clearly I see a difference, but the concept between hateful speech and ignorance is still a blurred line. What message are we sending? What does the Jewish kid do?
As we get older, we experience this naïve perspective, when a college roommate or an acquaintance makes a poor decision to express how okay one of these taboos is in a Jewish kid’s public school experience. We get Christmas and Easter cards and have holidays off because the government gives us those days, but we have to take off Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. I’ll work Christmas and Easter! What do I care?
Ultimately, with all this kvetching, I know I want better for my children (if I ever have any), or at least yours. I think we as a culture need to express that not everyone values the same holidays. It’s true we have many things that are flawed about our society, cultural awareness being one of them. I have not figured out how to solve the problem yet, but I am sure I can identify the scenario as it unfolded.
So for Jewish kid that sat upon Santa’s lap, but he never came…. For any Jewish kid who learned Christmas songs… For every Jewish kid who had to take a test in college on a Jewish holiday… For every kid who’s school took picture day on Yom Kippur….Remember, we can make a movement for cultural awareness, but we cannot be silent. One small stand at a time might make it easier for someone else.
Keep kickin’ it old shul and be true to the streets!