When my son was a l’il dude, I tried not to bring him to the grocery store if I could avoid it. But one year, it was our turn to host the annual family Hanukkah party and twenty-four people were coming over that night, so I found myself in the grocery store for the eleventy-seventh time that week.
As a result of poor planning, I had to bring the l’il dude along.
As I zoomed down the aisles – grabbing applesauce and sour cream for the latkes — we rushed past rolls of wrapping paper featuring snowflakes, ornaments in every shape and color, lighted-reindeer for the yard, artificial garlands and wreaths, tree skirts; boxes of 100-count multi-color lights; enormous platters embossed with angels sporting sparkling halos; floppy red, velvet hats with fluffy white pom-poms at the ends; pillar candles in red and green and gold; Godiva chocolates wrapped in boxes with bows and six-packs of chocolate Santas wrapped in silver foil.
It was full-blown Christmas in that grocery store.
My 4-year old – who had spent the last 18 months of his life at a Jewish Community pre-school surrounded by other children who did the same things in their homes that we did in ours — sat trapped inside the grocery cart. He eyed the Christmas fixins with curiosity; his head whipped from side to side, taking it all in.
“Know what’s weird?” my son started tentatively.
I heard his words, but I didn’t.
I needed to find the tuna fish.
And another carton of eggs for the egg salad.
I needed jelly filled donuts.
And I needed more oil. More oil for the latkes.
“What’s weird is that there is so much Christmas stuff because almost nobody celebrates it.”
I stopped pushing the cart.
I looked at my sweet, innocent son.
How do I explain that Jews make up 0.2% of the world population?
That in the United States we comprise 1.7% of the population.
That when he starts kindergarten in September, he will likely be the only Jewish kid in his class.
That people might not like him because he is Jewish.
That, once, store owners wouldn’t allow me to clean my clothes in their laundromat because I was Jewish.
That millions of people have been killed throughout history because of their love of Torah. Because of their desire to preserve generations of religious and cultural traditions.
I rubbed my son’s spiky crew cut and I told him this:
“There are many people in this big world and you will find that people celebrate things in lots of ways. Hopefully, when you get older, you will have friends who will invite you to their houses to celebrate Christmas. And a hundred other holidays that you don’t even know about yet. Because there are a eleventy-million-bajillion ways to celebrate what is close to our hearts. And each way is wonderful. Hanukkah is just one way. But it’s ours.”
My son smiled.
And like the wish that it was, it has come to pass.
My l’il dude is now 12 years old. And he has celebrated Christmas with friends. And Kwanzaa. And Eid. And Diwali. He loves being invited to experience how his friends celebrate their assorted religious and cultural traditions. He feels proud to have tasted everything from stollen to chickpea curry. He has sampled poori, spicy khaja, and sweet and nutty desserts like atte ka seera. My boy’s ears have heard many dialects, and he is fluent in laughter. He can understand a smile in any language. He has learned the stories behind why people do what they do, and he understands their beliefs are as right and precious to his friends and their families as ours are to us.
He has sampled many different ways to be.
But he has never wanted to be anything other than what he is.
Other than what we are.
• • •
Now go read Life in The Married Lane by the amazing Rivki Silver.
I would like to thank Streit’s and Doni Zasloff Thomas a.k.a. Mama Doni, the lead singer/songwriter of The Mama Doni Band for providing each of the 16 bloggers involved in #HanukkahHoopla with a little cyberswag.
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