Posts Tagged With: christmas

Christmas is Over

1517593_10201662157568280_594315208_nI have no real love for christmas.  My (Now ex) wife and kids are still all about it, so the day started with being woken up at six am.  I finally got out of bed around seven, and came out to the living room where they were all gathered around to open presents.  Everybody enjoyed all they got, and that was wonderful.  Regardless the reason for the day, it is great when you see a seven year old open up a package with sweatpants, and be just as excited as when he opens up a large kit of Legos.

For me, the irony of the event hit when I opened up the things that my wife and kids bought me.  It was apparently a, “Buy Jewy stuff for the Jew,” type of Christmas, a jogging suit, a T-shirt, even boxer shorts.  All of the things were well thought out, and couldn’t have been more awesome!  It felt very respectful.

For lunch, we went to a friends house and made Chinese food.  We sat at the table–four jews, and my wife and kids (four goyim)–and ate/conversed together.  One of our friends asked for us to go around the table and remember our favorite christmas experiences to each other.  Let me clarify something here: she is jewish, but although she doesn’t do christmas she is still excited by it and loves that others do celebrate it.  Everybody had a story to share.  I was reminded of a conversation in the movie City Slickers, in which they ask each other what was their best day.

My most memorable christmas (I grew up celebrating christmas, in case you didn’t know) was both the best and worst christmas in my life.  Twenty years ago, my grandfather of blessed memory was in his last days.  He was in Hospice care, in the bedroom of my grandparent’s house.  Christmas eve was the night that we always celebrated, as per the Danish tradition, and we all sat in the dining room, and then in the living room during presents, trying not to be sad that grandpa couldn’t join us.  I’m not sure if we were conscious of it or not, but we were all basically trying to convince ourselves that everything was normal.  Clearly, it was anything but.  Two weeks later, my grandfather passed away.  He was the closest thing to a father figure that I ever had growing up, and although he was already an aged fifty-something with many ailments that effected his day to day life and ability to interact with all of us, he had such a huge impact on my life.  I am thankful to G-d for every minute that I was able to have with him.  I miss him every day.  This was my best christmas because it was the last that my grandfather was alive for, and it was my worst christmas for the same reason.

I realized last year that this experience was the first thing that caused me to dislike christmas.  It isn’t fair to those I love who still enjoy the holiday and time of year, but I’m not sure if anything can be done for it.

I do love the feeling that I used to get for Christmas when I was a kid.  I loved the family occasion, the meal together, the conversation, the joy.  It is the same feeling that I now get out of the jewish holidays which happen much more frequently.  Even shabbat, happening every week and seeming a bit minor to goyim is just like this.  We sit at the table, have a special meal, sing blessings, talk about our week and our dreams.  It is like all the good parts of christmas without all the bad parts.  If any jews are reading this and have never fully experienced shabbat, do yourself a gigantic favor and do so.  Go in with an open heart, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  If you are unsure of where to start, comment here and I will give suggestions (or maybe I’ll make that the subject of a future post).

After lunch at Miriam’s, we all planned to go see The Hobbit at four in the afternoon.  I had read the movie time the day before, but as it turned out they change their schedule every day.  The next show was at 7:10, which was no longer matinee, so I went in to talk to a manager just to see if we would be able to buy tickets for that show at matinee prices since we had planned our day around a showtime that no longer existed.  He apologized for the mix up and gave me six free passes so that we could all come back and see the show.  It was great!  We went home for a few hours, and returned to see the show–which was awesome, by the way.

I’m glad that christmas is over for another year, mostly so that traffic can get back to normal and there won’t be christmas music everywhere and at all times.  All in all, despite my general dislike for christmas both as a jew trying to keep torah as well as possible and given my personal history with the day, it was a very good day.  In fact, I am thankful to G-d for this christmas day that we had.  I was able to reconcile a few things, and actually spent a very yiddishe time on a goyishe day.

I hope that you all had a wonderful day, regardless your traditions or hang-ups.  I think that we can all do well to remember that life is too short to be full of bitter feelings, even if they are only for select things.

 

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The Trouble With Santa Claus–or–I’ll Be Watching You

holidayWhat does Santa Claus teach children in our society?  Really, the whole ethos of christmas in modern times is effected by this legendary character and his eight diminutive ruminants (or nine if you add in Gene Autry’s favorite).  As we inch along in our cars, in traffic jams that seem to last for a month–don’t go anywhere near the mall!–many of us get nauseated from the obvious commercial ramifications brought on by this creation of Macy’s and Coca Cola.  Those with children who are subject to the stalker persona from the cold north–the tune to I’ll Be Watching You by The Police comes to mind–say that its wonderful for their children.  They say that it, “encourages a belief in the supernatural,” or that it, “teaches them the beauty of giving.”  Is such a figure really necessary for all that?  Is it really the healthiest way to raise children toward these goals?

I had some returns to make at Lowes a couple of weeks ago.  As the woman was scanning the items, she asked (without looking up), “are you all ready for christmas?”  I smirked to myself a little bit and replied, “about as ready as I can get.”  She looked up, saw the kippah on my head and said, “oh!  happy haunukkah.”  She didn’t seem disappointed or anything, it was just a departure from what she expected.  I told her thank you, then asked her if she was ready for christmas.  “Oh no,” she said, “not hardly.”  Friends and family have also expressed this circumstance.  Regardless of who I’m talking to, my response is usually the same, “wouldn’t it be so nice if all you had to worry about was making and eating a nice meal, and relaxing with loved ones?”

Isn’t that really what the holiday should be about?  Easter is more like this for most christians that I know.  Jewish holidays are pretty much all centered around this.  In fact, it is commonly said that every jewish holiday can be summarized with the phrase, “they tried to kill us, we won, lets eat!”  The most important and frequent holiday in judaism is shabbat (the sabbath), during which we are enjoined to eat three full meals, and to not perform any work.  I’ll not get into the particulars of what “work” means in the context of torah (If you would like to read more about that, http://www.aish.com, and similar websites have many articles on what that means), but it is most likely not what you think.  Basically, shabbat observance consists of not exerting our will upon the physical world, attempting to live in a more spiritual plane of existence similar to “paradise” or “heaven;” similar to the elemental existence in the garden of eden.  I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of people in the world, if they ever fully experienced a properly kept shabbat, would look forward to doing such a thing at any opportunity.

But even with the understanding of the stress that people let themselves feel–immediately and for a long time thanks to the gift of credit–in relation to the obligatory materialism of such “traditions,” year after year they flock back for more punishment.  Even in judaism (in america) there isn’t much relief from such experiences, as Hanukkah has become “jewish christmas” for many who buy presents for all eight nights.  I even ended up doing this this year.  Usually, I am pretty steadfastly against presents on Hanukkah, as I don’t want to confuse the holiday to myself or my kids.  This year though, I really wanted to buy them stuff!  Now granted, I bought them mostly stuff they needed or could really use anyway– gloves, scarves, slippers, art sets, and books–but I did buy a few frivolous things that I knew they’d get a kick out of.  It did make it a bit more special for all of us.

I wonder if it was a mistake to do this.  Will they expect it next year as well?  As their mother and they are still celebrating christmas–albeit in a completely secular way–there was talk this evening about Santa Claus.  This was interesting to me, because they all have known that Santa isn’t real for the last four years.  I guess they still enjoy the mystique, the character, and the spirit of this style of gift giving.  I can’t blame them!  Perhaps it would be better if we, in this society, just taught through example that everyone is “santa claus” if they choose to be.  Instead of attributing these things to a make-believe character, wouldn’t it be more wonderful if the children were shown that real people sometimes just want to be nice to others and give them presents?  For years I have been trying to convince people that I would much rather just get a letter or a gift out of the blue, just because they saw something they knew I’d love.  So far, despite my best efforts to do this, it has not met with success.

I think the reason is that without obligation, many of us just won’t do it, even if we know that its the right thing to do.  As I touched on in my post, “Assimilation, Death of the ‘Modern’ Jew,” without obligation to keep the torah, Jews just don’t.  Perhaps the obligation by the “torah” of peer pressure and advertising is just plain a better motivator than making somebody smile.  How sad is that!?

How about getting rid of the idea of Santa all together, and instead just place random gifts around the house, with no idea who gave them?  Actually, it just dawned on me that perhaps the reason that Santa is a better fit is the same reason that for most, christianity is a better fit than Judaism.  In christianity, there is a form given to G-d.  With the Santa tradition, there is form given to the spirit of giving.  Without this form, even if it is indistinct and changes in the mind of each person conceiving it, perhaps it is just too much to grasp and so automatically makes minds and emotions reject the very concept.

Well, there is a little food for thought at least.  Whether you are celebrating christmas with or without santa, I hope you have a merry christmas.  If you are celebrating a different holiday, I hope that it is very special for you.  If you, like me, will be eating chinese food and going to see a movie–as is the custom of my people on the winter solstice–then may your egg rolls be vegetarian, your Kung Pao be spicy, and may you be able to make it to a matinee–or don’t forget to ask for your student discount–because hey, “yo mama pays retail!”

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If You Can’t be With The One You Love…

…Love the one you’re with!  Love the one you’re with!  Love the one you’re–do do do do do do doodoo!

A friend of mine just went through–or better put, is going through a heartbreak right now.  He told me that he believes that there is such a thing as true love, as two people being meant to be together.  He asked me if I thought so too.  Now let me explain a little something here about myself.  I am an idealistic romantic.  I met my wife when we were both teenagers.  We had four children by the time I was 26.  We have been married for 13 and a half years, and have almost been divorced three times!  What did I say to my friend whose shoes I have a pair of as well (I wear them from time to time)?  “I used to think that way.  Now I think the answer is both yes and no.”  I realize that this could very easily be an extremely confusing concept, so let me further explain.

On one side we have a concept of “the perfect match.”  While this is an absolutely beautiful ideal, on its surface at least, it is really nothing but a romantic self-delusion.  In order for there to be just one “perfect” match, we would have to believe that we do not live in a world of seven billion people.  Even if we are to still believe in “the one,” there still leaves the problem of irreconcilable differences that would logically rule out a good deal of the population as suitable companions.  We have differences such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, etc, etc, etc.  For some people, just rooting for the wrong football team is enough to rule out perfection of match!  With all of these possible variables, not to mention myriad others, the field within which each person will search for “the one” becomes smaller and smaller.  But what if the “cosmic” right choice is not our choice?  What if the “perfect” match exists among those whom we have already ruled as being outside the realm of possibility?  You may be feeling that the very possibility of “the perfect match” is starting to dwindle as you consider the statistical difficulties involved with reconciling such thought.  One question comes quickly to mind, however; what about all of the couples who are truly happy, loving, and perfect for each other?

What if I told you that happiness, love, and perfection, are all choices that we make?  In fact, with a few small caveats (which I’ll get to shortly), choice is just as important a factor in these cases, as is is in what you will eat for lunch, whether you drive or walk, or whether you drink water or soda.  Whether we will, and who we will love, is choice based, not fate based.  If it were fate based, then it would be nearly impossible–given the sheer number of statistical possibilities for matches–that any two people would ever love each other or be happy.  And yet, we see many examples of arranged or quick marriages that can blossom into beautifully loving couples, and people who are madly in love from the get-go who don’t make it past a few years.  What is the secret to a lasting, loving relationship?

I spoke of caveats.  There are people who, whether by nurture or nature (a completely different debate) who have a natural proclivity toward loving a broader spectrum of people, and far easier than others can ever dream of doing.  Lets call these, “innate lovers.” These people often desire to make peace, speak diplomatically, and act according to a high sense of morals (whether religious or not) that are often centered on “the golden rule.”  Apart from these people with a natural tendency toward loving others, there are also, oftentimes, many people who have “been to hell and back,” and have decided that while it may be difficult, loving others is something that is ultimately beneficial.  We can call these people, “pragmatic lovers.” Pragmatic lovers often come off as benevolent, or even philanthropic in society and relationships, and while they are such things, they often do so because the data reflects that as the most positive action. Closely related to pragmatic lovers, are “acquired lovers.”  Acquired lovers, are the type of people for whom love is neither simply natural, nor simply pragmatic.  Like learning how to enjoy wine, or brussels sprouts, acquired lovers learn to enjoy loving and being loved.

I believe that any combination of these type of lovers can work together.  I also believe, however, that in most cases it takes a lot of time and hard work.  If both parties aren’t innate lovers, then all too often such unions end because one party doesn’t understand the other.  It isn’t their fault.  The acquired lover can’t understand why his innate lover is so needy all the time.  The innate lover can’t understand what requires so much consideration that the pragmatic lover can’t just love her without having to see the benefit in doing so.  The pragmatic lover can’t understand why the acquired lover has to be backed into a no-win scenario before learning how to love him.  Even if both parties are innate lovers, the relationship can sometimes fail because there is no balance for the neediness that they both exude.

Jewish tradition speaks of all souls being united at their creation, but how on their way into this world they are torn into two halves.  The ultimate journey of the soul, is to find its counterpart and become whole again.  Sefer Bereishit/the book of Genesis says, that Adam and Eve were a model for cleaving and becoming one flesh.  The word translated as “cleave” is דבק-davak, which has a connotation not just as a fleshly coupling, but also as a spiritual coupling, a completeness.  The same word is used to describe the ideal of man’s relationship with G-d.  Later in Bereishit, however, we are told of polygamist unions, as well as the finding of a spouse after the death of her predecessor.  In such cases, I do not think it impossible for the person to make the conscious decision to “love the one” he’s with.  In other words…

The answer that you will get from me, as to whether or not it is possible that a person has a perfect match is, yes.  There is more to it, however, in that the perfect match is the one in whom you choose to find perfection.  That is why it is so, damned, difficult, to handle it when the object of your affection chooses to break up with you.  You may be thinking that everything is perfect, and he just can’t see it.  Maybe you can bring her around to your way of thinking.  With enough time-

Stop, stop, stop.  The only way the other person is going to love you back, is if he/she chooses to do so.  This may sound like an incredibly bleak reality.  “If this is true,” you might say, “then what is the freakin point?  Why even bother?”  For a person with love to give, being able to give the love is a gift in itself.  So, for whatever time a woman allows you to give her love, enjoy it.  If that special man is reciprocal, even better!  But life is too short to hedge your bets.  Even if you find yourself in a situation where you are wondering how long it will last, LOVE ANYWAY.  Believe me, loving someone–even if you have to decide to, or acquire the taste for it–is the best gift that you can give yourself.  And when it does work that the person loves you back, even if just for a week, a month, a year, or a decade, there is nothing powerful enough to stop the two of you, nothing in this world.

I leave you in the immortal words of Don Cornelius, “I bid you peace, love, and soul!”

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Shatnez….

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For the first time in over a hundred years (or 87k years, spending upon the article you read), hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving this year, creating the much anticipated Jewish-American spectacle of Thanksgivukkah.  I prefer to say Chanksgiving, but most non-jews (who I will call goyim, with no air of derision, but rather out of expediency) have a difficult time with the guttural sounds.  Well, to keep it real, many Jews have a hard time with them as well.

Having Thanksgiving during the eight days of Hanukkah was wonderful!  It was such a refreshing switch to the usual coincidence of Hanukkah and xmas.  Our house is a kind of interfaith household.  To be super realistic about it, we are a single faith family, as the only religion is Judaism.  My wife is not Jewish, however, and although she is respectful, and helpful to an extent, of the Jewish practices–helping with Shabbat meals, doing holiday stuff at home, helping to keep kosher in the house with the exception of separate dishes and cookware–she really has no interest of her own.  This time of the year, therefore, is all about the secular items of xmas: tree, lights, music, movies, presents; basically anything that has nothing at all to do with any kind of deity.  On its face, this is what secular xmas is all about, but lurking behind the scenes however, are all kinds of references to fertility gods, demigods, and father-gods, stretching all the way back to mesopotamia!  This is an extremely difficult thing for a Jew, who is trying to live torah to the best of his ability, to do while still being kind and true to those whom he loves and who love him.

So this year, Hanukkah didn’t have to compete with its usual rival–and lets face it, Thanksgiving is nowhere close to being competitive.  We went to the house of some friends for Thanksgiving, and they came to our house the next night for…wait for it…Thanksgivukkabat!  Thats right, that rare Jewish-American Holiday that rounds three holidays into one!  We deep fried a turkey using the recipe from “the shiksa” (link at the end of post), and had some Traditional Shabbat and Thanksgiving trimmings to go along with it.  It was wonderful!!!

So, you may be asking, “What does this have to do with shatnez?”  Or first, “What the heck IS shatnez?”  The second one I’ll answer first, without spending too much time on it: Shatnez is the mixture of wool and linen that the Torah commands us not to wear unless we are priests serving in the Holy Temple.  Orthodox jews, therefore, are very stringent about mixed fiber clothing, and even have inspectors who will examine your clothing under a microscope for you to make sure that it is kosher.  The only thing that this blog post actually has to do with shatnez though, is that there was a part of a video that I watched recently, where an orthodox woman is in Walmart singing, “Its beginning to look a lot like shatnez,” and then complaining about having all the goyishe tunes stuck in her head.  Immediately following thanksgiving, my wife began playing xmas music and movies.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal, if not for the longevity of the binges.  It seems, sometimes, that there can be no respite from xmas–even in one’s own home!

As you read in my “about” page (you read that first, right?), I didn’t grow up Jewish.  I used to enjoy xmas music and movies very much…in moderation.  Years ago, we lived in New Hampshire, and the oldies station there–the one station I could stand listening to–would play xmas music, 24 hours a day, from thanksgiving to new years!  Some days, I hoped for temporary deafness to set in, G-d forbid.  I can handle the occasional song or movie, but not hours on end.  After that, I end up being like the woman in the youtube video, with, “all these goyishe songs stuck in my head all day long.”  And just to be clear, there are very few songs or types of music that I am ok losing so much mental control to!

Will we all make it through?  Will there be any nervous breakdowns?!  Stay tuned for the finale–over the next 15-20 days that is–to find out!  And until then, just remember…

Most of these “goyishe” songs were written by Jews!  “Oy vey!”

 

source links:

http://theshiksa.com/2013/10/24/deep-fried-sriracha-turkey/

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Universalism, Tolerance, Education

 coexist

A friend of mine goes to the local Unitarian Universalist Church here.  She’s one of the teachers in the teen group, and asked me if I would come in to talk to the kids about Judaism.  Now, she and the other teachers did tell me that Judaism is the one faith which they did not research very much before visiting the synagogue, and having a guest speaker, but I didn’t expect so few questions from the kids.  It really brought back for me, a general ethos of our society that if you have to ask questions, you are somehow inadequate as a person.  This may not be an actuality, but it sure seems as if it is, and it definitely seems to be more prevalent among teens.  As a quick aside, if you do not belong to a traditional religion, but you would like some kind of spiritual fellowship, they are all quite nice at these churches without you having to commit to a particular religion.

One of the kids in the class was very curious, and so, asked many questions.  I guess it could be that curiosity is just something that comes with maturity.  I remember when I was a kid, that those who were outspoken, and different-minded, were often those that were thought of as nerds or weirdos.  It is so amazing how much time changes that kind of thought for many of us!  Now, this kid is probably the type of kid who is thought of as a nerd, or a weirdo, but I am starting to thing that an attitude of curiosity shows two things: maturity (as I said above), and an individuality.  In fact, perhaps the true rebels of society aren’t the ones doing drugs, or dyeing their hair, or listening to “objectionable” music.  Perhaps the true rebels are those who will not simply be sheep, content to hang out, unquestioning.

The scientific method depends upon inquiry.  All knowledge, in fact, depends upon inquiry.  Since all knowledge depend upon inquiry, so too, does all education depend upon the willingness of people to step outside their comfort zone, and ask questions that need to be asked.  I used to ask my kids, when I picked them up from school, “what did you learn today?”  Increasingly, I am trying to change to asking, “what questions did you ask today?”  They are still kids, so there isn’t very much dialogue in such cases, but I am hoping to imprint upon their brains that questioning is a very important and positive thing.  Especially as our children grow older, and start understanding that mom and dad don’t actually know everything–as they assume when younger–it is even more important that we teach them first hand, the priority of curiosity, and diminish the importance of being correct.  We must question, without giving up who we are in the process.

One thing that I think we can definitely learn from the Unitarian church is the ability to step outside our comfort zone to ask questions.  It is good to learn about other people, and what is important to them–what makes them tick, if you will.  Ignorance is the biggest obstacle to acceptance and tolerance.  Tolerance, however, is not always what modern society seems to think it is.

Tolerance means accepting others for who they are, and not trying to change them, but it doesn’t mean that you have to diminish yourself, or join in with their particular beliefs.  My fourteen year old doesn’t seem to understand this simple point.  The other day, he thought it was ridiculous that I wouldn’t pray facing a christmas tree.  I told him that it was a pagan fertility symbol, and that I wouldn’t pray facing it.  He got all indignant and said, “I thought Jews were supposed to be tolerant of other’s beliefs.”  I simply responded that, “yes, we do not force anyone to be Jewish, so yes, we are tolerant of them.”  Ironically, it was his indignant attitude regarding what I would and wouldn’t do concerning my spiritual worship that was intolerance.

In this day of false “coexistence” we are less free to be the people we actually are.  When I see the bumper stickers with this credo on them, it makes me think that even the thought of coexistence is something that must be foisted upon people, as if it is simply another form of intolerance.  While I don’t think that people should be disrespected based upon race, creed, etc, I also don’t think that we should all be lumped into one pile of being.  To do so would deny the uniqueness that makes us, and the world, beautiful!  Some of us are short, tall, round, thin, strong, meek, fast, courageous, timid, extroverted, introverted, etc.  We are all human, and so there are “certain inalienable rights” that we all should give one another, but we must also understand that we are not all the same.  We are equal in that first category, but we are not equal in all ways.  IF we continue to operate under the false pretense of absolute equality, we will do great detriment to future generations, and a great disservice to ourselves.  IF we do this, we remove the opportunity for tolerance, and education, and replace it with a mask of universalism–while denying the universe.

so, Shalom, Salaam, Pax, Paz, and Namaste, to the universe…including all of you unique and beautiful creatures who make it the wonderful place to live.  I appreciate you not in spite of your differences, but because of them.

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