Emily Hoadley lives in Norwood with her husband, Ben, and 10-month-old daughter, Shira. She’s a graphic designer at Hebrew College. This is her first Hanukkah as a mom. She reflected with JewishBoston about what the holiday means for her—especially in this current climate of fear.
I was living in Davis Square in Somerville when I met my husband on OkCupid in 2011. We’re both Reform. He’s an Eisner kid. He grew up in Western Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. His dad is not Jewish; his mother is. But they decided to send him to Hebrew school, and he went to Eisner in the summers. His Jewish identity became ingrained, and I would fully credit Eisner for that.
We got married in 2014 and moved to Norwood. Last January, we had our daughter, Shira.
My husband’s dad isn’t Jewish. When we got married, we discussed it. I’m happy to celebrate Christmas, but not in our own home. I read this analogy in an article a few years ago: It’s like celebrating someone else’s birthday. You’re happy to go to the party, but it’s not your party. Growing up I was always told that part of being Jewish is being different and not participating in the majority [holiday].
As a kid, we would light the menorah every night. I would choose one present to open each night from a pile of eight gifts, six small and two large, all very practical. I would get things like tweezers, socks and sweaters. As a kid, I thought about how we got eight nights of presents and there’s one night of Christmas—but I got tweezers! I appreciated the gifts no matter what they were, but I also knew it was not comparable to Christmas. Hanukkah isn’t as important to us as Christmas is to Christians.
Passover, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah were the big holidays. Passover, to me, was the best holiday. It was a big gathering of lots of people. Also, we didn’t eat bread for eight days! Hanukkah is eight days long, but not restricted in any way. Passover has a deeper impact because of the restriction. All day long, you’re reminded of it. And Hanukkah was always just 15 minutes at night.
But I enjoy the holiday season very much. I love Christmas movies, listening to songs on the radio and I like to celebrate Hanukkah. We can definitely find a lot of meaning in it, especially now. I struggled even doing this interview: “Oh, my God, I am publicly going to be known as a Jewish person. What if something bad happens?” I felt that fear before what happened [in Pittsburgh] a couple weeks ago, even living in a town where we’re an extreme minority, being nervous about people who maybe have negative feelings toward me.
I wanted to name our baby Shira. It was meaningful. Ben is a musician, and the name means “song” in Hebrew. But was I marking her as a Jewish person in society? I felt a little better because most people have no clue that it’s a Jewish name.
We try to light the menorah every night. I think we’ll do it with Shira. I think she’ll love looking at the lights on the candles, and she’s already liked listening to the songs, playing with the candles and putting them in her mouth. I don’t think we’ll do presents for her. Maybe I’ll wrap some empty boxes for her—she won’t know the difference! We’ll also make latkes. Ben makes really yummy, crispy ones.
We have a strong community behind us because we belong to Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley. She will feel so much community there. I don’t fear that she won’t feel comfortable. I do think most people want to celebrate diverse backgrounds. When Ben and I were looking for daycares in our town, we noticed a poster about one of the classes eating latkes. As much as I fear on a large scale, I don’t on a smaller scale.
And, when I think of Hanukkah, I think of putting the menorah in the window. It’s a time for making that statement and letting your community see that: This is our background. This is who we are. As much as we may be fearful, Norwood is having its first menorah lighting this year on the town common. I’m really happy this is happening. I’m going to take Shira. I am going to be nervous, but it’s a public expression of being Jewish. It’s something we have to do.