When I was a kid my dad would call our town’s superintendent every year before Rosh Hashanah to remind him that the schools should not assign homework during the High Holidays. “If they’re going to keep school open during our most important days of the year, this is the least they can do,” he said.

I found this incredibly embarrassing. “I think the schools would do this without some big reminder,” I told my dad.

I didn’t know the superintendent, but this made me uncomfortable. I pictured someone in a suit sitting at a big desk as my dad, with righteous chutzpah, made this yearly reminder.

My dad grew up attending a large, all-boys public school in Boston where he and his Jewish friends were on the defensive. He once told me it helped when he got braces, because when he’d get punched in the face, his lips would bleed from the impact, and spitting blood is a good way to freak out an opponent. My dad’s high school friends are still close, and my stepmom once said that when they are all together, they don’t talk directly about the antisemitism they endured as kids, but it’s like the elephant in the room.

My childhood wasn’t like my dad’s. Through Hebrew school and family and community discourse, I learned a lot about the Holocaust and other instances of Jewish persecution. But antisemitism was an existential fear more than a practical one. When I was in grade school I attended my first family wedding in Poughkeepsie, New York. Having watched “Fiddler on the Roof” more times than I could count, I remember wondering if there was any reason to fear a mid-horah hate crime. But other than the one time a kid mocked me on the playground by chanting “Hanukkah girl,” I didn’t think about or experience antisemitism as a present day threat.

Recently, this has changed. With hateful leaders and irresponsible social media platforms emboldening all kinds of bigotry, antisemitism is more of an active concern. The day it was announced that Kanye was acquiring his own “uncancelable” social media platform, I made sure I could find my family’s passports. After Trump dined with Kanye and Nick Fuentes, I wondered if my Hanukkah window decorations were putting my family in danger of vandalism or worse. (We live on a busy street next to a stoplight.)

Meanwhile, my two-year-old, Davi, is experiencing her first holiday season as a sentient consumer. A few weeks ago at Target, she saw the Christmas section and yelled, “Deck the halls” (a phrase I imagine she learned from a cartoon), then bolted over to explore. That night I emailed the daycare director and asked her if Davi could bring in a Hanukkah book and some oversized dreidels to share with her classmates.

A week or so later, we went back to Target to buy presents for an early Hanukkah party. There wasn’t a single roll of Hanukkah gift wrap, cards, or bags. I threw snowflake paper into the cart and began walking towards the checkout, but then I looked down at Davi and paused. Channeling my righteous chutzpah, I rolled our cart towards an employee in a red vest.

“Where are we going, Mama?” Davi asked.

“I don’t see any Hanukkah wrapping paper. There’s lots of Christmas paper, and there should be Hanukkah paper too. We are going to make sure the store gets Hanukkah paper for us and other Jewish people.”

On the drive home, I thought about my dad and his yearly call to the superintendent to ensure no homework was assigned during the High Holidays. It embarrassed me as a kid because it felt like a bold demand for such a trivial need. But I understood, after carting my kid around as I spoke to multiple Target employees about stocking Hanukkah gift wrap, that it wasn’t about the homework for my dad and it wasn’t about the wrapping paper for me. It was about modeling the importance of asserting your needs as a Jew, even if it feels uncomfortable. It was about fighting fear of bigotry with pride. It was about celebrating our identity even (perhaps especially) when others would rather we not.

I went back to Target last week with Davi. We were in the gift wrap section again picking up holiday cards for her teachers. An older white man in a Carhart jacket walked over and began looking at the cards as well.

“What’s he doing?” Davi said loudly.

“He’s shopping for cards, just like us,” I responded quietly.

“Oh!” Davi said. Then she looked right at the man and chirped, “Happy Hanukkah!”

For a moment, I felt embarrassed. Chances are, this man does not celebrate Hanukkah, and here’s my kid assuming he does. I also made a snap judgment and felt a twinge of fear. How might he respond if he doesn’t like Jews? (He didn’t say much. Just “Oh” and then walked away.) But ultimately, as we continued shopping and drove home, I felt proud. I was proud of Davi for asserting her Jewish identity. I was proud of myself for teaching her about that identity. And I was proud to be raising a kid with a healthy dose of righteous chutzpah.

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