While over the past seven years it’s become incrementally easier, the pangs of discomfort still have me catching my breath when my Catholic husband drags the Christmas tree through our front door. Inevitably, I’m able to rationalize my uneasiness (aka guilt/resentment/embarrassment) but I wonder: Exactly what is the big deal?
This year, our Reform synagogue, Temple Shalom of Newton, is hosting a clergy-led Parent Discussion on the “December Dilemma,” which I hope will help me gauge just where I am on the spectrum of nuttiness on the issue … that is, assuming there are other people out there who feel a slight wave of nausea when the tree goes up in their integrated home?
Religious tradition is not something with which my husband grew up (does getting drunk after your Catholic grandmother’s funeral service count?) so he chalks up my insecurity to my natural ability to over-complicate things. “It’s just a tree” he says, and a nice tradition which allows our family an opportunity for a timeout from our harried lives.
With the deadline for this blog post rapidly approaching, I sit down at the end of a busy day to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. Dishes are done. Tomorrow’s lunch-boxes are packed. A load of laundry is in process and a handful of emails have been addressed. Now I can finally spend a few moments being introspective.
I grew up in a traditional and observant Jewish home. My Israeli parents, like most new immigrants, desperately grasped onto any opportunity to connect to a life they left behind. We spoke only Hebrew at home; we always had Friday night dinner together and often with their Israeli friends; we read the ENTIRE Haggadah in Hebrew at Passover; and spent most Saturdays in the pews of our Conservative synagogue. As first-generation Americans (note: my parents identify themselves as Israelis) and the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, my sister and I were keenly aware of the implications of over-assimilating. We looked at the few Jews we knew that celebrated Christmas much like modern-day Marranos that had succumbed to the pressures of secular life. Alternatively, we were authentic and incorruptible; we had a sense of pride and religious superiority as a result.
Jews celebrating Christmas were an easy and obvious target … after all, how many Jews do you know that celebrate Easter? Or attend Church on Sundays? And the crux of it is that now I’ve crossed the line into what was once enemy territory of sorts.
Does that make me less of a Jew? Am I turning my back on years of religious tradition? Am I guilty of watering-down Judaism for my children and the generations that will follow? Do I have a moral and historical obligation to deny my DH the “one thing” he’s asked for despite years of religious openness that has him finding humor and appreciation in hours of grueling High Holiday services, Friday night dinners with my parents, and countless Jewish preschool and synagogue events?
The truth is I don’t have the absolute answers. I doubt I ever will and I’m not sure that’s even the point. We are doing the very best we can in the chaos of modern life with young children. We are living with the overlay of the teachings of Judaism, even if not with the day-to-day practices. We have created a loving home that’s infused with the (Jewish) values of justice, thoughtful kindness and moral obligation.
And we seem to be doing okay. So you know what … maybe it is, after all, “just a tree.” Right again, honey.
Danna Perry, Associate for Families with Young Children, Temple Shalom of Newton
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