Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

No, we do not celebrate Christmas. This has come as a bit of a shock to some family members as it is the "Christmas" season.

Recent conversations have revolved around one topic lately, "what should we get the kids for Christmas?" The reply being wholly unappreciated, "we aren't participating in Christmas, but here's what the kids have mentioned for Chanukkah..."

"You aren't putting up a tree or lights or ornaments this year?"

"No, we do not celebrate Christmas."

Strictly speaking, we never celebrated Christmas from a religious stand point anyway. Without getting into the whole "well, Jesus wasn't born in December anyway" argument, it just wasn't something we believed. Our Christmas celebration was entirely secular. We exchanged gifts, we encouraged the kids to think about those less fortunate, we gave to charity and we took the time to be together as a family and focus on that relationship.

Yes, we used to put up a tree and decorate it with ornaments. However, over the past few years the tree has been coming out later and being taken down earlier. Since we began the conversion process, we have put more emphasis on Jewish holidays and less on the holidays we celebrated as children.

While the transition went almost totally unnoticed for the last 2 years but not so this year. Our children and families knew last year that that was to be the end of Christmas in our home. The children are fine with this decision... some family, not so much.

Maybe they do not like losing the extra shopping days? Chanukah comes early this year, December 8th-16th. Maybe they do not like that we put so much less emphasis on presents and gifts and more on family and tzedakah (giving to others)? Maybe they feel we have somehow "betrayed" them by converting to Judaism? Whatever the reason, they do not share with us. So far some of the family has been very tight-lipped... thought through their actions and the few words they do speak, their displeasure is noted.

I can't help but be sad. These people are a part of my life and family. I love them deeply. Yet I feel so hurt that I cannot share with them the biggest and best change for all of us. Converting to Judaism has been wonderful for our family. We have grown stronger as individuals, my husband and I have never had such a wonderful relationship with each other, and as a family unit we are much stronger and closer than ever before. We attribute all of this to our conversion. And to not be able to share that with some members of our extended family... it hurts.

I only hope that these members of the family some together with us before our oldest takes a huge step next year. We are, right now, planning Yaakov's bar mitzvah next fall. I want our families to be a part of this. Yaakov wants these family members to be a part of his bar mitzvah, he wants them to share in his enthusiasm and excitement and joy. I want for them to share in it as well, instead of getting hung up on 1 day in the dark of December.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hanukkah is Right Around the Corner

Because it falls around the time of Christmas, many people think that Hanukkah is one of the most important holidays in Judaism. They would be incorrect. It is not the "Jewish Christmas." There are far holier days on our calendar than Hanukkah but it gets more of a glance than our High Holidays.

So what is Hanukkah anyway? It is the commemoration of an even that occurred after the time of the Torah.

During the 2nd century, Israel was divided up by the Greek empire. The emperor prohibited all local religions and tried to make the locals worship the Greek gods (and the emperor). The Jews insisted that their G-d was the only G-d and resisted. These rebels were called the Maccabees. They fought back and won their religious freedom. But the Temple of Jerusalem had been turned into a Greek shrine. It had to be cleansed and rededicated for Jewish worship.

To be cleansed the menorah had to be lit for 8 days. It was found that there was only enough oil for 1 day. They lit the menorah and the menorah remained lit for 8 days.

Now Jews commemorate this miracle by lighting candles in a hanukkiyah. A hanukkiyah is a special menorah with places for 9 candles. The 9th candle is the one we use to light all the others (it is called the shamash which means servant or sun). On the 1st night of Hanukkah, we use the shamash to light 1 candle. On the 2nd night we use the shamash to light 2 candles. We add another candle each night until on the 8th night all 9 candles are lit.

Many Jewish holidays also have certain foods associated with them. For Hanukkah, latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts are popular because they are both fried (fried in oil, oil for the menorah... see the reasoning).

Gift giving is a more recent development for the holiday. Yes, our family exchanges gifts but we also encourage the children to give tzedakah (giving money to charity). The gift exchange has made the transition easier for the children from Christmas (celebrating from a secular aspect).

Now for your viewing pleasure... a little fun... one of my favorite Hanukkah videos!