When I was growing up in Atlanta, there were less than 100,000 Jewish residents in a city of several million. My parents had moved there from Philadelphia, and they retained much of that Northern Jewishness that set us apart growing up. Much of that was cultural – bagels and lox on Sunday mornings, for example, instead of grits and fried chicken.
We were members of the Temple, the biggest Reform shul in the city, and my sisters and I went to Sunday School and were had Bat Mitzvahs and confirmations. We were involved members of the community, and it gave me a sense of pride. But it was not one that I wore proudly amongst my peers at school. How could I when I was one of five Jewish members in my classl? Instead it made me feel different, along with my big curly hair and oddly shaped nose.
I went to a Jewish school until I was in kindergarten age and then I moved into the public school system, and one of my most vivid Hanukkah memories is from that year. It’s not the kind of memory you want lingering in your mind forever. There was a big Christmas tree in the back of the room. The teacher had just left the room for a few minutes. Several of the kids in my class got up and started dancing around the tree, making fun of me and the other few Jews in the class for not joining in the celebration of the holiday (which we actually did, there was not much choice). Then they started chanting songs about us. I don’t remember the words but I know they had negative connotations. When the teacher returned, they stopped and pretended like nothing had happened, but it was too late. In the midst of their chanting and stomping around the tree, they had tipped it over. The experience was alienating.
Life in Atlanta continued very much that way. I was one of a few children to take off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Most of the kids were jealous that they didn’t get the days off, but no one was ever jealous or wanted to observe the holidays with me. No one ever asked the story about how either holiday came to be. My mother continued all the traditions and we continued to practice the Jewish faith at home and I attended Hebrew School. When I was 15, I heard about a high school program in Israel, and I wanted to attend immediately. My grandfather, a fervent Zionist, paid for the trip and I was off. Off to a land where I could stand up proudly for being a Jew. I had never experienced that kind of pride before, and that pride has stayed with me ever since. I certainly needed it when I headed off to the University of Georgia after spending a year in Israel and encountered a room mate wearing a swastika (but perhaps that story is for another blog post). Well, not really, but she may as well have . She had boys make prank calls to me, asking how much money my parents earn and other making other stereotypical comments.
Fast forward to today. I moved to NY almost right out of college (after spending time abroad) and I’ve never felt that kind of shame about being Jewish since. When I lived on the Upper West Side, I’d walk down West End Avenue saying “Shabbat Shalom” as often as possible because I could, and for no other reason. We moved to the suburbs after the kids were born, and they both wear their Judaism on their sleeve. It makes it easier that the entire school gets off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
I am no longer a fish out of water, rather I fit right in. My big curly brown hair is quite accepted in NYC and when Hanukkah rolls around, we are not the only ones celebrating. Rather we are joined by others to do so. All of their friends want to not only know the story of Hanukkah, but they want to come over and light the candles with us, whether Jewish or non-Jewish. We have gathered with friends and family to light the menorah, and last night, we took our annual pilgrimage into the city on Christmas Eve to see the great big menorah in front of the Plaza Hotel. You wouldn’t get that where I came from.
As I celebrate Hanukkah Hooplah with my fellow bloggers, I am reminded of the uniqueness of the blogging community. We have been brought together from all over the country to celebrate a holiday where some of us have more people to celebrate it with others. Oh, if I had this feeling of support when I was growing up!
A group of sixteen bloggers, led by Renee A. Schuls-Jacobson, are blogging the eight nights of Hanukkah, Please check out the other Hoopla posts here.
I would like to thank Streit’s and Doni Zasloff Thomas a.k.a. Mama Doni, the lead singer-songwriter of The Mama Doni Band for providing each of the sixteen of us with cyber-swag. Their cross-promotional alliance is designed to celebrate Jewish culture with the young generation, a mission of both Mama Doni and Streit’s.
To win this awesome swag, leave me a comment letting me know that you’re interested. A winner will be randomly selected on December 29th.
And check out this great video by Mama Doni herself “Chanukah Fever”:
Disclosure: I am not being compensated for participating in this campaign.