Jewish Holidays and Practices
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One of the St. Louis Mothers Circle participants, Amy Zaidman, was recently featured on the radio on KWMUâ€™s St. Louis on the Air program. The topic of the show was â€śthe dilemma faced during the month of December by those who do not celebrate Christmas.â€ť Other radio guests included a Jew-by-Choice and a Muslim, and a variety of other folks called into the show. You can listen to a recording of the show here. Amy, who was raised Catholic, explains her decision to raise Jewish children and not to celebrate Christmas in her home, and she also speaks a bit about the different decisions other interfaith families make regarding the holidays. And as to whether Amy, her fellow radio show guests, and others who do not celebrate Christmas are really faced with a dilemma, well, Iâ€™d say thatâ€™s still up for debate.
On December 25, while many Jews are helping their Christian friends and relatives celebrate Christmas, plenty of others continue the decades-old, unofficial tradition of going to the movies, eating out at Chinese restaurants, and/or trying our best to keep occupied during the one day each year that—more than any other—reminds us of just how tiny a minority we are in a country that is over 80% Christian.
Luckily for us (or unluckily, depending on your tastes), there’s a humorous “viral video” online paying homage to this Jewish phenomenon. Called “Chinese Food on Christmas,” it’s received over a million view on YouTube.com and turned its creator, Jewish day school music teacher Brandon Walker, into a minor celebrity according to this article in the Baltimore Sun. As the article points out, there are a number of scenes in the video that play on ugly Jewish stereotypes, but if you can get past that, the tune is actually catchy and the music is particularly well done compared to the typical Internet fare.
For a somewhat more studied look at the “tradition” of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas, the Forward newspaper interviewed author and NY Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, that is a number for her middle name) about the phenomenon. In her forthcoming book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food,” she apparently writes in depth about the Jewish love of Chinese food, and in looking for an origin to the tradition, she points out, “the single most important thing is that Jews and Chinese are non-Christian immigrant groups. They were both always outsiders. And they share a lot of traits, specifically their love of education and family. So they were drawn to each other.”
Finally, for an even more serious view of Jewish feelings on Christmas Day (though ironically in the form of a comic!), the New York Times published “The CrĂ¨che” yesterday by Rebecca Gopoian and David Heatley. It’s a melancholy reflection of an adult child of intermarriage—herself now intermarried—about celebrating her husband’s Christian faith and what it means for their children. It conveys a remarkable amount in just a few words and drawings.
However you might be spending Christmas Day, we at JOI hope it’s a safe and happy one.
Watch out Chanukkah and Passover! You may have proven yourselves to be two of the most celebrated holidays in the Jewish community, but Rosh Chodesh is hot on your trail. Events and programs celebrating the day a new Jewish month begins are on the rise, and their popularity could give you a run for your money.
For example, this past November the University of Vermont Hillel held their â€śOnce in a New Moon: Womenâ€™s Spa Nightâ€ť to celebrate the new month and women empowerment. Female students learned about the event through a variety of sources, including their sororities, Facebook, Hillel follow-up efforts, and word-of-mouth. The participants, all female students, were invited to honor and celebrate the important women in their lives during an informal candle ceremony, then pamper themselves with organic spa products, sample home-made tasty treats, and win some prizes in a raffle. Students who had prior knowledge of the event were also asked to bring toiletries to donate to the local LUND Family Center, who sent a representative to speak about the organization.
During the event, the University of Vermont Hillel also took advantage of the Bronfman Strategic Engagement Grant and name collection tools recommended by JOI. By including an â€śinterestsâ€ť section on the raffle ticket, they were able to create an opportunity for students to indicate interest in joining a Jewish womenâ€™s group, as well as streamline the Hillelâ€™s efforts in targeted follow-up. With Public Space Rosh Chodesh events like this happening at college campuses around the country, perhaps weâ€™ll see a new name at the top of the Most Often Celebrated Jewish Holidays list.
Amanda Lindenbaum is one of fifteen women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children who are enrolled in The Mothers Circle course in Baltimore. An article in yesterdayâ€™s Baltimore Sun, â€śPassing the torch of Jewish tradition: Mixed families come together for Hanukkah,â€ť reports on Amanda and other Mothers Circle participants learning about Hanukkah and celebrating the holiday with their families:
This weekend, Amanda Lindenbaum had already taught her 6-year-old son, Cole, to make some Hanukkah crafts. His sister, 2-year-old Kate, was adding dots to some dreidel shapes her mom had cut out. Once, “my grandparents were the ones who made the holidays,” [Amandaâ€™s husband] Heath said. Now, “we can be those people,” Amanda said.
The eight-month Mothers Circle course focuses on Jewish rituals, values, and the how-tos of creating a Jewish home. The Baltimore Mothers Circle is operated by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore and generously supported by the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Foundation, the Hoffberger Foundation, and The Jacob & Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated.
Especially at this time of year, moms appreciate the education and support that the program provides. For more information about the Mothers Circle, visit www.TheMothersCircle.org, and for helpful information about celebrating Hanukkah with your own family, be sure refer to the Hanukkah section of JOIâ€™s website.
I love the Jewish holidays. I really do. And in our house, there are no such things as minor festivals. We decorate and throw parties and invite guests, no matter the holiday. So on Hanukkah our house is always overflowing. From my perspective, the â€śminorâ€ť (while I understand its technical distinctions in Jewish law) is only a state of mind as far as Hanukkah is concerned. So letâ€™s keep building giant menorahs. And letâ€™s continue their lighting in public spaces so that all can share in the message of the miracle of religious freedom. Our world seems to need to hear this message now more than ever.