Merry Whatever-You-Heathens-Celebrate

December 18, 2008 at 5:57 pm Leave a comment

I’m probably the only Jew you’ll ever meet who knows the words to O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin. Don’t believe me? Adeste Fideles Laeti triumphantes… I learned it in school back in the day when December meant Christmas. Christmas pageants. Christmas songs. Christmas break. Christmas parties. Christmas Cookies. Christmas gifts. Jesus was coming to my school and I didn’t even bat an eye.

I never would have gotten to know Jesus so intimately had my parents decided to stay in the comfortable shtetl of East Orange, New Jersey, where we Yids lived a comfortable distance from them-the gentiles. Eaters of cheap bologna and mandarin orange slices with mini-marshmallows and mayonnaise, pink people rarely crossed my path.

But mom and dad selfishly lit out for fresh air and enemy territory-rural Warren Township, New Jersey, where I never had a seatmate on the school bus, and our cars were spray-painted with swastikas. Where the lit menorah in our front window served as target practice for BB guns. Where I  perpetually suffered from cooties and the sin of killing Jesus. Where my mother told me to respond to kids who tried me on the spot by responding “Jesus was Jewish,” and hearing “but he didn’t want to be” echoed back. Jesus was not my friend-he wasn’t even my acquaintance-so why couldn’t he leave me alone?

As I got older, traveling all over and living across the country, my hatred for Jesus came along with me. It intensified every December to the point where any kind of Christmas decoration, or even a whiff of pine, would send me into a tsunami of anger. Most intolerable of all, was when a stranger wished me “Merry Christmas!”

“I don’t celebrate Christmas! I snarled, staring down the offender until she turned away.

Outsiders attempts to acknowledge my existence as a non-gentile were met with even more bile. Whenever I spied a Happy Chanukah To Our Jewish Friends sign in a store, I vowed never to shop there again. It seemed like nothing more than anti-semitism cloaked in ecumenicalism-us vs. them with them making sure they weren’t mistaken for us.

I’ve mellowed out in the last few years and no longer think that anyone who’s wishing me a Merry Christmas is a Jew-hater. In hindsight, yelling at someone who was just trying to be pleasant was an asinine thing to do. Why the shift? Maybe I’ve come to realize that intolerance rarely hides in the voice of one human being wishing another something good. Maybe I want to save my anger for those who deserve it. Maybe I’ve moved on to another persecution obsession.

But I still beware of gentiles bearing dreidels.

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Roberta Gale

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