Friday, September 14, 2012

Head of the Year


It’s difficult to be different in the Midwest.  I’ve found the prevailing attitude to be “you are in the majority or you are wrong”.  When I was new to my neighborhood I was at a pool party with a group of neighbors, mostly “lifers”, and we were talking about living here. I said that I wished there was more diversity.  Life is so much more interesting when we’re exposed to different people: be it color, political party, religion, sexual preference, ethnic backgrounds. Here everyone is the same. “That’s what we like about it” they all agreed except Lisa (also not from here).  Thank goodness for Lisa.

True story: When my son was little, he and I were talking about diversity and I said that I thought it was sad that he was the only Jew in his whole school and that there are no Black people at all. He said that, in fact, he had a friend in his class who is Black. I knew this wasn’t true, I was the Head Room-Mom and I knew every kid by name. The next day I watched intently as the class got out to see if maybe there was someone new.  Then I realized that he was talking about an Indian boy in his class, he didn’t know the difference. That was a sad day for me.

We’ve been involved in groups through the Temple and through Chabad, but we don’t belong to a Temple here and my kids haven’t been through religious school.  I'm surprised at and don't approve of what's required here; being forced to divulge our income and tithe a chunk in order to join a religious community.  So my children have been raised with the traditions almost exclusively.  I’ve enjoyed practicing them and have learned quite a bit about them myself.

This Sunday night is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah and I love this holiday.  It’s the Jewish New Year, "rosh" meaning “head” and "hashanah" is “the year”.  There are 2 traditions that are so rich in symbolism and meaning as to make this a special time.  First, we make and give out honey cakes.  Honey is used to symbolize our wish for a sweet year ahead.  But the tradition is not just one of giving, although that alone would be meaningful. The tradition is to give and to receive. We all acknowledge that we should be people capable of giving.  On this day we also acknowledge our vulnerability, we are people who sometimes have to swallow our pride and be capable of receiving.

When my kids were in elementary school we always chose their teachers as recipients of our honey cakes. I’d print up a short note explaining what we were giving them and why. I had an ulterior motive, however. This was my “heads up, you’ve got a kid in your class who is different from the rest”.

The other tradition I love is tashlich.  Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement, is right around the corner. That's the day we fast and atone for our sins of the previous year and ask G-d to put us in the “Book of Life” for the coming year.  In preparation for that solemn day, on Rosh Hashanah we perform tashlich.  We take bread, go to a flowing water source, and throw in pieces of the bread.  We are symbolically casting away our sins of the past year, starting to think about how we can be better people next year.

In terms of our religion, the time that has been the most difficult for us here has been the month of December.  My kids' teachers have always been amazingly open minded, but their school district is sadly not.  When the boys were in elementary school, I was invited by almost every teacher to do a Chanukah presentation. I made sure that my presentation was about traditions not religion. I’d buy a fun Chanukah traditions book, read it to the class, then donate it to the teacher.  I’d show them how we light the menorah and I’d bring donuts as a snack (fried foods are a tradition on Chanukah).  I’d divide the class into groups and teach them to play the dreidel game using candies that I brought and then left for the class. The kids all loved it and I think got a sense that although my boys were different, they had fun traditions this time of year too.

The school district was a whole other story. The sign in front of the school in December said “Merry Christmas”.  Once my kids could read I asked if it could say “Happy Holidays”.  They chose to take the sentiment down and leave the sign blank instead of changing the letters. 

Once when we were celebrating a holiday where we couldn’t eat bread, the school had a Dairy Queen fundraiser night planned.  My kids were proud of the fact that they had attended every one of these “eat out” fundraisers and were in line for recognition for having done so.  When I spoke to the Principal (way in advance), I was told “so what if it’s a holiday, you still have to eat, don’t you?”  My response: “Do you go to Dairy Queen on Christmas?”  He later told me that the evening couldn’t be changed because DQ couldn’t accommodate any other night.  I went into DQ and they were shocked, they could have and would have happily changed the day had they known.

At the substantial risk of angering most of my readership I may as well take the opportunity to say this too.  I DO NOTwant to take the Christ out of Christmas.  I couldn’t, but I wouldn’t even if I could.  I appreciate your desire to celebrate all of the traditions you grew up with, but hear this:  Anyone who says “happy holidays” to you is not conspiring to alter or change your religion.  They are just trying to include everyone who celebrates anything this time of year into their good wishes, you as well.  It’s not meant as an affront either to your religion or to you personally.

If I know that you are Christian and I’m talking to you, I’ll always say “Merry Christmas”, it’s my way of acknowledging you as an individual.  If I’m talking to someone in a store, or a group of people, I won’t say “can you each tell me what religion you practice so I can tailor my wishes to you each individually”.  I’ll just say “Happy Holidays”. There’s no hidden agenda, it’s meant to be respectful, nothing more nothing less.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been wished a merry Christmas.  How many times have you been wished a happy Chanukah? Kwanzaa? Bodhi Day? Yalda? Ashura? And I’m so sick of hearing that wishing everyone a happy whatever-they-may-celebrate is somehow a vast conspiracy to take Christ out of Christmas. It is just plain not.

So now that I’ve alienated the vast majority of my followers (I’ll have to check, I may be down to one or two now) let me just say to those of you who are left: I hope your beliefs, be they celebrated in a building and in a structured way or just traditions in your home, provide you with direction and clarity and hope and comfort and compassion.  In December, and every other month of the year for that matter, when you come across peo0ple who are different from you, I hope that you too will find that it does not diminish your beliefs at all to wish them well in theirs. 



L'Shana Tova, Happy New Year | www.BakingInATornado.com |  #MyGraphics



Baking In A Tornado signature | www.BakingInATornado.com |  #MyGraphics





41 comments:

  1. I am Greek Orthodox Christian and since 98% of the population in Greece is also the same it is rare to encounter problems like yours. I do understand what you're saying only because I had lived for many years in the USA. You are right in many ways, but in such a religiously diverse country how can one know what another is celebrating or not celebrating? Unless you know the person in which case, yes, you have to respect his religion. I agree with you that people have to be (respectfully!) tolerant with 'diversity' as well as 'educated'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you got the key word: respectful. Thanks for the support, Vicky.

      Delete
  2. AMEN and AMEN!!!!
    OMGosh! It always drives me INSANE when I hear people say that saying Happy Holidays takes Christ out of Christmas... So ridiculous! Umm... NO ONE can take Christ out of Christmas. That's a personal thing. It's the same with prayer in school. If you are in school and praying, guess what! There's prayer in school. LOL I am a Christian but I also respect the beliefs of others. How could I not? Christ taught us to LOVE each other! Love God and love others. Period. By saying Happy Holidays I am acknowledging all the other holidays that occur in December, too. I have friends that are pagans, Moors, Catholic, Jewish, atheist. We are a world full of people with different backgrounds and different ideas. I am glad of that. It would be so boring if we all thought the same way. Even though SOME people like the Patriots... ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. VERY well said, no one CAN take Christ out of Christmas(and I doubt non-Christians are wasting their time trying to). Different is NOT bad, it's just not the same. I'm not sure but I think that Patriots comment qualifies as bullying!

      Delete
  3. Aw, I love you Karen. As usual, I've written and rewritten my comment to your thoughtful post. All I can say is Thank you. Thank you for explaining the upcoming holidays as well as your struggle with the "majority". I moved to a state where some treat you as the "if you're not like us, you're not with us" attitude. It's heart wrenching, especially on our children. Please know how many people are reading this post of yours and thinking, "Thank goodness. Someone else is getting this." I know I was. Happy weekend, my friend

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment and the support, knew I could count on you. We can make the world a better place for our kids one person at a time.

      Delete
  4. Hi Karen! Nope -- not offended, and not leaving. You'll have to try harder tha that to get rid of me! :)
    I know - this is a painful topic for you - that comes across so eloquently, and I feel for you feeling so isolated. I moved to a completely different city because the rigid pigeon-holing of the one I was raised in was too confining. Differences should be embraced and celebrated, not distrusted. They make us interesting and help us to learn to be better people.

    In all honesty, I will still continue to wish others (not you- I know now to wish you a Happy Chanukah) a Merry Christmas - but not because I want to somehow force them to celebrate a holiday that is meaningful to me. Instead, I want the very best for them and I hope that is a time of joy and peace and hope for them. The few times I have been wished a Happy Chanukah in reply - I was delighted! They too, wished me the very best!

    No -- I don't think you are trying to take Christ out of Christmas by wishing me a Happy Holiday. Clearly you are wishing me good things. But why not offer others a Happy Chanukah? It cannot possibly mean that you want me to be happy if and only if I am celebrating Chanukah in the accepted fashions -- can it? It would mean a lot to me, and for others, would you not be able to open a dialogue, and accept their wishes for a happy and healthy Kwanza, or whatever they have to offer you in return?

    Am I just being too wildly naive here? If so, it certainly isn't the first time! But please don't try to conform to what you think my or others' expectations might be. Instead, be your best you! And let others get to know you. I know you will respect them for who they are. Maybe its ok to give them a chance to do the same for you?

    Thank you for your description of the Jewish Holidays coming up and the ways they are celebrated. They are beautiful and rich traditions, and I feel enriched to know of them. May you and yours find great beauty, joy and peace of heart this Rosh Hashanah. I hope there will be someone to give a honey cake to you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow, thank you for all of that. You said it perfectly when you said "differences should be embraced an celebrated, not distrusted". Perfect.

      Delete
    2. Honestly, I fear that in our efforts to either a - not offend others, or b - to "fit in", that we are turning into a very white bread, plain wrap society, or at least one that strives for this. I don't want that. One of many things that makes this country great is that we do have people from so many different backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, family structures... I want to learn from you and others and thereby enrich myself. I hope this year, you will offer others a joyful greeting of Happy Chanukah, and they will accept and enjoy it in the spirit in which it is offered. :)

      Delete
  5. I like the tradition of recognizing our need to receive as well as give. Sometimes it is hard to receive.
    I grew up with a fairly diverse background; we were in the military and we moved around. I've often thought it sad when people give up their cultural differences to be all the same. Regarding Christmas, my husband I don't celebrate it per se. I mean not as the birth of Christ, really. It's really become a holiday of gifts. But I don't have a problem with people saying Merry Christmas to me or whatnot. I think if someone wished me a Happy something else, I would just smile and find it humorous. I can see what you're saying about Happy Holidays, though. I actually use that a lot myself on Christmas cards. I guess what I'm saying is I don't see it as all that important if someone says one thing or the other. I think the sentiment is to be cheery and friendly. However, I think maybe it scares people because they think about things like "no more prayer" in schools and stuff like that. We have some difficult issues to deal with in this country, because so many people used to be Christian that many of traditions in school and other places were Christian; now that we have such a mix of religions and beliefs, what do we put in and take out? But that is beyond the scope of your post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that the point I was trying to make is that we should all be more considerate of others. If you're truly wishing someone well, you're wishing them well in whatever makes THEM happy, not what makes YOU happy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Delete
    2. I think you made that point beautifully, Karen, in your last line "when you come across people who are different from you, I hope that you too will find that it does not diminish your beliefs at all to wish them well in theirs."
      Beautifully said.

      Delete
  6. I liked learning what was behind the traditions I have heard of but didn't know. This was a great post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for taking the time and for being open minded.

      Delete
  7. I came here via a Blog Hop. I'm liking you. I mean...I really appreciate everything you said here in this post and thinking you're someone I need to make part of my blogosphere. My SO and I are both Pagan, raising children to be open minded and find their own paths. So far, we have one with Buddhist-leanings, one agnostic and one atheist. The other 3 are yet to figure it out. Acceptance of diversity & beliefs is very important to us. Thanks for the great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy to "meet" you. I have teenagers and although I want them to be open minded, I also hope they will embrace the traditions they are growing up with, but we'll see. Acceptance of diversity should be very important to everyone.

      Delete
  8. Hi Karen, I grew up in the Midwest and lived here all my life. I live in a small town where we don't have much diversity, we do have some though. Even though I have lived here all my life I do miss not having the diversity, maybe that seems weird for me to say that, but my husband grew up in the Chicago area and I love going there and seeing all the different people. And maybe that is why I like blogging since you get meet people from all over the world and all walks of life. Yes, and when it is the holidays I wish people happy holidays, because not everyone believes are the same as mine and that is fine with me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make an excellent point about blogging, Dawn. I do "meet" people from all over the world and all walks of life and all different beliefs and attitudes. Maybe that's why I like blogging so much. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

      Delete
  9. I came to your blog from a comment you left on mine and wow,I didn't expect to be blown away by the first post I read! Wise words, and good on you for being so honest and proud about your beliefs. Diversity is something to be cherished and nurtured, how boring life would be if we were all exactly the same x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, "how boring life would be if we were all exactly the same". Couldn't agree more.

      Delete
  10. Happy New Year, Karen! Thanks for stopping at my blog; I enjoyed your comment ♥

    My experience in a small midwest town is that color, ethnicity, and religions are all accepted; it's just that unless you're originally from here, you'll always be considered a newcomer, even though you're welcomed. I know it's not the same everywhere.

    Sorry you are having issues with the school in your town. Back in high school in NJ we must have had an enlightened administration- we only had one Jewish student in the school population of about 1,200. The admin gave him not only the Christian holidays off (well, the school was closed, so they had too) but also the Jewish holidays, too. It was not a problem, they saw what was needed and they did it. Your school ought to have just added Happy Holidays to All to the sign.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's exactly what schools SHOULD do, see a need and take care of it. Unfortunately this school district doesn't see it that way. One son is in his last year there and the other has one more so I'm almost done!

      Delete
  11. L'Shanah Tovah Tikatevu, Karen!
    May your New Year be sweet and beautiful and bright!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for thinking of me today, Kat, and especially for going out of your way to find the sentiment that would be most meaningful to me!

      Delete
    2. I hope it was a beautiful day and a lovely beginning to the new year! And I am hoping to get a Happy Chanukah back from you come December! :)
      Blessings to you and your family!

      Delete
    3. Thanks again, Kat, you're very sweet. We had a lovely dinner as a family and that's the best beginning for a new year that I can think of.

      Delete
  12. Very well said...and a good reminder to all of us that we live in a world rich in culture, traditions, and beliefs. I am sorry to hear that diversity is not prevalent in your neighborhood, particularly since it sounds like you thrive on being open-hearted and accepting. I enjoyed reading this very much and learned something too! Have a wonderful New Year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the word you used "rich" is the right word here. We're all richer when we're open to other cultures, traditions, and beliefs. Thank you for the New Year wishes.

      Delete
  13. Yeah, I know what you mean about the 'be like us or you're not part of our group' sentiment! However, I have exactly the opposite of the problem you mention. I come from India and contrary to what people think, we are not exclusively Hindu. We have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, and other religions in our community. So, when we have Eid, we all wish our Muslim friends Happy Eid (actually, Eid Mubarak) and they wish us the same! We don't get offended if they do so, because we know that they are wishing us that so as to include us in their celebrations! Similarly, we wish our Christian friends Merry Christmas. They again, wish us Happy Diwali at that time of the year. It's only when I came to the US that I found that wishing some one who may or may not be of that religion was somehow hurting their sentiments, and I still don't quite understand!
    Perhaps, what I am trying to say is what Kat very beautifully expressed in her comment. So, hope I did not offend you by my comment!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not at all offended. I'm also not offended when people who don't know me wish me a Merry Christmas, although I do think if you don't know someone you shouldn't necessarily assume that they celebrate what you do. What offends me is when people are offended by those of us who do say "Happy Holidays" and then accuse us of somehow trying to take Christ out of Christmas with that generalized sentiment, that's offensive.

      Delete
    2. That I absolutely agree with.....that's just being sensitive over nothing!! And, I actually wanted to tell you that I also completely sympathize with your wanting diversity where you live! Happily, we live in a very cosmopolitan city; I would would feel very comfortable living in a small, closed community, since we are different from the 'normal' crowd in any case!! :))

      Delete
  14. Great post, Karen! I grew up Roman Catholic, but have a diverse extended family which has at times included Jews, Muslims, atheists, and blacks. I am very thankful for having grown up in such an open-minded family. Happy New Year to you and your family!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Helena. I hope my kids grow up to say exactly what you just said.

      Delete
  15. Well said, Karen. I am particularly impressed with the hebrew... ;-)

    Happy, healthy, prosperous and sweet to you and yours.
    xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First, "well said" is quite a complement coming from someone who's been so successful in articulating her own feelings. Second, I'm not sure I got the Hebrew spelling right, it's been a long time, but I'm fairly certain that I'm close, LOL. L'Shana Tova to you and your family too.

      Delete
  16. Hi Karen! Thanks for visiting my 1camera1mom blog and leaving a comment! I'm now following your blog. I live in the Rainbow Nation where there is lots of diversity. When my daughter had her 13th birthday, I wrote a post about having a mini United Nations over at our house. One of the big things in my mind about moving is that if we ever do, then it has to be to an area with diversity. It must be hard for you. Do you ever consider moving?

    I love your profile. Baking is also my way of having fun, except for the cleaning up afterwards and blogging is my way of using my brain. :)

    Tina - mom of 4 and author of 5 blogs
    http://1camera1mom.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have considered moving, every day. Unfortunately in our current economic climate giving up a job isn't a good idea. I also have kids finishing High School and this wouldn't be the time to uproot them. Thanks for visiting me here.

      Delete
  17. I am Catholic and you haven't alienated or lost me as a follower. My faith is important to me, but I also accept and love others. I understand where you are coming from babe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. The world needs more people with that attitude.

      Delete
  18. Karen: You have written what I have written and thought for many, many years. The more we explain, maybe the easier it will be in the future for others to understand. Our respect and tolerance for all beliefs will go a long way to soften the belligerence and anger that people feel when confronted with those who are different from them. I am so proud to be your cousin!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much. I am overwhelmed by the number of positive responses I've gotten on this piece. Every single person makes a difference.

      Delete

Warning: Comment at your own risk. I have Comment Moderation, meaning I approve all comments before they show up here. So go ahead, I'm not scared!