She told me that she doesn’t want to be Jewish. Her precise words were, “I’m not Jewish. That’s all.” Given that she is only six, I’m pretty confident that it isn’t the Jewish religion or culture that she is rejecting. More likely, she is embracing egg hunts and candy canes. Yet still, it stings.
As a new recruit into the Jewish community, I can’t help but understand her viewpoint. Over the years, Christianity has developed some strong hooks for the ten-and-under crowd. They’ve successfully created the Disneyland of faith-based holidays. Unlike the Jews, who have kept their celebrations more traditional – less like a theme park and more like a visit to a historical museum, where the parents insist on carefully reading each informational plaque.
So, twice a year, without fail, mixed faith families fight the battle of the dueling holidays. For those of us observing Passover in lieu of Easter and Hanukkah instead of Christmas, our children often feel the siren call of the Christian rituals. The storefronts decorated in pretty pastels with giant stuffed bunnies and chocolate eggs cradled in straw baskets draw children fore fiercely than a Real Housewife to a step-n-repeat.
Passover simply doesn’t offer children the same attractions as Easter. The horseradish and boiled eggs garnishing the Seder plate are a dim comparison to glazed ham and mashed potatoes at Easter dinner. The Jewish kids can’t even nibble on those buttery dinner rolls from Costco. No, they get flat, crunchy, dry matzo, for eight long days. And, to make up for missing out on an Easter egg hunt, complete with plastic eggs hiding chocolate deliciousness, Passover offers the finding of the Afikomen. (During the extremely lengthy Seder ceremony, the middle piece of matzo is broken in two and the larger section is hidden. The lucky youngster that finds the missing cracker gets a small prize and may also eat it for his dessert!)
Hanukkah holds only a slightly higher standing in the eyes of the Jewish children. Sure, it is an eight-night holiday that can include daily gifts, but these presents are often of the sock and book type. Christmas, on the other hand has Santa, a plethora of candy treats, stockings, and presents piled high beneath a glittering tree decorated with family memories. Again, the holiday of lights does not measure up to the Christian tradition with the jolly old man in a red sweat suit. I now understand why Ross invented the Hanukkah Armadillo.
So, what is a “Common-law Jew” raising her children in a Jewish household to do? Even though we only celebrate the Jewish holidays in our home, we don’t deny my parents the opportunity to share their Christmas and Easter traditions with their grandchildren. And after partaking in both traditions, the kids can’t help but compare the festivities and cast their vote for the Jesus-based holidays.
Currently my younger daughter is learning the Passover story at the little neighborhood Jewish nursery school. Most days she’s excited to share with me her “drawings” of Moses in the bulrushes, the throne she built for Pharaoh out of recycled wine corks, and sing the songs about frogs jumping on beds. However, last week she was visibly distraught when I picked her up from school.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I buckled her into the car seat.
Her pudgy toddler face crumpled as she admitted, “I don’t want to eat bitter herbs.”
Apparently the suffering of the chosen people begins at age three.
You can read more from Rhiana Maidenberg on her blog.