“When is your Christmas?” I would often be asked this seemingly innocent question when I was newly married. That would often be followed a few months later with “When is your Easter?”
The people asking this would be referring to Hanukkah and Passover as their reference points. I learned to just say the dates with no eye roll or tone and just pray that Easter wouldn’t fall during Passover so I wouldn’t have to explain why I was picking the ham off the plate or leaving the rolls in the basket. I knew what they meant, even though the only common denominator was the proximity of where they landed on the calendar so I never made a big deal out of it.
After our son was born, the questions would turn into, “What is Santa going to bring you this Christmas?” This would come from well meaning people who didn’t understand that not everyone in their community celebrated Christmas. With a slight tone of annoyance and maybe even a small eye roll, my son would respectfully say, “We don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“Oohhh, poor thing,” the well meaning women would tsk tsk at me with a look like I was an abusive mother.
So began the plight of living in a mostly Christian community, marrying into a Catholic family but deciding to raise our son Jewish.
I was raised this way for the most part. I grew up in Jamestown, RI where my family was one of two families on the whole island who were Jewish. I understood the dilemma of choosing to live here and simultaneously not choosing to lose my traditions, my religion, my heritage so that my son would carry on what my great great grandparents had hoped for when they made their way here in the early 1900's.
When you live in a community of many practicing Catholics, it is not always easy to be understood when it comes to your own religious preferences. I understand how difficult it must be to feel what it feels like. However, what I don’t understand, is not having the empathy for what that must feel like.
To me this is what all religion teaches.
To take a few lines from the most beautiful Prayer of St. Francis:
O divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to understand than to be understood, to be loved as to love…
We are a beautiful community here, we live on a gorgeous peninsula with a sordid history, but also traditions and family generations that make us all want to stay put. When people…