a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

Christmas Missing I

Posted on: December 16, 2014

This is how excited I was to find a Chabad menorah in Pioneer Square

This is how excited I was to find a Chabad menorah in Pioneer Square

For the first time in over 4 years I actually miss Christmas.

Living in New York, Christmas comes in with a bang. Between the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue, the tree at Rockefeller Center and the lights strung up in neighborhoods, Christmas is all around you. The music gets stuck in your head as you shop and without realizing it, you’re singing “Frosty the Snowman” or “Jingle Bells” on your walk home, dodging Christmas tree sellers on the street corners. And just when it feels like you’re Christmased out -“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” “Hello, sir, are you Jewish?” “Do you have Hanukkah candles?”

Oh Chabad. Those really friendly, mitzvah-pushing guys in the black hats. I could always count on them to ignore me, but to remind me that the cold winter months aren’t just about Santa, but also Hanukkah.

Back in our old neighborhood in Brooklyn, M and I would bundle up and take a walk through through the Victorian section of Ditmas Park and in about every other house we’d pass, we’d spot ย the light of a hanukkiah glowing in the light of a window.

Giant menorahs stand throughout the city and to unfortunately quote Adam Sandler, when you felt like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree, those Chabadniks, and giant menorah, and the glow of candles in the windows reminded me that there was something very Jewish about the winter.

Here in Seattle, it feels even more bleak. This afternoon, in search for an electric menorah for my store, I went into four different shops in search for a Hanukkah section. In my neighborhood grocery store I was directed to the kosher food aisle, at the Target in downtown Seattle I was offered a silver Christmas Tree and some blue ornaments, and in at the Bartells I was simply told that there wasn’t a Hanukkah section.

M and I always discussed having a firm line when it came to Christmas vs. Hanukkah-our children would celebrate Christmas with their Nana, but in our home there would be no tree, no Santa, no green or red. And as I’ve realized, yet again, the world is a different place when you’re a Jew outside of New York. Which I’m going to start calling Little Israel (L.I. for short) from here on out.

I was scolded in a comment for kvetching about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest and encouraged to stop comparing my new city to New York, but when being a New York Jew is all I know, it’s all I know. And it’s not just Hanukkah, it’s everything. After Shabbat service last week I was talking about needing another mezuzah for my door and my friend asked where I could get one. I joked that there was this amazing place where you could walk down the street and pop into not one, not two, but at least a half dozen shops for all things Judaica. You could purchase new mezuzahs or find an antique one.

“Where?” my excited friend asked.

My response-Avenue J. In Brooklyn.

She couldn’t imagine it, a place where you could go to find everything you needed to be Jewish. And, honestly, I can barely believe it either. In one afternoon I could visit two-three kosher grocery stores and shop elbow-to-elbow with the most frum Jews and a Jewish woman wearing a short skirt-all because we needed Kosher for Pesach ingredients. You can find entire kosher wine/liquor stores, not to mention some of the best challah in the city. All of this, mere blocks from our apartment. And while there are some things that are okay to buy online-like Shabbos candles, others I like, like a new mezuzah, I want to touch and feel.

I’ve never felt such a sense of defeat, anger and frustration looking for a simple electric menorah as I felt today. And while I don’t miss Christmas or wish that I could celebrate it (or be a “Holiday Tree”/Hanukkah bush Jew) I, again, realized how effortless being Jewish and celebrating Jewishness is when you’re in a Jewish city.

~~

Now, kvetching aside, on tonight, the first night of Chanukah, I encourage everyone to seek out a Chanukah Action in your area. I will be working, unfortunately, but there is a lot of amazing things happening all over the world. Let our Hanukkah candles not only remind us of the miracle, but be a reminder of our duty as Jews to be a light unto the world. We have a lot to work on in this world, I’m afraid. And we have a duty to work towards ืฆื“ืง, justice, in our time.

www.chanukahaction.org

 

Stay tuned for my RitualWell piece about Jewish responsibility and racial justice.

5 Responses to "Christmas Missing I"

I totally sympathize. When I moved to Durham NC from St. Louis MO, I suddenly was surrounded by MANY fewer Jews. Then one time I went into a grocery store just before Passover, asked the guy working the meat section if they had any more horseradish. He said no, sorry, then gave me this secret glance and said ‘chag sameach’.

Then I got a job in Germany…and now here I am seeking out Jews online and celebrating holidays semi-digitally ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy Hannukah!

Happy Hanukkah to you!!

Thanks for your light. Happy 8th night ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks! I hope yours was good.

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