First-night-of-Hanukkah candles burning.

What it is like to be Jewish during the “Christmas” Season

Every year, as the holiday season rolls around (what feels like earlier and earlier each year), I am reminded of what it is like to be a Jewish woman in America. I will receive more “Merry Christmas” than “Happy Hanukkah” texts. I will be asked, “exactly what is Hanukkah?” I will celebrate Hanukkah in the evenings, between days at work while enjoying days off during Christmas time.

But more than simply the difference between Hanukkah and Christmas, I reflect on the year as a whole and how my Jewish identity came into play. This year I remember not just this past year. I remember being in high school and hearing complaints that someone got suspended for telling a student to get in the back of the line like he would for the gas chambers—apparently that wasn’t a good enough reason to get suspended in some people’s eyes. I remember in college when peers made jokes about Auschwitz. I remember all the cheap Jew jokes and all the times I thought my nose was too big for my face. I remember a coworker making a Nazi joke. I remember people I thought were my friends agreeing with a comment that devalued the seriousness of the Holocaust because the survivor was a white male. I remember people defending those who made light of a genocide that resulted in millions of my people murdered. I remember people scolding me for ending friendships with those that made those comments. I remember messages from those that defend themselves, claiming they did not make fun of my religion when they made light of my ancestors dying horrific deaths.

Newsflash: you cannot tell someone your actions or words were not anti-Semitic if said person—Jewish person no less—felt that they were. Devaluing the Holocaust is anti-Semitic. And it’s not someone being too sensitive or making a big deal out of nothing. It is a big deal to me. A bully can’t say they didn’t hurt someone’s feelings if the bullied individual feels hurt. That is the definition of invalidating and devaluing someone’s feelings, and in my case, my religion and my ancestors.

As I return from Saturday morning services, I remember those that lost their lives at the shooting in Pittsburg. I reflect on the friends that called me afterwards to make sure I was okay. I reflect on the friends that have texted me “Happy Hanukkah” on the actual first day of Hanukkah and not on Christmas (which does not always occur during Hanukkah unlike this year). Most of all, I reflect on those that I thought were my friends, that turned out to be subtle anti-Semitic individuals, probably not even realizing how their words and actions hurt me.

So this year, consider your words carefully. Not everyone gets a tree or is accustomed to buying dozens of presents. Not everyone sings carols and drinks eggnog. Perhaps use the term holiday party or holiday card or winter break simply because it is more inclusive. Why? Because not everyone celebrates Christmas. Maybe this year ask someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas about their holiday traditions. That said, to everyone who does celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a beautiful holiday. I know I plan on having a spectacular eight days of Hanukkah (which starts this evening)!

Shout out to my friend Jon for brining this musical Hanukkah magic into my life—click here to check out Boyz II Menorah!

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First-night-of-Hanukkah candles burning.

Until next time,

Leah Pinkus

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