My living room is funny place in December. In one corner, there is a menorah, in the other, a Christmas tree. A little wooden nutcracker and a few dreidels sit on the coffee table. I have chocolate-filled advent calendars, and a copy of Lemony Snicket’s “The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming.”
This all makes sense to me, believe it or not. I am Jewish but my husband is not. Christmas in our house is an American holiday, not a religious one.
But all of the red, green, and Santa cheer can still be a little overwhelming when you are raising Jewish children. I couldn’t stop Christmas in their lives, even if I wanted to: an entire side of their family treasures it deeply. But I still want to point them in a Jewish direction, even during a season where it is so easy to be distracted.
This is when I think back on my trip with the JWRP to Israel in July 2014 and feel better about it all. The trip was presented as a way to support mothers, and that is exactly what it did for me.
I went to Israel at a time when I felt somewhat alone and unmoored, trying to guide my kids without a firm religious footing of my own – my own Jewish education is lacking, and as a child there were always more questions than answers from my mother about our Jewish heritage.
Holidays have always been a challenge. I have a number of friends in the same interfaith boat trying to balance all the traditions that matter in their marriage – they put a kippah atop the tree, instead of a star. Or they insist on calling the tree a “Hanukkah bush.” Some even throw “Chrismukkah” or “Hanukkamas” parties. But, despite the lighthearted approach, they generally feel a lot of anxiety and angst – as if having these celebrations of Christmas in the house will hurt their kids’ ability to be Jewish.
Since my trip to Israel, I have worried a lot less about all of this. The trip-and support from my new friends-strengthened my resolve and gave me confidence to continue with my children’s Jewish upbringing without feeling like it needs to compete with other perspectives and traditions. They don’t need to reject their father’s Christmas tree to be truly Jewish, nor do they have to reject my values to enjoy a Christmas gift from their grandmother.
My son recently turned 12, and is starting to think about a bar mitzvah approach. Last night, we had a long talk about the kind of ceremony he’d like to have. We sat in the living room enjoying the light of the Christmas tree, which twinkled happily as we spoke.