December 15th, 2011

The Annual Christmas Conversation

I meet new people every year, and thus every December I get to have this strange conversation about my Christmas feelings . Sometimes I have to have it multiple years with the same person, as my confusing viewpoint is hard to remember. Perhaps I’ll just immortalize this in the blog, and then send people the link when they ask…

Ok, I won’t really do that, as people mean well and I am something of a special case–folks are right to be confused. Let me take you through it step by step:

1. I am Jewish.
2. I love Christmas.
3. I do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
4. I do believe in the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.
5. I like tinsel, cookies, carols, indoor trees, and time off work.
6. I attend Christmas parties, concerts, and other festivities, and enjoy them very much.
7. I do not represent anyone other than myself and, somewhat, my weird family. No one should use me as example when they are saying it’s ok to insist that non-Christian folks participate in Christmas festivities because, “Christmas is for everyone!” or “It’s really a secular holiday now.” It actually isn’t secular unless someone (like me) chooses to celebrate it in that way.
8. I am a secular Jew. Religious Jews–and religious other sorts of people–would likely have a much different reaction to Christmas stuff than I would. Or maybe not. The only way to know how anyone feels about anything is to ask that person specifically.
9. I am respectful of all cultures, including Christianity. I understand how devout Christians might find it off-putting if I told them I was taking an interest in their holy day merely for the music, cookies, tinsel, and hugs. I try to avoid invitations to truly religious occasions, even though they often have the best singing. I will not be hurt if I am not included.
10. I appreciate respect in return. I don’t do a lot of traditionally Jewish things, but no one gets to decide that I’m “not really Jewish” on my behalf.
11. Hanukkah is a pretty awesome holiday, but it is not a Christmas equivalent. It’s relatively minor in religious importance, though it’s been elevated in cultural significance due to closeness to Christmas on the calandar.
12. It’s fine to wish Jews Happy Hanukkah, but it’s also fine not to if you don’t know when it is (hint: it’s on the lunar calandar, so not the same dates every year) or what it celebrates (see Wikipedia link above). If you want to ask me about Hanukkah feel free, but you don’t have to.
13. One reason I love Hanukkah because it’s one of the only instances of a double “k” that I know of, and I think it looks neat.
14. Hanukkah tinsel exists, but it is really hard to find.
15. Sometimes I wear tinsel in my hair.

So…does that clear everything up?

December 15th, 2009

Happy Holidays–all of them

Some years I don’t feel a need to explain, some years I do. This year I do, so: I am a Jew who celebrates Christmas. No intermarriage in my family, just long-time residence in–and affection for–a very Christian community. There were no other Jews in my grade-school classes ever (my younger brother also went to the school, and there was a much older girl somewhere in the system who was also Jewis, so I wasn’t completely alone). It was either figure out how to draw a Star of David on my own, or draw a Christmas tree with everyone else. And the others were so happy drawing the tree.

I don’t think I would have been ostracized if I’d refused the tree. There were no other Jews, but there was a boy who was a Jehovah’s Witness in the class, and he went and stood in the hall not only during any sort of holiday festivity but also during the national anthem and Lord’s Prayer (it was a very small old-fashioned country school) every morning. No one ever teased him, and he was actually a well-liked kid, but it couldn’t have been easy to miss out on all the festive stuff.

Christmas has a lot of good things that go with it. This year I’ve been involved in a couple different charity drives, for children both in this community and overseas. I’ve been to beautiful parties and received cards covered with glitter and eaten delicious food, and am happy to think there’s more to come.

I am sad to think that anyone would ever feel I was being disrespectful to my Jewish identity by enjoying other people’s traditions. And I would be sad also to think that anyone would think I was disrespectful of Christianity because I take only bits and pieces from that tradition.

And I would also be upset to be held as an example for why the Christmas-observant don’t need to be sensitive to the non-observant. “Rebecca likes Christmas and she’s *Jewish*, so I don’t know why I need to say ‘Happy holidays’ or take down this giant public creche…”

I’m easygoing, fairly secular, and deeply festive–I am non-extrapolatable, though there may well be others like me. Every year I gear up for Christmas with a tiny bit of trepidation over these misunderstandings, but mainly joy that I’m going to hear Barenaked Ladies sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and eat eggnog flavoured candy canes again. And put tinsel in my hair.

And of course I wish you whatever your heart desires this December, of whatever denomination your wishes fall into.

This picture is hard to make out, but that’s my little fourth-night menorah in the front, and my little overlit tree in the back. I guess it is appropriate that this pic, like so much of what is written above, is all blurry.


May 22nd, 2009


Whoo, back in Tokyo and on free internet!! First thing, ok, the direct link for my short story Q&A at the Afterword. Now, pictures!!

Because the Blogger picture-upload interface is so, um, touchy, I have had to really be choosy about what I put on here, ie., no pictures that didn’t quite turn out, no pictures of Rebecca with a pretty flower, no pictures of cats in Shinto shrines, etc. If you want those, they are on Facebook-of-the-user-friendly-upload-interface. But here, on blogger, are a few highlights of my four days in Kyoto (and a couple from Tokyo before we left).

Me in a Tokyo bookstore. No, there doesn’t seem to be a way to make it not sideways.

Beautiful/spooky Buddhist cemetary in the hills, with view of Kyoto beyond.

There were many lovely girls and women in traditional kimono on our hike in the Kyoto hills. It was a pretty gentle hike, but still must have been challenging in these outfits. These two were the portrait of modest charm when I got my brother to ask for this picture.

Extremely large and awe-inspiring Buddha sculpture.

Traditional garden, outside a restaurant.

Impressive architecture at Kyoto station.

That would be Hiroshimamyaki on left, Osakamyaki on right (one in layers, one all mixed, both delicious).

A stand selling cookies you could feed to the deer in Nara. And deer, waiting for their chance.

Deer!! So cute. And pushy. You could pet them, but they didn’t really care unless you had a cookie.

Me, hanging out with the deer, pretending to be all chilled out about it.

Approach to largest wooden structure in the world (which housed the largest Buddha in Japan), with tourists and wandering deer. Deer as random occurance–so funny!

Largest wooden structure in the world. Pictures from inside didn’t turn out so hot (not hot enough for me to endure further congress with Blogger right now) but I thought this vista just lovely. Deer-free, because it’s in a courtyard where they can’t go. I would’ve smuggled one in if I could have.

Finally had to give her up / just about the time she begins to want me

May 18th, 2009

Kyoto Hello

Ok, so this is pay-to-play internet and I have 10m18s remaining, so this will be typo-ridden but I just have to say–bullet train = bliss! It has a pointy nose like a hornet, and giant windows from which you can see the countryside zooming by, and when you pass another bullet train going in the opposite direction, the combined speeds (200k/h + 200 k/h!!) makes it impossible to even discern the windows on the other train. And the ride is as smooth as silk and the weather was gleaming sun, so I just watched the ride fields and the tiered stacks of pink and grey houses and windy roads around ponds where all the cars looked the same for *two hours* and didn’t even open my magazine once (and it was a good one–Exile Q).

And Kyoto, once we arrived, is also pretty impressive. Although we got lost lost lost (my fault) even that was sort of entertaining. When we were wandering around an appartment-complex parking lot (very very lost) a bemused security guard watched us walk by, and when we returned, he practically danced for the prospect of helping us. He walked us to a tiny path by the train tracks we never would have found, quite far in the heat, and left us with a map that he apparently kept around just for dumb lost westerners who strayed into his parking lot.

And then we went to the shrine of Fushimi Inari, of which I have many pictures (some with cats) which I will upload when it doesn’t cost anything to do so!! But trust me, it was amazing. After the main big shrine, there are these long winding paths that go up up up in the hills, and they are covered with archway after archway, bright orange holy things called toris, hundreds and hundreds, making a hike enough for threeish hours (we did perhaps half, because I am lame).

Oh, and I finally found a pineapple bun, one of my favourite Chinese snacks that I had for some reason been craving lately. And a fun arcade (really a pachinko parlour, but who understands pachinko? I’ll take Sega games any day). And and and…so much stuff!! Plus, I miss Canada. Well, parts of it. Well, you guys.

I am walking up the face of the mountain

February 14th, 2009

Character Exercise: Holiday Letter Inspired by Personal Ad

Dearest Friends and Family,

Well, it’s that time of year again–the lights, the hugs, the presents, and all those spinning spinning dreidels: it’s Hannukah!

Just kidding! Of course, I am as Christian as a candidate for American public office, and now that Adrienne Goldberg is no longer in my life, I haven’t the slightest need to light a candle during the month of Kislev. As I string the lights and tinsel from fridge to coat-stand and back again, I am sending all my friends and family out in the great white north my sincerest good wishes for merriment at this merry time.

What’s this, you are wondering? Why kill perfectly good trees with this silly letter, Trevor, you might be asking, when you will be home among us, wishing us Merry Christmas in person while attending the Satelliteberg Elementary Festive Singalong and eating your weight in buttertarts at Aunt Sally’s Advent party and falling asleep at the pre-dawn prayer gathering!

Sadly, I won’t make it this year, my dearest friends and family. It’s been a tough year–I don’t like to complain, but managing a hedge fund has gotten a lot less glamourous in the past few months. After the layoffs, you’d think I would have been left with a good deal of free time, but with the class-action suit along with the divorce proceedings finally proceeding, I wound up spending most of my days with lawyers, and my nights in an Manischewitz-wine-soaked despair.

Kidding! Although you know my endless regard for Adrienne hasn’t ended, I abide by her report that we “want different things”! Although I don’t even know what that means! From what I can see across the arbitration table, we’re still both putting non-dairy creamer in our caffeinated beverages when the milk is in pitchers, because that little Kosher “u” just makes us feel better. And when, during our extremely pleasant smalltalk while one of the lawyers is in the restroom, Adrienne mentions a tv show she has enjoyed, it’s almost always one I’ve enjoyed too, or else one I was just about to rent the complete DVD collection of.

So don’t buy me any DVDs for Christmas this year, I’ve seen almost everything in an effort to have something new to present at arbitration smalltalk! Also, they might get busted in the mail. Please just don’t worry about it!

I know, I know, you might think that the end of a six-year marriage and a brilliant career would be an excellent time for the warm embrace of high-school classmates and second cousins, for the comforting tones of my mother asking if I knew all along there was something wrong with a marriage in a synagogue and that’s why we never had kids?

Oh, mom, I love you! But I’m bound and determined to spend the holidays and the remains of my savings on a trip to Israel to finally see where Adrienne’s people came from–I figure it’s the least I can do for the woman I spent the best years of my life with. And I know what you are thinking, Laurence, that Adrienne’s people were from Newark, which means there’s no reason to go where they are firing bombs and don’t even speak English instead of where the beer is cheap and G-d smiles on our OHL team, and yes, but you know what I mean, you big anti-Semitic galoot!

But I really think that this embrace of the Chosen People is an excellent way to illustrate to Adrienne how very much she is my chosen person. I also think that those of you who have chosen to keep her in your hearts and in the family by sending cards and letters are doing *almost* the right thing. However, I know from personal experience in the arbitration room that, now that we are no longer wed (legal as of this morning) she would rather not receive explicitly Christian images in the mail, such as creches, angels, or the seasonally inappropriate cruxifiction scene you sent, Laurence–nice, really nice.

So, without further ado, I’m off on my Birthright tour (if they contact any of you, please be discreet about any small fudgings of the truth of my “birthright”!) Should you miss me enough to want to send gifts, you could give instead to the local Jewish Community Centre. Hah! Of course there is no Jewish Community Centre in Satelliteberg, or even any Jews since the Weinbergers got into that tiff about prayer in school (I’ll finally weigh in on this one: yes, I think grace *is* technically a prayer) and lobbied the county to move the town line so that the family now lives in Burrsbury.

If you are still inclined towards gifting, perhaps you could forward your cheques to one of the fine Jewish organizations in Newark, New Jersey.

I’ll send postcards from the Wailing Wall.


(This wound up having very very little to do with the poor guy whose personal ad I used, and I will *not* be linking to it. He was, I think, quite a catch, and this sort of nonsense would not be helpful to him or his pursuit of happiness.)

November 8th, 2008

Adults in the eyes of the community

Here’s P. and I exiting the bar (bat) mitzvah machine. I post this because I know some wanted to see what it looked like, and this is sort of a poor shot of everything, but it’s the best I can do. And it does show us having fun, which is always a nice thing to have a picture of!

November 4th, 2008

Rose-coloured Reviews The Incredible Bar Mitzvah Machine

Everytime I’ve heard tell, or even asked a pointed question regarding the The Incredible Bar Mitzvah Machine information has been vague, mainly regarding the history of the project and not what it actually does. This review will mainly follow that circumspection, as the mystery of what’s inside is half the fun, and because the history and the outside of the project is a sufficient other half.

So! The Bar Mitzvah Machine was built in memory of the artist Charles Katz, who was talented, ironic, well-friended, Jewish and dyslexic. He was unable to complete the reading necessary for his bar mitzvah because of the dyslexia, and years later began to talk of a machine that would provide a stressless solution to this miss. He died sadly young, in his fifties, and because he was well-friended, there was an immediate urge to do something to commemorate his life and his loss.

The suggestion that the artists who knew and loved Mr. Katz actually *make* the bar mitzvah machine was mainly laughed out of the cafe, but someone wrote it up and submitted it to Nuit Blanche and, when it was accepted, the gang rallied and actually made it. The machine was a tremendous success at the 2008 event.

So what is it? A retrofitted photobooth with a tallis for a curtain )go to the link to see the pic–it makes perfect sense once you do). Inside is a touch screen that will take you through a very very *very* fast and loose approximation of the Hebrew texts necessary to become an adult in the eyes of God and the Jewish community. Then you emerge from the booth, and here is the best part, according to me–the artists and people waiting in line for the machine play the parts of your loving extended family! Cheering! Throwing candy at you! Photography and congratulations, maybe even a hug!

It’s friendly, it’s funny, and it may make you think about your community, if thinking is something you are inclined to do. And you get a certificate at the end that outlines your newfound adult responsibilities…mainly but not exclusively to do with party attendence.

Mazel tov!

I’ve been all right

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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