Thursday, January 20, 2011

The December Dilemma

    Yes, I am aware that it is January, a full three months since my last entry and no longer December, or 2010 for that matter. But there is a crucial issue that a lot of converts (as well as many non-converts) deal with ever year, and I feel that it should be included in my blog about the conversion process.

   This is the magical time when Carols overrun the airwaves, everything takes on a red and green glow and the majority of Americans eagerly await Santa’s arrival on Christmas day.

     Until last year (meaning 2009) so did I. Now, however, I get to celebrate Hanukkah! I love Hanukkah - what better way to celebrate the beginning of winter than with a lot of candles, fried foods, and a story of a triumphant battle that took place thousands of years ago? I was all ready to trade my Santa hat for a dreidle, my Christmas tree for a Menorah. I had already written Christmas off a few years ago, when I made the decision to convert. I hadn’t been raised with the story of the birth of Jesus so I never really incorporated that with December 25th. To me it felt pretty easy to cast off a holiday involving Santa and a day of presents. It was a very small price to pay to live a Jewish life. Christmas didn’t feel like my holiday anymore. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal.
       And then I got the card. My grandmother sent me a wonderful “Happy Hanukkah ” card instead of the usual Christmas card this year. I was unbelievably moved by this gesture. To me, it wasn’t just a card; it was a symbol of her acceptance of my decision and respect for my religion. I called to thank her. While I was talking to her, it hit me; Hanukkah was now my holiday. My family still celebrated Christmas. It was something that they all still shared. Together. Something I used to share with them but I don’t anymore. This was just the first of many things that now separates me from my family, besides our geographic locations.

     I’m no stranger to doing things a bit differently from those around me. When I was younger- particularly in high school- I loved that about myself. I held on to the particular ways that I was different, or thought I was different, from those around me as a way of self-identity.       
         But this was something else entirely. While talking to my Grandma I found myself needlessly defending Christmas as if to reassure her that I still respected Christmas, that I still loved her, that I was still a part of this family. For some reason, it wasn’t until this phone conversation that I realized this Hanukkah-instead-of-Christmas thing alienated me from my family, which didn’t sit well with me. I’ve always been very family oriented. I was the weird kid who, when many my age were going through the “I-don’t-want-to-have-anything-to-do-with-my-parents-and-oh-yeah-my-brother-was-adopted” phase I was hanging out with my brother on the weekends, and spending time with my parents whenever possible. I loved family road trips, game nights, all of those corny after-school-special elements of family togetherness. I’ve known for years that I was going to convert, so mentally I was preparing for this, but I still didn’t really realize what it all meant until that card. Until that conversation.

        I am not like my family in a very significant way. Not that they can’t share that with me- of course I’m more than happy to include them in as much as they want, but that’s just the thing- I’m going to be including them. Judaism is mine in a way that is wholly unique from my family. It’s not something that we share together. There was a time when that fact would have made me feel special or important. Now it just makes me feel a bit lonely, to be honest.

     The moment has passed. The ball has dropped and the New Year has begun. But next December, this same issue will arise. And even more so. Every day I am incorporating more aspects of Judaism into my life. By next December, I will be very close to the end of my conversion (I had my first class a couple days ago. More on that later). Every day I am becoming more and more different from my family. Even though I chose to convert four years ago and during that time I knew that this would be a big change, I didn’t fully start to realize how that change would affect those around me until now.

       After taking a step back I’ve calmed down and realized that, though Judaism will be a very integral part of my life, I am still a member of my family and I know they love me unconditionally.

       Christmas is no longer my holiday. I no longer share that with my family. However, just as my Grandmother respected me by sending me that card, so I will respect their holiday. When December 25th rolls around again, I will call my Grandmother and wish her happiness on that day because even if the day doesn’t hold the same significance for me anymore, she is still my Grandmother.