I (REALLY) Don’t Want A Lot For Christmas

I am in Israel during Christmas.

(Is it really “during Christmas” if I don’t celebrate Christmas, and the majority of the country doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and I honestly spent a good portion of my childhood not even knowing when Christmas was because I thought it was 12 days long and changed dates every year like Channukah does?)

Being in Israel at this time is not exactly what I’d hoped for, which was to at last be free of the capitalist curse of Hallmark holidays merged with astounding levels of ignorance surrounding Chanukkah. It’s possible to live in a bubble wherever you are, and unfortunately my bubble has few actual Israelis in it, which means I get to field commentary such as:

“You’re so lucky you get 8 days of Christmas gifts!”
[A/N: Channukah isn’t Christmas but Jewish. If we get gifts- especially big ones- it’s because of social pressure from Christians to do so. My biggest gift ever was the free printer that came with my mom’s computer. Usually it’s gelt and buttons.]

“Don’t we get a ‘Hannukah Week’ off of school?”
[A/N: If someone hadn’t asked this in class would half the students have genuinely missed school next week? Don’t they check the syllabus???]

“I feel so special being a minority here as a Christian! It’s so fun! And this is how you feel all the time, I’m so jealous!”
[A/N: Being an oppressed minority is 1 million times different from being a privileged minority. Yikes x10.]

That said, it’s still significantly better than how I spent Christmas in London last year, which featured the following gems:

a) I said “bless you” to someone when they sneezed and they yelled at me about my Jewish privilege, how they didn’t want to be blessed by me, and how as a Christian they would never be allowed to speak in such a way to a Jew and that Jews are over-sensitive to “supposed anti-semitism” and have unfair double-standards.

b) Two separate men at separate times grabbed the Jewish star around my neck and demanded an explanation (the explanation is that I’m Jewish) (you can bet that went over well)

c) Three of my classmates came together in a beautiful display of teamwork to “explain” to me all the ways in which Jews oppress Christians, especially my classmates specifically, and also how dare I bring up Jews during this sacred holiday, and also fuck the tiny menorah beneath the lobby Christmas tree, it is clearly stealing all the attention!!!!

So. In terms of experiences like that Israel is 0/3 which is depressingly good in my book. But it’s definitely not what I’d been expecting or anywhere near my ideal December. It’s easy for the world to feel terribly small when you have the same experiences halfway around it.

Back home in New York City, the crown jewel of the Jewish diaspora, Christmas is equally unavoidable. The classic carol music starts playing the second the sun sets on Thanksgiving. Sales roll in not long after, featuring faerie lights and stocking stuffers and tacky reindeer tchotchkes*. Santa’s appear on street corners with bells and buckets and New Yorkers get a rare, morbid taste of nature as stacks of dying pine trees line (and block) the sidewalks. For every Happy Holiday you’ll hear ten Merry Christmases and 1-to-5, “What do you mean you don’t celebrate Christmas, can’t you just pretend and accept my well-wishes gracefully?”

I don’t mean to sound like the Christmas Grinch (which reminds me- don’t even get me started on TV specials in December). I don’t hate Christmas. I simply don’t care**. It’s not my holiday! As a Jew I am no more invested in Christmas than I expect Christians to be invested in Yom Kippur, or Sukkot, or Pesach- holidays with levels of religious significance that align more with Christmas than Chanukkah does.

I am so tired of measuring time by someone else’s watch. And yet without pine-scented, peppermint-spiced, Santa-approved, Mariah Carey-filled days, it barely feels like December at all; my internal clock will keep stubbornly insisting it’s Autumn and no, I don’t need that winter coat, who cares if you’ve frozen on the way to class every day this week?

It’s a little bit Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t. When Christmas is present, I want it to be less so. When it’s not, I can’t stop thinking of it anyhow. Part of that’s just a Me problem and part of it is thanks to good ol’ American indoctrination. Which is why if one more person compares Israel to America by saying one is religious and the other is not I am definitely going to scream.

And if another American Christian abroad tells me how oppressed they are by religion, here, for the first time in their lives, how much better and more advanced and smarter and secular and welcoming America is, I am going to… well, respectfully disagree, and then write a frustrated blog post about it.

Because it’s not any individual I’m mad at, really. It’s 1,000 years of macroaggressions towards my people as a whole and 23 years of microaggressions towards me personally and I actually love being invited to partake in someone else’s culture and lifestyle, I just don’t like being shunted in without being asked in the first place. And I definitely don’t like being shunted in to the point where it actually interferes with the demands of my own culture and lifestyle. I am so sick of vague anti-semitism masquerading as enthusiasm for anything explicitly non-Jewish, especially if Jewish things are going on at the same time and can be pointedly ignored.

So. I am in Israel during December. And unfortunately, unexpectedly, that does mean that I am in Israel during Christmas, too.

❃        ❃       ❃       ❃       ❃       ❃        ❃       ❃       ❃       ❃       ❃       ❃       ❃

*Ornaments. I meant ornaments. Decorations? I’m too Jewish for this.

**Full disclosure: okay, I do sort of hate it. But only in that “this has been shoved down my throat so much that though I initially enjoyed it, that time has passed and if it is used as an excuse to override and oppress my own culture again I will definitely implode” kind of way.

Bonus reading:
I Never Dreamed of a White Christmas: On Gilmore Girls and Christian hegemony

One slightly related thing to consider:
It is acceptable, and reasonable, and even expected for secular Christians to take time off to celebrate their holidays. And yet a hungry, dehydrated, exhausted Jew asking for a day off during Yom Kippur is over the top. A secular Jew would never ask for time off for a holiday they don’t even believe in. Not because it’s bad to but because they can’t. “Separation of Church and State”???? Not so much.

 

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America Is Not Okay

AMERICA IS NOT OKAY.

Here’s the thing: when Trump first joined the Republican nominees, people said, “Don’t worry, he’s a joke. He’s not a politician. He doesn’t really want the job. He won’t really do anything. He’ll never become the Republican candidate.

And now, he’s been elected PRESIDENT. And this rhetoric that’s been going on for over a year still continues, undeterred; “He won’t actually do anything as president. Nothing will actually change. No one will take him seriously.” Etc, etc, etc.

Trump HAS been taken seriously. He HAS changed things already. HE is taking this seriously, even if some people watching aren’t. We can’t just stick our heads in the sand and chant “Nothing will change” and “Everything is fine” over and over. That kind of faux-optimistic denial-oriented thinking is what got us into this horrifying mess in the first place.

The fact that we need to continually and extensively justify to our fellow Americans WHY people have a RIGHT and a REASON to be worried just blows my mind. It’s a waste of the time and energy that we need now more than ever to stop things from getting even worse. If people ACTUALLY want things to be fine, they’ve gotta stop prompting us to waste our resources on explaining why it isn’t.

The only way to actually change things now is to put our money where our mouths are, to take real, quantifiable action as often as possible and encourage those around us to do so as well. Protests, petitions, lobbying, support groups, educational workshops, volunteering, mobilizing on social media- there are so many ways to exemplify the type of humanity we all want to see in the world right now.

America is not okay. And the first and most important step to make it better is to accept that it’s not.

“Boker Tov, Machaneh Na’aleh”

After spending all day looking through old photos (wow I was tiny)(ok I’m still tiny) it’s time for a proper Na’aleh, holy cow, ilysm post. On and off from 2001-2008 I got to go to Na’aleh. In the ‘on’ times, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to go there. In the ‘off’ times, I missed it pretty much nonstop. Time worked differently at Na’aleh. Someone once described it to me as a place where “the days are weeks and the weeks are days”, and I can’t think of a better description. I felt in the span of minutes I learned and grew and experienced enough for a lifetime, and yet in a blink 2 months would fly by.

For a long time I thought of Na’aleh as a great gift that summer would bring. But I haven’t been to Na’aleh as a chanichol for 8 years, and it’s still such a huge part of my life. My Na’aleh-born love of singing, of dancing, of nature, of ruach, of avodah, of making big ma’agals with everybody in it… that’s with me every day, all the time. I’m a pro at coming up with group activities that don’t cost any money and don’t need many props and sometimes come out pretty silly. I’m even better at sneaking in (okay, sometimes it’s pretty obvious) learning about Jewish culture and social justice.

Y’all, the world is hard sometimes, and Na’aleh gave me tools I could not have done without. Confidence, friendship, leadership abilities, an emphasis on tikkun olam and hagshama, ideals I try to live my life by. Na’aleh was a summer camp, but it is also a movement, a support system, a way of life, a beautiful lens through which to see the world. I’m heartbroken that kids next year won’t get to experience this in quite the same way, but I can’t be too sad because I have faith that Na’aleh lives on, in spirit and hopefully again in physicality.

15 years after being rained on in Shohola, I still get to see and hug and speak with my Na’aleh friends all the time. In the past couple years I’ve even reconnected with people- some of my best friends!!!- with whom I hadn’t spoken with in ages, only to feel like no time had gone by. Because Na’aleh is a family and family means we shared some pretty weird experiences growing up and I can’t wait to experience more together. I’m here forever for my fellow HaboHeads, and I encourage y’all continue to hit me up, because I’m always just a click away. Laila tov, Machaneh Na’aleh.

National Coming Out Day 101

1) Coming out isn’t always the ultimate queer goal. There are some people I will NEVER come out to, for my own safety and health. There are some people I won’t come out to simply because it doesn’t come up, or because I’m not close to them, or because I’m tired and don’t feel like it. That’s okay! I’m so so happy no matter what that this wonderful day is here to support queers who DO want to come out in some way today, so long as they know they don’t HAVE to- not now, and not ever.

2) Coming out isn’t a one-time thing. Coming out can happen as often as every day, if you interact with many new people. And it doesn’t necessarily get easier over time. For me it’s always a little stressful, but it’s easier when those I’m coming out to have already thought about what to say when someone comes out to them, instead of shocked silence or stuttering.

3) If you’re straight, you can post about this day in support (actually I’d love to see straight people promo this). But for the love of god don’t come out as straight!!!! It sounds silly but I see it every year!!!

4) People can come out as one thing, and later come out as a different thing! Sexuality and gender and circumstances are fluid and confusing and evolving and that is totally valid. It isn’t lying or a betrayal. I’m so proud and happy for everyone doing what they gotta do to be true to themselves

5) NO ONE owes it to you to come out. Not your relative, not your best friend, not your coworker or classmate. If someone doesn’t want to come out that’s their business, and it’s about them, and not about you.

6) Please don’t tell people how to feel when coming out. Some people feel great when coming out. Some people feel horrible. Some people feel both simultaneously, or something else entirely. Society tells us, “You HAVE to be scared to come out! Everyone is!!” and also, “How dare you be scared to come out to your friends, what, are you calling them homophobes?!” That’s some hella fucked up mixed messaging.

So like, let queer people feel what they feel, you know? That’s kinda the whole point.

 

These Are Our Words; A Response to “Academia, Love Me Back”

If you haven’t already, please read this super brave+powerful+important post by Tiffany Martinez!

“There are students who will be assumed capable without the need to list their credentials in the beginning of a reflective piece. How many degrees do I need for someone to believe I am an academic?”

My mother has no less than 10 degrees. When she moved from Cuba to America, she was told that education was the only way to the top. And for every degree she got, she was told it was not enough. And when she got a whole slew of degrees, she was told things like, “Why are you overcompensating? You must be super bad at something else. That’s just too much.”

The first time I ever got accused of plagiarism, it was in an extremely similar manner to Tiffany Martinez. I was told that my language was too advanced, too clear, and that even though it was consistent throughout my piece, I must have somehow copied and pasted from somewhere else. It was suggested briefly that I could have had an adult help me… but notably, my own mother was left out of that suggestion.

I was so scared to go home and tell my mom, worried that she wouldn’t believe I didn’t cheat. But when I handed her the note from the teacher my mother beamed. She still brings the story up today. The time her daughter wrote so well the teacher thought it had been written by… well, a ‘real’ American child. Someone who wasn’t first generation, someone who hadn’t grown up on a mix of Yiddish/ Spanish/ ‘Broken’ English. The fact that there was a perceived dissonance between my heritage and my actions was a point of pride. A smart, well-spoken, assimilated child: the ultimate goal of the poor immigrant.

I don’t mean this in any way as an insult to my mom. She navigated within a messed up, racist system the best she could. Growing up I hated her insistence that my English speaking/reading/writing/analytical skills all needed to consistently be so much better than those of my classmates. I was so annoyed that I wasn’t allowed to use slang at home. I was so frustrated when I was made to leave the dinner table to look up a word in the giant dictionary we still have on a pedestal in the center of the living room, or to turn off the TV for several hours of reading out loud to my dogs each and every night. None of the other kids ever had to do this. I didn’t get it. It didn’t feel fair.

All of her hard work- and by extension, mine- meant that my reading skills tested at college level by the time I reached 4th grade. I have never gotten less than an A in any English class I’ve taken, including honors/AP. And when I took the MCAT recently, I didn’t spend a single day studying for the English part, and got a perfect score.

My English skills have given me so many opportunities and privileges that she never had. People are always surprised when they find out I’m first generation, and I’ve been told multiple times it’s because of how advanced my English is.

“Wow, you don’t SOUND first generation!”

It’s not a problem with my mother, and it’s not a problem with me. It’s a problem with how our system is run. How immigrants and their children are treated. The assumptions made before people even meet us that continue to persist long after.

It has been made clear to both of us we need to speak “American” to get anywhere in life. We have both been forced for the majority of our lives to use “THEIR” words…. only to be told that they will never be OUR words, no matter what.

When my mother moved to this country America did its best to take her culture, her pride, and her achievements away from her. They took away her language to the point where she struggles to remember words in Spanish she has no problem using in English. America has taken so much from us, but they cannot take our voice.

English is my best language. These are MY words. My mother’s words. Tiffany Martinez’s words. So we’ve surpassed America’s expectations for us time and time again, leaving non-immigrant Americans confused and angry? That’s just too bad. THEIR system, THEIR problem. They can go ahead and make all the excuses they want. It doesn’t change the fact that we’ve taken everything racists have thrown at us and come back stronger. HENCE, local racists can use their words to complain all they want. But it won’t change a thing, because these are OUR words too.

If You Aren’t Going to Vote…

IF YOU DON’T PLAN ON VOTING, PLEASE READ THIS (YES, EVEN IF YOU AREN’T IN A SWING STATE):

It’s so easy to feel like your vote doesn’t matter. But YOUR VOTE DOES MATTER. I promise it does. If I can’t convince you that it matters for our country and for our political system, then know that it matters to ME, personally, the daughter of Latinx immigrants. It matters to all the minorities being targeted in this election.

Not voting at all is like saying Trump isn’t horrible enough to be worth voting against. Even if you don’t live in a swing state, popular vote is still a statement for our future, for our society, for our Congress and our Supreme Court.

It says, “It is NOT okay for this racism/ sexism/ islamophobia/ xenophobia/ homophobia to be promoted in our society.”

It says, “These bigots are NOT the majority here, as their loud voices would have you believe, and we will gather together to make sure they know this.”

It says, “Even if we are not being personally targeted, we care for our fellow Americans, and we will protect them as they would us.”

Voting against Trump says- “We still want you here. We respect you. We will fight for your rights. So don’t lose hope, don’t feel hated, don’t feel like you don’t belong.”

If you still won’t vote… think about every person you’ve met with an identity that is being targeted right now. Think about saying to their face- to MY face;

“We don’t care enough about your struggle, your fear, or your rights to do anything about it. When even the smallest help is demanded of us- we will not show up to support you.”

That’s what you’re saying, when you say you won’t vote. We hear it even if you may not. And it won’t end after the elections. This isn’t a one-time thing; these politics endure. You had better believe I won’t ever forget those “friends” who didn’t value the mental and physical health of myself, my family, and my other friends enough to tick a box on a page.

Your vote is a show of support, it’s a political and social and cultural and personal statement, and it means everything to your fellow Americans. Even if you STILL don’t feel like your vote matters to you, please take the knowledge that it matters SO MUCH to the rest of us. Please, please, please vote. It has never been more important.