Hi, my name is Ashleigh and I am a Jew who married a gentile. And I send my firstborn to a Baptist preschool. And I love bacon.
Woo! That feels good to get out there! Happy Hanukkah, friends! Mazel Tov and all that jazz!
For those of you unfamiliar with the holiday, Hanukkah began when Antiochus, the Greek ruler, forbade Jewish religious practice, until a small group of Jews, the Maccabees, revolted. The Maccabees eventually beat the Greeks and restored the Holy Temple, which had been desecrated. The menorah in the Temple needed to be re-lit because, according to tradition, it should burn continuously. The Temple liberators found one vial of olive oil, enough for only one day of light. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. During the eight days of Hanukkah, we recite prayers, eat latkes, play dreidel, and reflect on the miracle of how G-d made possible that one tiny bit of oil burn for eight nights.
Many Jews celebrate Hanukkah by attending services in their local synagogue. While I identify as Jewish, not half, not a quarter, but full on, I am not raising my daughter as a full fledged Jew and I do not — gasp — take her to temple. This is probably best for another article entirely, but I do feel regardless of whether or not I belong to a Synagogue that I want my child to grow up with a rich sense of her mother’s faith.
As a non-attending Jew, I strive to make the holidays as meaningful as possible. I think it is important to hold onto the traditional aspects of the holiday, even if I will be only be reciting prayers in the comfort of my own home. Since my husband is pretty non-religious himself, he gets a kick out of me stumbling through broken Hebrew. It is the thought that counts after all, and he too participates in the menorah lighting.
This is the first year that my daughter will truly “get” the holiday. She can finally assist, with adult supervision (of course MOM), in lighting the menorah and stumbling along with me as we recite “Barukh atah.”
I know for her, our menorah isn’t as flashy as our Christmas tree. There are no beautiful ornaments hanging from its nine branches, no tinsel to entice the cats, no star sitting upon the top waiting to topple over. And there is no Santa Claus for Jewish kids. I mentioned in a previous article how my father danced around the Santa issue when I was a kid. I think Hanukkah Joe deserves a little more attention as this is his holiday to shine.
Let me tell you a little bit more about the infamous Hanukkah Joe…
As second cousin to Santa, Joe’s job was to visit the homes of Jewish children on the first night of Hanukkah and deliver gifts. Instead of a sleigh, Hanukkah Joe drove a magical station wagon from his home in Brooklyn.
Y’all, he drove a station wagon whose hatchback grew to accommodate the gifts, much like Santa’s sack of toys.
There were no reindeer to guide Joe, he had to rely on a trusty old Elf named Chaimy to read the various road maps as this was well before GPS and Google Maps. Hanukkah Joe avoided Santa’s traditional entranceway, the chimney, and just showed up at an open door … much like Elijah during Passover I now realize and dropped off a present or two. After a sip of Manischewitz and a bite of latke, Joe was on his way.
And that folks, is how you successfully blend traditions for your kids.
I think that the key to mingling faith and traditions when it comes to children, you have to speak their language. My dad took the idea of Santa Claus, a concept everyone is bombarded with regardless of their faith, and tweaked it to our needs.
As a 5-year-old in kindergarten who wanted to “fit in” with the Christian kids, Hanukkah Joe made me feel more normal. For my daughter, who will hear the story of Hanukkah Joe for the first time this year, I hope to not only fill her with joyous Hanukkah tales but also instill in her a love for Jewish traditions.
Raising my daughter in an interfaith household is not merely about finding fun ways to celebrate the holidays, it is also about giving her the choice to question and interpret religion. She may come to me at 12 and ask to begin Bat Mitzvah studies or she might ask me at 6 to go to church. I will take her to either. Or both. Or neither if she decides. For now, we will simply read all the Hanukkah stories we can, attend her fabulous preschool’s Christmas program, and thank G-d for Santa and Hanukkah Joe.