Do you remember?

Waking up each morning, with purpose in your smile,
Feeling that hand picked for you, was every twist and trial.
Knowing that you’d taken time, out of your own routine-
To grow and change and learn it all, while you were still a teen.

To move with friends out of our youth, and into being grown,
To contemplate and sometimes change, which seeds had then been sown.
Standing in the sunlight, just talking, me and Him,
I’d never been so open, simply letting prayer in.

Hours of our days went by, we’d argue, talk, debate,
Discuss the meanings of our lives, the love, despair and hate.
That feeling when it came together, we knew our world was true,
I miss those bursts of energy, do you miss them too?

The passion and the zeal to learn, the way we had to grow,
It sometimes seems a distant me, a life from long ago.
Now, going through the motions, I long to be inspired
But life gets in the way somehow, and I just end up tired.

In some ways I have so much more than ‘six years ago me’ had,
A home, marriage, my baby boy, so much to make me glad.
But still sometimes I glance behind, and hope I’ve not forgot,
The girl I knew back then who felt, so strongly, at Orot.

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Tree? Check. Santa? Check. Presents? Check. Let’s light those Chanukah Lights.

I have nothing against Christmas. Why would I? As an orthodox Jew, It’s basically a non-event for me. Some years I don’t even remember what day it is until I try to go buy something and realise the outisde world looks like a better version of 28 days later. I even have lots of favourite things about the Christmas period; Starbucks gets all red and white and makes up new and delicious drinks, people seem to get a whole lot friendlier, and I’d never complain about having some time off work. Above all, I’m glad that the non Jewish world has a time of year where they can spend some quality time with their famillies, and I think the spirit of goodwill to all men and being generous to others is a lovely sentiment, especially when done well.

But it isnt for us. We’re Jewish, we have more than enough of our own holidays to celebrate. With incredible opportunities for fun and enjoyment for kids of all ages. Why are so many Jewish people encroaching on a Christian festival?

I’m not talking about famillies who have one Jewish parent and one Christian. That’s a whole other topic, one I’m certainly not venturing into any time soon! I mean famillies, who range from entirely irreligious to what I would call orthodox, who seem to indulge in what’s being dubbed Chrismukkuh, (Thank you OC.) and which is more and more frequently being glorified by Hollywood and TV characters alike.

You know you’re Jewish, you’re proud to be Jewish, your kids may or may not go to religious schools, they certainly have religious friends, you’re often seen at synagogue, and yet somehow, you are proudly displaying a xmas tree in your living room. You’re looking for the least busy time to take your kids to see Santa, and you’re ‘stocking’ up on stocking fillers and crackers.

I probably have a strong opposition here, but I think this is at best unnecessary, and at worst, extremely dangerous.

Unnecessary, because however much you argue that Christmas is not a religious festival anymore, and that it has been secularised to the point where it can do no harm, our kids just dont need it. Judiasm is such a rich culture with so many festivals and celebrations, and Chanukah is at the same time of year! They dont need to feel left out from their non jewish friends, they have something just as wonderful to talk about and look forward to. You want to spoil them with gifts? Great-no need to put them under a tree. You want to take them on a fun outing? Use your bank holidays wisely and have Chanukah outings to wherever you please. Even if you do use the queuing time for Father Xmas to explain to your kids that this is for Christians and not for Jews, but you’re indulging as a special treat, the very best you’re going to come away with is a child who thinks you do things that you arent supposed to do. Then spend the remainder of their childhood telling them what they should¬† and shouldnt be doing, and see if those mixed messages get you very far.

On the other hand, if you dont tell them that Santa and all the trimmings aren’t meant for Jewish people, then what are you saying? That it’s ok to celebrate both? That you believe in both? Or that it’s fine to celebrate something even if you dont believe in it?

Increasingly, I see parents mxing the two holidays in the oddest ways imaginable. I had a kid who I teach tell me that he has to be as good as possible, otherwise “the Maccabee Soldiers wont leave any presents under my Xmas tree.” I’ve heard people who dub their holiday props “Chanukah Bushes,” call Santa “Chanukah Chaim” and there is even a tree ornament called “Happy Bagel.”

Genuinely, I don’t get it. Unless you dont care if your children remain religious and committed to your faith or not, how can you dangle something like Xmas in front of them at their most vulnerable age and not expect them to come away at best confused.

I’m sure there are plenty of stories of those of you who had trees and stockings and maybe even a full Christmas dinner and have come away faith unscathed. But whatever your arguments for this odd mash-up of religious observance, you cant say it isnt risky.

Where Jew come from? (The Wandering Jew)

I met a lady on the Northern Line home to Edgware today. She stared at me for quite a while without saying anything, and then (as so often is the case) she took my lifting my son out of his stroller and onto my lap as a cue to start a conversation. (See Whatever the blog was called where I talked about kids making you approachable)

“So, ” she asked, “Are you from Golders Green or Edgware?

Already I didn’t like her. Annoyed at having to agree with one of her correct yet stereotypical locations for me, and gutted for the first time in my life that I don’t live in Hendon, I answered briefly,

“Edgware.”

“I dont suppose you would be able to tell me how to get to Dynasty (a clothing shop) from Golders Green station?”

I gave her quick directions, (Straight.) and she excitedly told me, with the enthusiasm of a tourist on a strange voyage, that she wasn’t from round here. Her English being impeccable I was vaguely interested and asked her from whence she came.

“Stamford Hill.”

Of course she did. I had lost interest already, until her next sentence.

“I’ve never been here before, but I’ve always wanted to. I’d like to go to Edgware one day too, but I’ve only ever been in Stamford Hill.”

Sorry? Is the train affecting my hearing? This lady, from half an hour away, has NEVER been to North West London, and despite all the available Jewish society and food, has never entered into two of the most highly Jewish populated areas in London. And she WANTS to. So go! It isnt Cuba. My goodness you’re venturing all the way out of your comfort zone to Golders Green, live a little and take an extra ten minutes to visit the station 5 stops later, then your entire bucket list will be complete and you can live the remainder of your days knowing you’ve seen it all.

This exchange was shocking enough as it was, but then she followed it up with probably the most small-minded and insular comment I’ve ever heard from an adult.

“It’s really not difficult, I went from Manor House to Kings Cross and then to Golders Green. Is this all new?”
“Is what new?”
“This train system.”

The underground. That is seriously what she meant. Yes, quite new, circa 1863, making it the oldest underground system in the world. I can see how you might have missed it. What have you been doing? Does your husband know you’ve gone out by yourself?

Genuinely, it was the most surprising conversation I’ve had in a really long time. I know that these kind of Jews exist, I know they are out there somewhere making us all look bad, but to be caught so off guard and unprepared was a real shock to the system.

We were already approaching Hampstead. I had little time, and yet so much to say. Should I encourage her to treat this small step as the beginning of a vast journey into the unknown? Forget GG and Edgware, believe it or not there are even greater places to go. Have you ever heard the word ‘Museum’? ‘Gallery’? Screw it-‘Theme Park’? I could hand her a tube map with circles around all the best places to visit, and pat myself on the back for bringing culture to at least a small area of barren land.

Or would this scare her off. Perhaps a different tactic was in order. I could get off with her at Golders Green, point out all the restaurants and the people who look just like her, show her that it’s really not that scary after all.

I could kidnap her. Force read her the classics, put on Mean Girls and watch her fail not to laugh. Show her that hiding yourself under a bridge cannot possibly be worth it when there is Haagen Daaz and Novels, Starbucks and Travel and Smartphones in the world.

All these possibilities raced through my head as the train raced out from the tunnel. And I knew that was the only way in which she was going to be enlightened that day. I agreed that it was lovely to meet her, as she stepped off her first ever train, to walk 10 minutes down a straight road she has never walked before, no doubt only to walk right back up it 5 minutes later, onto the very same train, and back to Stamford Hill, and her life, so similar and yet so different from mine.

To eat or not to eat..

I have a question that I like to ask to new friends or people over for meals. Being Jewish, the content often sparks some quite excitable debate and opinions. It’s basically the following:

If God came to you in the morning and said that for one day, you could eat anything you wanted.. what would your menu for the day be?

Being brought up strictly kosher, there is a wealth of foods that I have never tried, countless restaurants I have never eaten in and many combinations that are off limits. This question can fill up a lot of time.

I have heard a lot of interesting and surprising answers, but the game came to an abrupt standstill one evening when I posed the question to my eldest brother. Proving himself once and for all the holiest of our clan, he replied to God:

Trick question. You’re testing me. I will keep kosher anyway, and pass with flying colours.

… Oh.

In the Amish community, there is a custom known as Rumspringa, where from the age of 16, many adolecsent Amish are allowed to participate in ‘normal’ teenage behaviour, to give them a chance to choose to return to the church and be baptised Amish. As you can imagine, some dont return, although surprisingly, most do.

No disrespect to any other faith, but this seems crazy. Even for the ones who choose to return to their church, after months or years of drinking, driving, using modern technology, interaction with the opposite sex, how can they possibly go back to their limited lives?

Everyone knows once you have done something once or made a habit of it, letting go is so much harder. If God really did give me a ‘day off kosher,’ and I was lucky enough for it to fall on Tuesday so I could run off to Subway and grab a meatball marinara, no doubt the subsequent Tuesday would entail a much harder and more wistful walk past my local branch.

Why do that to yourself? Some might argue that having experienced what they are not allowed, and chosen their religion anyway, it makes it stronger and more meaningful for them. Without choice, they are simply being indoctrinated with their parents beliefs and brainwashed without their consent.

Hm.. Having strayed once or twice from the rules which hold our own religion together, my response to that view is.. -shrugs- Yes, sometimes I do feel good that I know what I’m missing out on and yet (pat on the back) I still hold fast to my religious values. Most of the time however, my feelings on those laws are firmly in two camps:

1. It wasnt that great anyway, so it doesnt bother me keeping it.
2. Laaaammme, why is this something I have to be keeping? Maybe I’ll just…

Nonchalance or Temptation. Neither were worth the deviation to be honest. So will I be turning R over at the age of 16 to the teens of Britian for a lesson in mind altering drugs and pre marital sex?

Quite frankly, I think I’d rather be accused of brainwashing him.