Purim 2014

Purim 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/13/purim-2014_n_4957524.html?ir=Religion

*For those that asked that I continue to share and explain each Jewish holiday, I found an article that better explains this particular holiday than I can. My personal memories of this holiday, minus the one parade that left me with a black eye and my first concussion, after being hit in the face by a parade worker with a pipe, are pretty positive.* 

How This Jewish American Wiccan “Celebrates Christmas”…

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How This Jewish American Wiccan “Celebrates Christmas”

In the very near future, I will be spending a huge chunk of my time in Israel. It will be nice not having to explain holidays to anyone or explaining why Christmas is just another day to me. For now, in the suburbs of a predominantly Irish and Italian neighborhood with a good 20 churches in pretty much every direction I turn (I wish I was exaggerating), I am still explaining myself. I have no idea why people still think their religion is the only one that exists on this planet. I’ll never understand it!

I am completely respectful of other people’s religious beliefs and their holidays, so long as I am not subjected to them in a means to try and convert me, but my spiritual beliefs and holidays are often met with some extremely disturbing questions, as opposed to the few I have received recently that were honest, curious, and filled with excitement for knowledge. They were by no means offensive. When a person is open and honest, and interested, it makes it so much easier for me to be me, as opposed to feeling like I have to repress my thoughts.

A few weeks ago someone wished me a “Merry Christmas” and received my usual response, which is that I do not celebrate Christmas. This is someone whose establishment I frequent once or twice a month, and not only did she look like I’d just kicked her, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me. I had to explain that I celebrate Chanukah and Yule, and that I am not Catholic or Christian. She was incredibly confused, but she came over to make sure she hadn’t offended me with a wish for a good holiday. Me, I simply like to be clear with people. I am not trying to offend anyone, but if you’re going to wish me well, wish me properly. Don’t make assumptions and please, don’t tell me I “don’t look Jewish”. I don’t even know how to answer that one without telling you off, and because I come from a rich ancestral well of knowledge and an incredibly deep DNA pool, I can assure you that we come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. We are all distinctly unique, some more than others.

Growing up, Christmas was not a word used much in our home. Not for any other reason than the simple fact that we’re Jewish. We had many Christian and Catholic friends, some who understood and some who did not, that we ourselves did not celebrate the same holiday, nor did we share the same spiritual or religious beliefs that they did. It is extremely disturbing to me that in 2013, any Jew still has to explain themselves.

People like to quote the Bible at me, and they are generally New Testament folk. They’re the kinds of people that don’t realize exactly how “new” the New Testament really is. I, myself, do not adhere to anything outside of the Old Testament. Even that kind of loses me at times. Prayer is an amazing thing, but I like to stick to my own path when it pertains to anything of a spiritual nature. I am not trying to change or convert anyone.

Today is simply December 25th to me. It’s not a holiday, but it IS my Great-Uncle’s birthday. He passed away 15 years ago, but I still remember him very clearly. I remember the last things he ever said to me, and I remember how silent this time of year became after he passed away. For several years prior to his passing, myself and two other family members would try to spend the day with him. Even though he had long since stopped acknowledging his own birthday, he still loved going out to a nice restaurant and enjoying good food, good company, and he told stories like nobodies business. They’re the kinds of stories you want to hear from someone over the age of 80, because you know that no matter how much time passes, you will never hear such stories again.

After he passed away, the tradition maintained in my home on Christmas Day was movies and good food. Either we went to the movies and came home to a really great meal, or we stayed home with a pile of movies and made a meal together. Almost always, it was homemade Italian food from scratch, or Chinese food from the best place in the area.

To know me is to know that I make killer Italian food. It’s something I love doing, but I am just as comfortable making Asian cuisine, Mexican cuisine, and pretty much anything else that I have mastered in all my years of cooking. Nothing is impossible, but I am an epic lasagna failure. It’s the only thing I make that falls apart, so I’ve stopped doing it. It is never inedible, it just never does what it’s supposed to do. Despite a family recipe for veggie lasagna that has been passed down for four generations, I completely and utterly suck at it. It’ll probably be another ten years before I attempt it again. It takes time and patience, and we all know I have no patience.

Over time I have found that people really seem to be offended whenever I clarify that I do not celebrate Christmas. They look at me like I kick puppies, torture kittens, steal winning lottery tickets, and am just, on a whole, not a good person. I look at them with the knowledge that, for over 5000 years, my people have not celebrated Christmas. It’s not on our calender and it’s not in our religious texts. It’s perfectly ok to not share the same religious beliefs. If we did, we’d be living in some kind of bizarre utopia. That’s not a world I can imagine functioning in. Differences make the world go ‘round. We can either choose to come together and learn from one another or we can continue fighting in the name of religion. The choice, however, is generally not ours to make because those that govern our respective countries are a huge part of why organized religion is failing. I could go on, but I won’t, or I assure you, I will offend you.

One year a family friend (one of my brother’s best friends at the time), on leave from the Army, wanted me to convince my brother to come to midnight mass with him. I, personally, do not spend time in churches. It has never been my thing. My brother politely declined, but as his friend became more insistent he finally said “Look, there’s a Jew hanging from a cross in no less than 7 places in there. With that track record, I don’t care to be the sacrifice sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.” We ALL laughed, and no one was offended.

This very same friend asked us about Christmas trees, genuinely wanting to know “If we put up Christmas trees, what do Jewish people do?” Never one to miss an opportunity, I turned around and said “We put up a Chanukah Bush, John.” He nodded and said “Oh, ok.” I said absolutely nothing for a few minutes, everyone was in on it because they’d heard me do this little bit before. Finally, after suppressing serious laughter to the point where I almost hurt myself, I admitted to him that I was just fucking around with him, that there was no such thing as a Chanukah Bush (though I admit, I know some people that put one up because they love Christmas trees, but don’t celebrate Christmas). Again, laughter ensued. You have to really know me to know that I will joke like that with the people that know me best, and that, while inappropriate to some, I am careful what I say in mixed company because I don’t go out of my way to be hurtful to others. I do like to be very clear though, that’s just my way. Humor and clarity.

Approximately 11 ½ years ago, Wicca was introduced to me. It is the perfect blend of a nature based religion steeped in Kabbalistic teachings. Kabbalah is Jewish Mysticism. If you don’t know what that is, use a search engine. That will explain it more clearly for you.

For me, Wicca was like coming home. It was pretty much everything I had been raised around, especially a love for animals and nature, and the elements. Part of the Wiccan Rede is “An it harm none, do as ye will”. There is no governing body, you govern yourself, and the Wiccan Rede tells you “So long as you are not harming anyone, do as you will. Live your life.” It is laid back and calm, and it brings an extra level of peace to my life. Even my Rabbi is comfortable with my spiritual beliefs. He’s one of the most open people I have ever met, so I feel supremely comfortable being myself and speaking my mind around him. Until I met him, I had NEVER been in the presence of a man of God and not felt judged. However, my Rabbi is unique. He too, is from a foundation of “You’re not harming anyone by being you. Live your life.” In this, I always feel incredibly blessed.

Almost all of my friends are religiously different than I am, and that is beyond ok. I am not sitting in judgement of them or their beliefs. I want them to be their authentic selves, and I can only hope they want the same for me. I have friends that are Jewish and friends that are Wiccan, so I don’t feel spiritually deprived in any sense of the word. We should all celebrate what we believe in and do so with those we love. We should wish the people in our lives well EVERY DAY, not just during the month of December.

So Lisa, exactly how does a Jewish American Wiccan “celebrate Christmas”? Simply put, I don’t. I ignore the insanity of my neighbors, all of whom DO celebrate Christmas, and I go about my day. I will bake Cranberry Orange scones for breakfast, I will do laundry and maybe enjoy a movie. I will play with my fuzzy little Princess. Later on, I will be making a nice meal for the family I am spending my day with. I might even get some writing finished, if I’m feeling up to it. Basically, anything goes. It’s just another quiet day for me. After years and years spent taking care of others, quiet days are something I really treasure.

Wishing you & yours a beautiful holiday season.

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Holiday Gift-Giving & Outrageous Decorating

Unlike 98% of the people I know, I don’t celebrate Christmas. To this day people still act shocked when I say I don’t celebrate Christmas and never have. During my first year working on my ParaPsi degree, I stumbled upon Wicca. It turns out I’d been utilizing a lot of the minor nuances for most of my life, and have since adopted additional bits and bobs as a bit of a back-drop for me spiritually. Thank you Mom and your Kabbalistic teachings.

I grew up the daughter of someone who became über observant during the High Holidays, and downright neurotic during Passover. If it had been presented to me differently I wouldn’t have such an aversion to it now. I haven’t really observed the holidays over the last few years. It begins with losing both of my parents, moving into my house, and then realizing I can’t find a simple menorah, or the candlesticks that my Great-Grandmother brought with her when she emigrated from Lithuania. Technically they’re all in the house, but since more than half of it is still packed, pinpointing one or two items is exhausting. So for Chanukah, it comes down to simple gift-giving.

It’s nauseating to me how commercial the holidays have become. It’s always been over the top, but this year was definitely the worst in history, with stores opening up hours before Black Friday even became Friday. Instead of people enjoying  time with family, they were waiting on line to get into stores, acting as if they’ve never seen such wonders in a store before. It’s all the exact same stuff that was there on Monday, and unless it’s a brand new item you’ve never seen before as many new things came out at exactly 12:01 a.m. that Friday, it’s the same crap they always have, but now they’ve tweaked the prices to make everything seem extra special. It’s not.

I can’t begin to say how many people have told me that they simply dread their credit card bills right now, because in a country with so much excess, people actually feel that they have to buy every single person they know, are friends with, like, etc., a gift of some sort. It’s no longer about family, laughter, sharing, it’s all about the gifts. I realize it’s been like this for quite some time, but it’s actually never been that way for me.

Growing up, Chanukah was never about who gave and/or received the most expensive gift. It was a time where my close immediate family got together for a nice meal, my Grandmother would make enough latkes for three professional hockey teams and their families, and discussions would range from current events to complete and utter wackiness. The sounds and smells of home. For me, that’s been gone for a long time and it’s a piece of me that has died because only two of those family members remain. It is a piece of me that will be reborn when I have children of my own and become the matriarch I was born to be. Until then, it’s about thoughtfulness. A gift does not have to be outrageous, but it does have to be thoughtful. I try to give things that people would not buy for themselves, things they love, things they’ve talked about wanting, but generally things they wouldn’t spend the money on because they’ve got so much else going on that the funds simply aren’t there. I love things I can make for others, but I like to start the DIY stuff in August. It’s not some insane competition when you’ve given yourself additional time to prepare. I have so few people on my list any way, but I still like to give myself that extra time just in case I’ve procrastinated at some point.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the insanity of holiday decorations. I’m from New York City where it’s a nice blend of menorahs and Christmas lights. I love driving through the city during this time of year because you simply do not see menorahs in the suburbs. I live on a street where approximately 30 homes are decked out for Christmas. It’s pretty quiet here, for all intents and purposes. On neighboring streets the displays are bigger, louder, and a few spots in particular are horrendous eye sores the second it gets dark, which is literally by 5:00 PM. I drove past one a week or so ago and thought I’d go blind from all the action. One spot in particular is decked out to the point where you almost expect Santa to land there via helicopter. There may have even been a heli-pad on the roof, I’m not 100% sure because I had to look away fast, lest I lose the vision in my right eye! I will try to get a photo to share with all of you. It’s that obnoxious.

Living outside major metropolitan areas, you don’t get the balance of the city. Here, you might find one or two items amidst all the Christmas decorations in a store. Specialty items for decorating aren’t hard to find on the Internet. I have absolutely no idea what I’d do with an 8 foot menorah on my front lawn, or a 12 foot dreidel, but I’d love to see my neighbor’s faces if I ever do decide to purchase one and put it out before Thanksgiving even starts!

Suburban life, you’ve got to love it!