I love the holiday season. I love the festive lights, the feelings of goodwill and the stories of our various beliefs and how we all celebrate in our unique and special ways.
I live in a metropolitan city in the United States with the second largest Jewish population in the country. In my smaller community of approximately 39,000 people, 10% are identified as Jewish, according to Census and city data. And yet, in the last 24 hours, I have had to remind people that my family cannot attend events because it was scheduled for the first night of Hanukkah. In fairness, Hanukkah is not a ‘holy’ day of strong religious observance. It is a festival and one of the holidays in Judaism that best defines family traditions and encourages people to celebrate together in their homes as a family. I was raised Jewish and have a strong sense of faith and traditions. My beliefs, rooted in Judaism have grown and evolved and I appreciate and recognize that we all get to celebrate our beliefs and traditions in any way we choose.
This year, my older child’s grade is learning to play the recorder and much to the chagrin of most parents and their ears, they perform in a concert to show what they’ve learned. While this sounds a little less like entertainment and more like parent obligation, my son has been talking about learning the recorder all year and as someone with some musical background, I love that he is being introduced to music in some small way. Admittedly, I was also really looking forward to the parenthood rite of passage and listening to “Hot Cross Buns” in the school cafeteria. The unfortunate thing is this- the concert has been scheduled for the first night of Hanukkah. In my son’s class alone, about 25% of the children come from a Jewish background and while I am not in any position to define how those families celebrate, I find it unfortunate that the school decided to put families in a position where they need to choose a school event or a religious holiday. The explanation I received when I brought it up was that they would like greater attendance at PTA meetings so they planned it on the same night which happens to be the same night as Hanukkah. They also said they had no idea that it was Hanukkah in the first place. Again, if I lived in a town where I was the ONLY family who observed certain holidays and traditions, I would accept the oversight, but I live in a city where there are an estimated 500,000 people who identify as Jewish. To not be aware of when a significant portion of your student population celebrates religious holidays is more than an oversight. And I get it, we have a tricky calendar. Our holidays change each and every year… been that way for oh, I don’t know, over 5,775 years now? I’m sure we could get someone a list or something at the beginning of the year, just ask.
I was also told that in years past, they had it during the day and many working parents were not able to attend. I sympathize with this but why are you then planning it when another group- in this case the children who are the reason we are gathering in the first place- may not be able to attend, not to mention Jewish parents who work. Neither group should be put against the other- there has to be another option. I worry that if I choose to attend the concert and not celebrate Hanukkah at home, I am in some way minimizing the need to recognize my religious beliefs in the first place? I feel a responsibility to speak up and say that all beliefs should be accommodated.
After reading the response to me about the scheduling conflict, I received another email that my other child’s sports team will be having a parent meeting on guess what date? Next Tuesday, the first night of Hanukkah. We sent an email to the team manager, letting them know that our son would not be at practice and that we would not be attending the parent meeting because of Hanukkah and were told that she understood “that it was a busy holiday season and that everyone is busy.” Being busy is a conflict between a cookie exchange and sports practice. Being busy does not mean choosing whether to observe a family’s religious tradition or a team meeting where important information is shared. Being on a team means you respect each other and honestly, calling my beliefs and traditions a ‘conflict’ is anything but respectful.
I have heard some say that Christmas has been watered down because people have to be ‘politically correct’ and ‘inclusive’. I don’t agree. I want people to celebrate Christmas. I welcome the sentiment that comes with people wishing me a “Merry Christmas”, because I know that it means that they wish me well in this holiday season and into the new year. What I want, is to be included and acknowledged that my traditions are just as valid and important, without having to be a squeaky wheel every time someone forgets to look at the calendar. Having to speak up is hard, and I know that by doing so, I am sometimes making things uncomfortable and inconvenient. I want to be included, not to have to choose, even if that means attending a concert where my ears might bleed.