Ryan Paugh and Caitlin McCabe, who I have known since when they were just out of college, sent me a Christmas card with the most adorable picture of them and their two kids. I emailed Ryan and said, “I love your card so much, that I decided to send my own.”

But I’m Jewish so I’ll send New Years’ cards and the only list of addresses I have is from my son’s bar mitzvah so I started with that and branched out.

My friend Sharon sent me a holiday card with her two kids and I love watching them grow year to year, card to card. I saw the name of the company on the back of Sharon’s card. So I went there to design my card.LH

But then I got a card from Tiffany and I realized I am only getting cards from Christians. Well, Sharon is Jewish, but she’s Israeli, married to a Christian, so even though she’s raising the kids Jewish, she takes her Jewishness for granted—it’s a luxury Israelis have that other Jews don’t, because there are no assimilation risks in Israeli Jews.

As an American Jew I cannot take my Jewishness for granted. I want my kids to grow up and have Jewish homes, but I would never in a million years not accept a daughter-in-law because she is not Jewish. My sons know all I want is for them to be happy, which is probably good for the world but not good for the Jews.

This conundrum of American Jewish identity has been rehashed a million times, though never as memorably as by Philip Roth in Portnoy’s Complaint, which is a messed-up homage to Jewish mothers culminating when Portnoy uses the family roast to masturbate. And there’s Sarah Silverman vying to give Jews control over the swing state of Florida, by telling everyone to call their Bubbie to drum up Democrat votes.

I think of all this when I realize that Jews don’t send Christmas cards. Or holiday cards, which is saying here’s a Christmas card from a Jewish family.

And New Year’s cards aren’t much better in the assimilation department because it’s like thinking of Chanukah as Jewish Christmas. (Newsflash:  Chanukah is nothing to the Jews. It’s really only a minor holiday that is overblown by Jewish Americans searching for a holiday that allows them to be a part of the holiday season.) And really, a New Years Card from a Jew should be sent on the Jewish New Year, which is Rosh Hashannah. And probably you send honey, not cards.

This is my longing to belong. Notice how you guys often accuse me in the comments of being militant in my posts about homeschooling? People quote the saying “there’s nothing like the fervor of a recent convert.”

But maybe it’s more that I want to belong. I like that I belong to something. I can’t be Christian, but I can be a homeschooler, and as homeschoolers we are so much like each other, no matter what our religions are.

Jews have a history of being politically active. I think it’s because it’s a secular way to belong. But I have homeschooing. You are my way to belong.

Thank you.

Oh. And that photo? It’s the one I was going to use for our not-Christmas card. So I will use it here. I love the photo. And I love sharing my family with you.

13 replies
  1. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Honestly I don’t think of Christmas as a Christian holiday. You can say Merry Christmas without it having anything to do with Jesus. It’s just an excuse to have cutesy decorations and eat yummy food and buy presents.

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I celebrate everything and believe in nothing. Homeschoolers have mostly been very inclusive in my experience.

    Happy holidays to everyone, no matter how you celebrate.

  3. mh
    mh says:

    My favorite part of the photo is the cat promenading through.

    Meowy Christmas! (sorry)

    Glad I belong in this flock of nonconformity.

  4. justKeepSwimming
    justKeepSwimming says:

    I’m not Catholic, but I’m up late to watch the broadcast of Midnight Mass in Rome this Christmas Eve. It brings me comfort even though I’m not really sure what’s going on in their service half the time.

    I just wrapped a bunch of Santa presents for the kids even though they don’t believe in Santa anymore — it’s just our tradition. It’s what we do.

    I think I’m Agonistic or perhaps even Atheist at this point in my life, but I still go to Christmas Eve service each year at a local Methodist church just to reconnect with the ritual and grace of it all — one of my children went with me earlier tonight and there were carols, candles and Communion. We enjoyed it quite a bit, despite the fact that I’m a bit of a germ-freak and they take Communion there by intinction (dip pieces of bread into a shared cup) to remind us that we are one, that we live in unity (I had to work hard to quiet the screaming banshee voice inside my mind that was ranting on about flu season and unwashed hands — but I’m pretty sure it was worth it because the ritual/tradition of it all brought me comfort and a sense of belonging, and even though I struggle with my faith, or lack thereof, I still think it’s a worthwhile way to mark the holiday.)

    It’s basically the same reason I subscribe to your Education posts and look forward to finding them in my inbox — I live in a rural area, and being a secular homeschooler out here can get lonely. And even though our views and methods may differ at times, you make for a good touchstone. You help me to pause and reflect on the joy and challenges of homeschooling. Whether you’re posting about the farm or unschooling or music lessons or AP Spanish prep, I look forward to it *all* because it reminds me that I’m not alone on this path and that we’re doing fine (plus I like the free advice that you’re sharing about your kids’ tutors — needless to say I just ordered Great Expectations for the new year.)

    So, Joy! and Cheers! to the holidays, however you celebrate them. And re: your not-Christmas card/porch photo… excellent cat photobomb! Thank you for sharing it!

  5. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I kind of wish I could send you all a Christmas card too. I’ve had some good conversations in this café. But links, you know, and pictures of family isn’t something I do online.

    So I will just say Feliz Navidad and paint a little picture with words. I’m sitting here at our kitchen table in Madrid, cracking up the kids with silly faces. My son is eating yet another packet of jamón, and my little girl is putting together my little pony puzzles, The weather here is lovely; they are having a heat wave and it has been sunny and pleasant every day this week. My children have been enjoying the playgrounds at Rio Madrid, Retiro, and the Zoo, and I have been enjoying the long walks and the functional public transport system.

    We are enjoying a long vacation brought to us by the magic of homeschooling. Probably next year the demands of one or more schools will prohibit long vacations. This is a sad thought, but as our host has found out, there are reasons to participate in the system. Enjoy what you can while you can; it might not come around again.

    Feliz Navidad a todos

  6. Erin
    Erin says:

    My brain is kind of mush with postpartum life, so I will not be eloquent. But I read this yesterday and found it very touching and sweet and open hearted. And I just wanted to say: I love you for being you. And you are my people. And more mushy INFP thoughts that I won’t express but are there.

  7. Dorf
    Dorf says:

    Happy New Year! Thank you, Penelope, for providing this space which I look forward to visiting several times a week. And thank you, too, commenters; reading your reactions is very much part of the pleasure of being here. ” I may not always show it, but I hope you always know it”;)
    ….and now back to my regularly scheduled lurking…

  8. Anna
    Anna says:

    I’m writing this more for fun than to put forth any information. I lived in Jerusalem in Israel (as a Christian) for almost three years and moved back to the US just over two months ago. I’ve heard that Hanukkah is a minor holiday, and I’m sure it is, but wanted to give a little picture of what it is like in Jerusalem during Hanukkah. There is a giant menorah about two stories high in Zion Square in the center of the city, and in the Old City is the candle light on menorahs in people’s windows seen as you walk along the all-stone covered pathways. Then there are the sufganiyot which are little buns like fried scones or doughnuts. It is my favorite holiday there. (Sukkot is my second favorite.) Hanukkah is quite noted visually in the streets in Jerusalem and on the faces of people there, but I don’t know if that is an influence of the winter holidays mainly in the US and Europe or the way they would do it anyway. Regardless, it is a sweet time there with lots of little lights everywhere and a warmth celebrated with the sufganiyot. Jerusalem is pretty different though than Tel Aviv and probably most of the rest of Israel.

    • Rayne of Terror
      Rayne of Terror says:

      My sister was in Tel Aviv for Hanukkah earlier this month and she described it similarly. She said there were pop up sufganiyot shops everywhere. She sent up a picture of young men on motorbikes each with a lit electric menorah on the back riding in a group. She also said it is the most paranoid experience she’s ever had there too. Open carry every where, everyone wants to have their back against a wall and not have anyone behind them.

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