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Not This Mom

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Photo: Microsoft Office

Upon discovering what I do for a living and that my two older children attend (a-hem) public school, a woman I had just met remarked, “Oh they must love you this time of year. You probably get asked to do Chanukah in all the classrooms.”

FrumeSarah: Nope. Never asked. And never done it.
Woman: Why not?
FrumeSarah: I don’t believe that religious holidays belong in the public schools.
Woman: But they do Christmas in the schools.
FrumeSarah: That’s not my problem.
Woman: And come on… (she says conspiratorially)…you have to admit that our miracle is a heck of a lot better than theirs.
FrumeSarah: That’s because I’m not Christian. Besides, you know fully well that the Christmas they are teaching in the public schools is the secularized version. And I certainly don’t want the public schools stripping my holiday of its religiosity.
Woman: You must have grown up somewhere else. I mean, what about Chanukah songs? There have to be Chanukah songs in the Holiday Pageants.
FrumeSarah: I grew up in the same district as my children and it so happens that I have always felt this way. They’re Christmas Pageants and a token Chanukah song isn’t going change that. Furthermore, Christmas music is beautiful and what we have to offer at this season doesn’t compare.
Woman: You know what your problem is? You know too much.

It’s true. I really don’t believe that religion belongs in the public schools. And teaching Chanukah simply reinforces the incorrect notion that Chanukah is the Jewish Christmas.

I suppose that it might make more sense for a Jewish parent to go into the classroom at Rosh HaShanah as that is a far more important holiday. However, I can report from personal experience, that having one’s parent visit the classroom, try to explain our calendar, and then blow on a smelly ram’s horn does absolutely nothing good for one’s social prospects. (Thanks, Dad.)

It’s hard enough following a ritual rhythm that is outside the cultural and religious norm. That last thing that I ever wanted is to draw even more attention to it. Not once have my kids ever asked for me to come to school and do a Chanukah presentation. They have asked over the years to send hamantachen to friends and teachers or bring gelt for “holiday” parties. And that we have done. But no presentations. No letter campaigns to the school board. Because I really do believe that religion should be taught in the home and in the religious institutions. Not in public elementary schools.

And so…I said nothing. Because the several things that came to mind were just not nice. Perhaps I should have just said:

Lady, do you happen to read Frume Sarah’s World? Because you’re gonna be featured on it later today.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 9 December 2010 12:35 am

    Excellent post, including the last line!

  2. Thursday, 9 December 2010 1:02 am

    I like it- I might have said or done something similar.

  3. Former Reform Jew permalink
    Thursday, 9 December 2010 9:32 am

    Public schools don’t teach religion; but they do teach ABOUT religion.

    During my time in a school district close to your children’s district, we learned about Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism…and I’m probably forgetting a few.

    I once had an assignment to design a travel brochure to advertise the Hajj.

    Since these public schools are fully committed to teaching multiculturalism, what’s the problem with a rabbi and/or a Jewish parent giving a presentation?

    Tell the war story and the oil story, fry up some latkes, and teach them to play dreidel. How does that demean the holiday? Next week they’ll be drinking tea and learning about some form of Eastern mediation.

  4. Thursday, 9 December 2010 10:23 am

    I agree, Frume Sarah. Hanukkah is NOT the “Jewish Christmas” and to give a “presentation” at a public school during the Christmas season is to reinforce the incorrect notion that it is. The myth of the oil and the lamps is a nice story but one that isn’t found in Torah and, in my opinion if it’s going to be discussed at all, it should be discussed during a time when the class is perhaps studying Judaism as a whole – maybe during the time of year that is significant to Jews. Perhaps a better option is to explain WHY Jews don’t celebrate Christmas.
    I believe religion as an academic pursuit SHOULD be taught in public schools because learning about religions that differ from one’s own promotes understanding and tolerance – and in this case, may help people understand that Hanukkah is a MINOR festival and NOT the “Jewish Christmas.”

    • Thursday, 9 December 2010 1:38 pm

      “Besides, you know fully well that the Christmas they are teaching in the public schools is the secularized version. And I certainly don’t want the public schools stripping my holiday of its religiosity.”

      Yes! to the above. And for me, the secularization of the holiday (Christmas), is a shame, in my opinion. As a Jew, I am much more comfortable with it as a religious holiday, than how they brought Santa Claus into the equation, which is supposed to make it, what, ok for non-Christians? Or to make is somehow LESS Christian?

      I would hate to see Chanukah go the way of the ‘politically correct’, ie Santa Claus and have something similar to this: last year at this time, I worked in a department at a state university. Some in the department wanted to put up a creche, but that was deemed too ‘religious’ for a state funded institution and was turned down. Aching for a creche, the people substituted cute little bears, in place of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Even the Little Drummer Boy was a bear, and the Three Wise Men were turned into hairy bearded bears with robes and crowns. And THAT was considered acceptable!….Oh my.

      So, yes, let’s keep it separate!

    • Friday, 10 December 2010 5:16 am

      Sara- Do you really believe that the only place that Jews get their history is from the Torah and nowhere else. Let me introduce you to the Talmud. It is the Jewish Oral laws that were passed down for generations and eventually written down etc.. The Talmud DOES discuss the miracle of lights and you can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanukkah.
      To say it is a MYTH because it is not stated in the Torah is a pretty insulting thing to say even if you don’t follow the Talmud.

      • Friday, 10 December 2010 10:24 am

        Jewish Music,
        As both a Reform Jew and one who holds an advanced degree in Judaism/Hebrew Scriptures, I am aware that the Jews “get their history” from places other than Torah and I am familiar with both the “Oral Laws” and the Talmud.
        I do not interpret Torah (or any part of our Scriptures) in a literal fashion and perhaps I should have used the word “story” instead of the word “myth.” While I apologize if you were offended by my choice of term I am puzzled by your comment, “To say something is MYTH because it is not stated in Torah is insulting…” Why do you find this “insulting?”
        Incidentially, my point was the fact that Hanukkah is a very minor festival in Judaism while Christmas is quite significant for Christians and any attempt by society to suggest that the two are equal in importance or alike in any way is incorrrect and should be avoided.

  5. Thursday, 9 December 2010 11:42 am

    Yup, I’m with you! And with the Sara who commented above. In the same vain, it also bugs me to hear fellow Jews complain about not seeing as many Hanukkah decorations as Christmas ones. There is just no comparison on the importance of Christmas for Christians and Hanukkah for us. And why do we feel the need for the malls, banks, etc, to affirm our Judaism?! I think we, as Jews, can stand to show a little respect and understanding for Christmas the way we expect non-Jews to respect our High Holidays and even our minor holidays (like Hanukkah). I have a guest post on tcjewfolk.com next week on this very topic!

  6. Friday, 10 December 2010 12:04 pm

    Brilliantly said, and I completely agree with you.

  7. Sally Neff permalink
    Friday, 10 December 2010 4:28 pm

    I agree with you completely except for 1 thing. There is some beautiful Chanukah music out there. It’s just that public school music teachers can’t seem to get past dreidel dreidel to find it!

  8. Saturday, 11 December 2010 11:53 am

    Interesting take. As probably the only fully Jewish family in our public elementary school, I always find it hard to deal with Christmas at the school. I absolutely hate that they have to have Santa come visit… and I hate that my kids have to participate in making stockings and writing letters to Santa. I could, of course, ask that they not have to do these things… but I certainly don’t want my kids being the only ones singled out and I don’t want to embarrass them.

    The kindergarten teacher that all three of my girls had is Jewish (although she married outside the religion) and has always asked me to come in during Chanukah and light candles, make latkes and read the Chanukah story. I have done this each year my kids were in her class. I like that she does this, not to teach the other kids that WE also have a Christmas-type holiday, but to educate the kids that not all people do celebrate Christmas… and that this is how Jews celebrate their holiday. I like that she lets my kids write letters to their parents instead of to Santa. I like that she lets my kids make their decorations in blue and white instead of red and green. But… she is the ONLY one who does these things. Nobody else seems to care a lick that there might be children feeling awkward because they don’t celebrate Christmas.

    I’m lucky… my kids are great and we have taught them quite a bit about our traditions and celebrations. They feel different… but in a good way.

    Several years ago, we had a Jewish Principal at our school and he refused to have Santa come to the campus. That was great. Now with our new Principal… Santa is coming back. I hate that. But… like I said, we are the only two Jewish parent family at the school.

  9. Saturday, 18 December 2010 1:51 pm

    Not every commandment is given a rabbinical justification as clear as that of the mitzvah commandment of lighting the Chanukah lights whether they are candles or oil which are both acceptable . The rabbis explain that we light them in order to publicize the miracle of the holiday pirsumei nisa in Aramaic the language of the Talmud .

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