Mommy Queerest Meets A Serious Man

by Francine Zorn Trachtenberg

Last weekend I saw two Jewish performances:  Judy Gold’s, Mommy Queerest (at Theater J through New Year’s weekend) and the Coen brothers’, A Serious Man (presently at the AFI in Silver Spring).  I made some assumptions before seeing them that proved none too accurate.  By its title, Judy Gold announces her play is unlikely to be about a stereotypical Jewish family.  The double entendre of  “queer” – gay as well as out of the ordinary – sets up the audience for an evening of unconventional fare.  Likewise, by the title, the Coen brothers position their film to be about a solemn, earnest person – perhaps a stereotypical bookish, maybe even pious Jew.  I was prepared for the first to be about a dysfunctional household and the second to be a sardonic take on mid-Western suburban life.

Both delve into the childhood of Jewish teens during the late 1950s and 60s.  Both opine on their parents in categorical terms: neither set understands its prodigy.   Similarities of subject matter exist between Gold and the Coens, but there is little symmetry in their perceptions or interpretations of growing up Jewish.

These artists are pros: the writing of both scripts is tight, the staging compact.  Rhythm and moods are established early on through jingles and period videos for Gold and parable and the shtetl’s folklore for the Coens.   But in the end, one performance is uplifting and the other is a downer.

Judy Gold’s energy is infectious and her optimism about life is contagious.  At 6’3” she is a wonder-woman:  a gay, mother of two, stand-up comedian with the subject matter of a Seinfeld character – nothingness rising to a higher plane.  She is worn-down by her mother whose difficulties with aging classically sandwich Gold between the generations of caretaker for the young and the elderly.  Everyone wants her attention and she has little time (or space) for herself.  Nothing would make this lady happier than a second bathroom!  She kvetches, for sure, but why not?  The situations she encounters couldn’t be made up – life is better material than fiction.  She comes out of it a winner.

Now for the Coen brothers: what are they thinking?  Did they not meet a single redeeming person in their entire childhood?  It is far too easy to ridicule the rabbinate (three generations) and the professoriate (tenured and untenured), to portray a town full of people from Chelm.  In the end, we have the story of Job, of a burdened, unsuspecting, long-suffering soul whose life is filled with one misfortune after another.  His children are doped-up and shrill; his wife is prissy, on one side of his house, the neighbor is the classic anti-Semite and on the other side – well, best to say she is a Jewish boy’s fantasy.  Who in this movie has depth, is real?  Maybe it is the protagonist’s brother, a foil to everyone elses’ travails, but as broad-shouldered as Arthur is, he can’t carry the weight of this film alone.  We have the death of religion, the family and of the academy.  Tornadoes, cancer, automobile accidents, bribery and drugs deluge the characters.  There is nothing to take away from their lives – no character trait worth emulating.  The story sinks below even Woody Allen’s contempt for his Jewish heritage.

Judy Gold’s, Mommy Queerest is a healthy series of retorts on her life; the Coen brothers, A Serious Man is an unforgiving series of put-downs.  In the end, I say, “Go girl, go!”

Ms. Trachtenberg is the immediate past-president of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. She is a former Senior Vice President at WETA and adjunct faculty member at the George Washington University’s art department, teaching the history of photography.

Share

Last Christmas, You Gave Us Your Hearts

A slightly belated thank you to the nearly 1,000 people who came out to volunteer with us on December 25th. The work you did made a lasting difference in the quality of someone’s life. There is unfortunately, a seemingly endless need for work like this, so please continue to volunteer with us year-round, or at our next major day of service on MLK Day.

In the meantime, head over to professional photographer Lloyd Wolf’s blog for some amazing photographs of the day (including the one above). Also, check-out the video below which was made by Todd Wiggins, which catches-up with the work that went on at the Ferebee-Hope School.

Share

JILF-ing Us Softly: Desperately Seeking Stereotypes

Well, I never thought I’d say anything positive about The Coasties song, but at least when scraping the bottom of the barrel of Jewish stereotypes it managed to be minimally entertaining. I can’t say as much for this video on the site LoveNation.tv which examines “The Desirability of Jews” as a rising trend in finding potential mates. The video includes helpful tips on where to find available Jews (JDate), why they make such desirable partners (they love their mothers), things not to say when dating a Jew (they’re cheap, the women can’t cook), unpacks the complex meaning of the term JILF (Jew-I’d-Like-To-F**K), why they’re such a “hot commodity” (Seinfeld, the works of Judd Apatow, Madonna) and how best to woo a Jew (learn when the holidays are). The cherry on-top is when the co-host advises Jews on JDate to make a note on their profile if they’re not interested in dating non-Jews — as if signing-up for an online Jewish dating service was not sufficient notice?!

Oh G-d, I just threw up in my mouth.

The same co-host justifies going Jew-cruising on JDate by citing the book Microtrends which claimed that 11% of JDate users are not Jewish. Yeah, and at least 11% of women-seeking-men on Craig’s List aren’t women either, but that doesn’t make it a healthy social behavior.

This video’s danger isn’t in its regurgitation of hackneyed stereotypes and philo-Semitic fetishization — it’s that because the portrait it paints is relatively benign (say, compared to the average portrayal of Jews in a Middle Eastern newspaper) that some will actually be flattered by it. Please, please, please don’t make the mistake of believing that because we can be objectified like everyone else, that this somehow represents progress. At best, one could make the argument that millions of outreach and engagement dollars targeted at convincing under-engaged young Jews that Judaism can be “cool,” are having some unintended consequences.

Let me be clear that my disgust at this video is no reflection on the thousands of couples involved in interfaith relationships. If you choose to love someone who is Jewish and they love you back, odds are that your reasons go well beyond the fact of their Jewishness. Interfaith couples have real issues and the Jewish community, especially at this Center, should be extending a welcoming hand to those couples to make them feel comfortable. The same goes for Jews-by-Choice. But let’s give them the respect they deserve and not treat Jewish identity like a cute haircut or a sexy dress.

Anyone who thinks it would be tasteful to create a primer on how to get and date a Jew need only replace the word “Jew” with “African American” in the video below to realize how wrong an idea that is.

Share

What to do Christmas Day? Volunteer in DC!

by Erica Steen, director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service at the Washington DCJCC

Volunteer on Christmas DayWhat’s a nice Jewish girl to do at 6am on Christmas Eve morning you ask? Or 5:00am which is when my eye lids actually opened? It is literally 24 hours before my largest event. Tomorrow at this time I will already be at the Washington DCJCC. Santa won’t have even made it there yet (he shows up at 7:45). Anyway, my brain won’t shut off, so blogging to you all it is! Of course this won’t be posted until later this morning but I promise, it’s early, even for me on Christmas Eve.

Do you have any idea what I am blabbing about? If not, it is one of the best days of the year, and I am Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. At the Washington DCJCC, we in the Community Service Department, put on the most amazing Day of Service you have ever seen. 1000 volunteers, 60 social service agencies, 80+ volunteer projects, we really make a difference in the lives of DC social service staff and their low-income/homeless clients. We cook, serve, paint, visit and put on the best darn Christmas parties you’ve been to.

So if you are considering the traditional Chinese food and a movie or even opening presents from Santa allllll day, consider changing your schedule and adding in a volunteer project (1-4 hours of your day). We know a lot of home-bound seniors who would like your company for an hour or some homeless men that just for a bit want to forget they are homeless. Come, help them out, help us out and spread a little holiday cheer.

Registration  is open today until Noon but feel free to walk in tomorrow (between 8am and Noon), we may still have a few of our 1000 spots left for you to join in on.

So back to the original question, what is a nice Jewish girl to do at 6am on Christmas eve? A lot, that is the answer. If the stores can open at 4am on Black Friday, why not on Christmas Eve? Staples opens at 8am and the bank and Target at 9am so I might as well get myself going and if I time it right I might get to Costco at 10am right when they open the door. If I thought I’d have time later to write I’d tell you how this Jewish girl deals with only 3 hours of sleep while working a 15 hour day, but, I think I’m going to be a little busy.

See you tomorrow! Happy Holidays, whatever and however you celebrate.

Pope Benedict XVI Assures Us (Again) That He Comes in Peace After the Beatification of Pope Pius XII

I’ve written in this space before about Jewish-Catholic issues and in particular the Jewish community’s awkward relationship with Pope Benedict XVI. Whether he’s in DC, Israel or Vatican City, this Pope has made us squirm in our seats whether with his own personal history as a reluctant member of the Hitler youth, his sins of omission at Yad Vashem, his repeal of the excommunication of a prominent Holocaust denier and now the latest flare-up, his beatification of World War II-era Pope Pius XII.

The controversy stems from the ongoing and unresolved debate over the extent of Pope Pius’ possible actions and lack thereof to save Jews during World War II.  Some say he made a political decision not to extend the Vatican’s protection to Rome’s Jewish community which resulted in the deportation of over 1,000 Jews to Auschwitz. Others, including the current Pope claim that Pius worked silently and secretly to save Jews and that the proof of this resides in the as-of-yet unreleased archives of Pius’ papacy.

The issue has flared up at every step in Pius’ march toward sainthood. Over the weekend came the announcement that Pope Benedict was moving both the beloved Pope John Paul II and the historically dubious Pius XII through the beatification process towards official sainthood — they both now need a miracle ascribed to them to complete the process. The pairing of the Jew-rescuing John Paul with the more ambiguous Pius seemed to many to be salt on the wound of the Catholic Church’s continuing reluctance to openly and honestly confront its legacy in relation to the Shoah. Others bemoaned that all the progress that had been made in Jewish-Catholic relations during the papacy of John Paul II was being undone by Benedict XVI.

Even without the announcement coming in the same news cycle as the theft of the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign from Auschwitz and the accompanying over-wrought reactions, the Vatican seemed once-again surprised by the Jewish community’s outrage at Pope Benedict’s decision. So unsettled was the Vatican that they released a statement today clarifying that the beatification of Pius XII was not an “act of hostility” against the Jewish community or those who criticize Pius’ historical role. And I believe them when they say that.

The problem is we’re judging Pius from two different sets of criteria. The Vatican statement emphasizes that Pius is being evaluated on his “Chrisitan life” rather than the “historical significance of his choices.”  By that they mean, “his intense relationship with God and continuous search for evangelical perfection.” I have an incomplete understanding of that last phrase, but one definition I found explained, “evangelical perfection… is nothing but inward sincerity, and uprightness of heart toward God, although there may be many imperfections and defects intermingled.” In other words, one can become a saint on the basis of their faith and devotion even if their actions were less than saintly. I also get the unstated implication that there would be something unseemly in the Vatican denying any Pope eventual sainthood. While the actions of any particular Pope may have been fallible, their election as Pope in and of itself signifies “evangelical perfection” worthy of sainthood.

This is a very difficult concept for me to wrap my head around as a Jew — actions and devotion are inextricably intertwined. At the same time, one can only expect Catholics to choose their saints based on the criteria of their own determining. Which points to the limits of interfaith dialogue. There are certain things we are never going to agree on — and the Vatican has reminded us of that, yet again.

Interview with a Coastie

Although it has been on MySpace since October, this past week has seen a flood of articles and posts about the satirical song by two University of Wisconsin undergrads who rap about longing after a stereotyped Jewish woman, called a Coastie — basically a JAP by another name. There have been a lot of thoughtful posts on this topic and what it says about class, geography, ethnic stereotypes and even the opportunity it provides for real conversation about all of the above. But, since the clock is winding down on this internet phenomenon (the story hit the Times on December 15th which means it has about five minutes left) I figured I would interview my wife, a real-live Jewish woman graduate of the University of Wisconsin about the song. This is the conversation we had (sorta) after she gave it a listen.

You went to Wisconsin?
Yes I did.

Did you like the song?
No. Just because they were mumbling so it was difficult to understand them and it was so repetitive that it became boring. I appreciate rap music, but it was like someone who didn’t truly get the genre trying their hand at it.

Were you offended?
Sure. As a Jew to have all Jews lumped-in with this stereotype of a person. I wouldn’t say all Christians are ham-sandwich eating, bible thumping, non-masturbating Christians. Yet you could certainly find them in Madison.

Would you call yourself a Coastie?
I don’t fit that bill from the fashion sense, but I am from the East Coast and went to a Midwestern state school.

Tell me about your daddy’s money?
I was on a Stafford Loan. My parents helped with my rent, but I worked for food money.

So, you had to buy your own sunglasses?
I’m still wearing the same sunglasses from high school. They still work as long as you tighten the screws each day or the lenses pop out.

When you were at Wisconsin, did you act like you were better than everybody else, or did you keep it to yourself?
Because people from Wisconsin got priority at the public dorms that meant most out-of-staters (not just Jews) ended up in the more expensive private dorms like the Statesider.  It was an embarrassing thing for  Wisconsinites to end up in the private dorms because it meant they were admitted later to the college and hadn’t made the public dorm lottery.  And this insult sort of carried over to the whole set of public dorms.  They were farther from campus, had fewer amenities (at least when I was there) and tended to carry an assortment of later admittance Wisconsinites, Minnesotans, and then the rest of the out-of-staters.  In addition to being farther from campus, they were also more expensive.  So they sort of sucked on multiple levels. Right from the beginning there’s a divide between the publics and the privates. But I also went there before there were cellphones, or iPods or Starbucks, so there was probably a lesser divide.

So that means you didn’t tell them you were better?
[I took her annoyed silence as agreement.]

Would you say that Jewish girls from the East Coast stood out even way back in the 90s?
No. But there was a divide between those from the Midwest and those from the coasts.  It wasn’t based in religion and certainly there were many more Christian out-of-staters than Jewish out-of-staters.  I ended up bringing a lot of friends home with me on vacations because it was an opportunity to travel out of the Midwest and a lot of people I met had never been to Washington, D.C.

Do you think some of this animosity comes from the fact that Wisconsinites are known as cheeseheads and most Jewish girls are at least a little-bit lactose intolerant?
No.

What was the strangest thing anyone ever said to you at Wisconsin when they learned you were Jewish?
Beyond the girl who cried when she couldn’t find my horns and couldn’t believe that her priest had lied to her? It was my Junior year roomate’s mother who came to visit once, and as she greeted me said, “I just want you to know that I think Hitler was a wonderful man.” It was a long visit.

Are you sure your daddy’s money isn’t for the spending?
Pretty sure.

Anything else?
I think those guys seem really proud of themselves and I am glad their Wisconsin education has instilled such undeserved pride in their mental prowess. Wisconsin builds self-esteem, and even people who should be embarrassed for themselves have high self-esteem.

Veiled References to Philip Roth on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

Okay. Pop quiz for all you careful readers of Philip Roth out there. Where did Philip, as well as Nathan Zuckerman and Alexander Portnoy go to elementary school back in the ole Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, NJ?

If you answered Chancellor Avenue School, you are correct and thus will fully appreciate this bit from last night’s Daily Show.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
 

more about “Veiled References to Philip Roth on T…“, posted with vodpod

 

New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

Lost in all the excitement surrounding Tuesday’s announcement in the New York Times of the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s plans to create an inflatable meeting hall in its courtyard, was the article’s hackneyed condescension towards culture in our fair city. We’ve come to expect this from the New York Times and the article’s author, Nicolai Ouroussoff seldom misses an opportunity to take a dig at the District. It’s become rather predictable, even when Mr. Ouroussoff, the Times’ architecture critic, is writing a generally positive piece.

For instance, the article about the Hirschhorn begins,

I’ve never stepped onto the National Mall without feeling a mix of emotions — reverence, a flash of national solidarity, a feeling of loss — but pure delight has never been one of them.

Which is fairly tame compared to his praise of the proposed design for National Museum of African American History and Culture which began, “I’ll admit my expectations are pretty low when it comes to new architecture in the nation’s capital.” That seems positively glowing compared to the opening salvo of his review of the Newseum which lamented, “How many mediocre buildings can one city absorb?” We get it. The architecture here can be kind of, well, boring.

But I thought Ouroussoff missed the city for the neo-classical columns when towards the end of his article on the Hirschhorn he predicted, “The project could become something Washington has never had: a real democratic forum for the debate of cultural issues as varied as, say, Hollywood morals and the impact of fundamentalism on the arts.” What? That might have been true twenty years ago, but not now. There are plenty of opportunities in this town to critically engage with the great cultural issues of our day. You just have to get off the mall to find them.

Without speaking here about our own programs, just take a look at the cultural explosion of the last decade throughout Washington: the new venues of Woolly Mammoth, Shakespeare Theatre, Gala Hispanic and Signature Theatres; the artistic renaissance Michael Kaiser has brought to the Kennedy Center, grass-roots phenomena like Artomatic, the Capital Fringe Festival and DCist Exposed, the serious cultural critiques in the films at Silverdocs, one of the best live-music venues in the country at the 9:30 Club, author talks at any number of venues on a given evening, and on and on…

Perhaps I am misunderstanding and Ouroussoff  means something grander when he talks about “a real democratic forum” beyond the citizens who actually live here engaging with the culture around them on their evenings and weekends. But I think he probably knows better. DC-bashing is a kind of unconscious reflex for New Yorkers–even when they may not even really mean it.

Ouroussoff is not without a soft spot for our city, even on the National Mall. Perhaps it was a fit of Obamania pre-inaugural euphoria that caused him to consider the merits of the Mall and reminisce specifically about the Vietnam War Memorial,

As a student, I would sometimes wander down there with friends in the middle of the night, mingling with one or two other visitors. The sense of shared pathos could be overwhelming; it seemed to be one of the few places in Washington where you could experience grief without moral judgment.

While I’m not sure that the Vietnam Memorial is without moral judgment, it is clear that this critic has some true affection for this place. And he’s probably right about the architecture. But when it comes to the debate of cultural issues, there’s plenty going on in DC. While the Hirschhorn’s Up-inspired pavilion will be a welcome addition to the scene, it won’t be the first or last venue where the real citizens of this area can be just as concerned with art and culture as our countrymen in New York.

Share

Ballet’s December Dilemma and Our Own

I’ve been paying more attention to ballet recently. I don’t have much of a choice since my five-year-old daughter began lessons and has quickly become obsessed with her own pas de chat and rond de jambe. In addition to her classes she spends many evenings (along with her twin brother) watching the DVDs of classic ballets we’ve borrowed from the library. Among her favorites are Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and of course, The Nutcracker.

Ah, the seduction of The Nutcracker — it is indivisible from Christmas and yet when you take a look at the content of the actual ballet, it really has very little to do with the holiday. In fact, there is more Christmas in A Charlie Brown Christmas (which gives a shout-out to the Gospel of Luke) than in The Nutcracker where the meaning of the holiday is confined to trees, presents and winter-fairy type themes. For a Grinch like me, Charlie Brown should be viewed with much more suspicion than The Nutcracker.

So why does The Nutcracker bug me so much? Perhaps because it has become emblematic of a seductive, commercialized, shallow Christmas that seeks to draw us all in through its saccharine allures? You think I’m cynical for seeing it like that? Come on, Tchaikovsky only wrote it on commission and in the end, “really detested the score.” The cynicism is entirely on the part of the product itself. But allowing for a moment of self-criticism, my distaste for The Nutcracker is wrapped up in an internal and ongoing debate I have in which my relationship to Christmas is either that of an alcoholic to booze (even a taste is too much and destructive) and that of an anthropologist (not my culture, but I can learn and grow from observing and perhaps limited participation). Am I worried that my daughter, having danced the dance of the sugarplum fairies will abandon her Jewish identity? Realistically, if I’ve done my job as a Jewish parent, that isn’t very likely. But when your competition for Jewish continuity is an anthropomorphic nutcracker along with a fat man handing out gifts, it’s easy to descend to that level.

So I was relieved to see that I wasn’t the only one with Nutcracker issues. Sarah Kaufman writing last month in the Washington Post (and re-hashed today in the NY Times ArtsBeat Blog) offers a withering critique of The Nutcracker, not so much as a work of art (though she does accuse it of suffering from “pervading tweeness”), but as Exhibit A of everything that is wrong with American Ballet.

Because “The Nutcracker” can turn a profit, it can account for as much as half of a ballet company’s total annual performances. Chances are, the other, non-“Nutcracker” half of a company’s season relies on a couple of standards and too few new works of consequence. And most companies cannot bring in enough funding to exist without relying on “Nutcracker” sales.

This all sounds pretty Scroogish, but I’ll be straight with you: While I have grown tired of “The Nutcracker,” I don’t hate it. I don’t discount that the ballet brings great happiness to many — even, off and on, to a critic. What I do regret is “The Nutcracker’s” ubiquity, the way it stifles any other creative efforts in dance during the holiday season. Most of all, I regret its necessity as an income source.

All arts organizations (our own included) struggle with the balance between artistic ambition and predictable, profitable product that puts butts-in-seats. But Kaufman argues that the example in ballet is a kind of worst-case scenario in-which one product has become so bankable that it has crowded out the marketplace for anything more ambitious and in the process created a dumbed-down audience that doesn’t aspire to more. The result is that attending The Nutcracker has become more a part of the civil religion of Christmas than the artistic experience for which ballet at its best can become. Most damaged in this vicious cycle, Kaufman argues, are American dancers who can spend an inordinate part of their careers dancing in various Nutcrackers — while their European counterparts work from a broader repertoire that allows them to develop more varied skills that allow them to fill the leading roles, even in American companies!

What brings these two things together is that I want more for my daughter on both counts. If she loves ballet as much in 15 years as she does now, I’d like to think there is an expansive world of artistic possibilities waiting for her. On the same note, I’d like my daughter to have a Jewish identity that opens her up to the world, not sets her apart (as her curmudgeonly father is wont to do). The Nutcracker is no more a threat to Jewish identity than any other part of the civil religion America has built around Christmas. Surely she can be taught to admire that which is admirable and draw clear boundaries between her appreciative observation and participation thereof? If only The Nutcracker weren’t so…Nutcrackerish.

Chanukkah! Chanukah! Hanukkah!

What’s חנוכה really about?

Photo by PugnoM. Used under CC 2.0

I used to love Chanukkah. I grew up in one of those typical 1980s homes where the holiday truly was a worthy competitor to Christmas in the category of gratuitous accumulation of presents. My parents were generous.  My aunts and uncles were generous. My grandparents were generous. What kid wouldn’t love that? The toys that defined my childhood all arrived during one Chanukkah or another. The 2XL Robot, the Atari 2600 game console, the Apple II+ computer and the Kenner Millennium Falcon are all firmly connected to Hanukkah in my memory (along with explaining why I didn’t date much until college). In truth, there was probably only one “big” present like that each year, along with a succession of pajamas, NY football Giants t-shirts and the occassional LP or cassette (Thriller, Born in the USA, Scarecrow, Seven and the Ragged Tiger). I think I vaguely remember being told that we got gifts on Chanukkah because when the Maccabees were hiding out in caves, they put children spinning tops (aka dreydels) at the entrances to throw their pursuers off the scent. You know, Human Shields. It seemed a natural enough progression to me from dreydels, to gelt to a new Walkman™.

In my isolated world of suburban New Jersey, where everyone I knew was either Jewish or Catholic, it seemed to me like Chanukkah and Christmas weren’t competitors. They were equals. This was how it had always been. Right?

Turns-out, not so much.

It didn’t help that my Jewish education was shallow enough that I never picked up on the fact that while Christmas celebrates the birth of Christianity’s messiah, Chanukkah was religiously-speaking, a second-tier Jewish holiday recalling a rare moment of military victory and a remarkably energy-efficient olive-oil burning lamp.

And then I went to a small college in Iowa and Christmas hit me between the eyes. I also got a deeper understanding of Judaism and for the first time met Jews who didn’t care to compete with Christmas. They simply opted out. It had never occurred to me that was an option. I embraced it with militant zeal, after which followed many years of active animosity towards Christmas, and Chanukkahs where I would neither accept nor give gifts. It was during this period that I struggled with the different meanings of Chanukkah. Was it celebrating the unlikely victory of a plucky group of Jewish guerilla warriors who defeated a large empire and rededicated their holiest site? Was it a civil war between traditionalist Jews and Hellenist assimilators that conveniently included a “miracle of the oil” to distract us from memories of an ugly internecine war? Was it just another pagan holiday of light celebrating the winter solistice that we had adapted to our own purposes? In the end, I kind of soured on the whole thing as it became clearer to me that whatever the original meaning of Chanukkah had been, it was far from the consumerist orgy it now was party to.

I’ve moderated a little bit. In part because I have kids of my own now, and well, they have generous grandparents, aunts and uncles who like to give them things for Chanukkah that I’m too cheap to buy them myself. I may not approve of consumerist orgies, but I’m also not going to pretend that they don’t feel good. Plus, I’ve almost got myself convinced that a Wii can be justified as a virtuous purchase. At this point, giving and receiving gifts in the winter is how we all get to feel American–and I’ll just let that speak for itself.

So what exactly is Chanukkah about? What do I tell my kids? We try to make it fun without it getting excessive. We make it a time the family gathers together to perform a particularly pleasant ritual. We sing and eat latkes, jelly doughnuts and other foods fried in oil. We try and make lasting Jewish memories that will outlive whatever gift they are getting. Without getting too far from the original story of the holiday, I think it is a time for children to play, to receive gifts, to hear stories of heroes, to wonder about miracles, to light the Chanukkiah and marvel at the light it throws off. They’ll learn soon enough that playtime ends, that gifts don’t equal happiness, that heroes are fallibile, miracles rare and that the candles go out all too soon.

%d bloggers like this: