Thankful for my Mogen David

Thanksgiving is upon us this year and all of the holidays to follow. It’s easy with all that’s going on to get caught up in the minutia of day to day family stuff and the usual holiday brouhaha. When you ask people what they’re thankful for, you’ll often get the usual answers, family, health, my home, etc… well, this year, a few reflections have led me to tell others that I am thankful for my Mogen David, my Jewish Star of David necklace.

It started with a work trip to Florida. One of the ladies in my group wore a Mogen David, but not a subtle one. A giant, in your face, Mogen David that was definitely a statement in our secular group, where no one was wearing religious jewelry of any kind. It was my first trip to Florida, but I remember thinking that she was brave. But it was just a necklace… In reality, it was much more than that. It was a proclamation, a decree. Especially after the bloody shooting in Pittsburgh and a way to show the world that she would not be hiding behind her white privilege and blend in with the whiteness that is Ft. Lauderdale. She would make a point to stand out. I wondered. Could I be that brave?

Then on my flight home, I sat in between Florida natives and a middle eastern family. I talked to the Floridians in my row and they were friendly and so was I. A part of me wondered if they would be as friendly if I, like the women on my left, across the aisle, was wearing a hijab. I hate to say it, but in that moment I was glad I could “fit in” with my seatmates and didn’t have to overcome the barriers that the others might have had to, whether it was a head scarf or a dark complexion. I was glad it could be a light hearted conversation instead of awkwardness. I was glad I could blend in. Should I have told those men I was Jewish? Could I be that brave?

Then comes Thanksgiving and of course my son is a pilgrim in a school play and he’s so cute on stage, I post it and people are hurt and disturbed in ways I never intended to inflict, yet I reflect. I realize if once a year Americans had a bunch of kids dress up as Nazis to educate the other students on WW2 history, I’d probably completely lose my shit. Actually, I’d definitely lose my shit. Can I say something next year to my son’s teacher if it comes up again? Would my concerns just be waved away or pushed aside? Could I be that brave?

That was just the last straw. I decide the Monday before Thanksgiving I will put on my biggest Mogen David, the one that shouts JEW at you and is a perfect length to be seen wearing almost anything and I’m not taking it off until Hanukkah is over.  I WILL be brave. I will wear this even if it’s uncomfortable and especially when it’s uncomfortable. Even on Thanksgiving day, will my extended (non Jewish) family say something? It ended up not being as scary as I’d made it out to be in my head, but that was around people who love me, even if they don’t really know me.

So what am I thankful for? My Mogen David that eventually, I get to take off. I am thankful to be able to identify as a minority when I choose to.  How convenient. People of color don’t have that choice. Natives have to watch children dress as their oppressors every year. They can’t wave that away. As a white woman, I can go through life fitting in, or I can stand out as a Jew, as an ally, as someone who chooses to identify as a minority, even when I don’t have to and maybe even when I don’t want to. While I won’t wear my jumbo star forever, I certainly will wear one every Thanksgiving and I will wear them more often throughout the year to share my pride and to feel brave, when I could just feel plain.




Holiday lights: more than just another decoration

Every year we (and when I say “we”, I mean my husband) get out our holiday lights to string around the house.  They’re always blue and white and generally vague enough to be Hanukkah or Christmas lights.  I recently saw another house with a blue and white theme and what looked like Jewish stars in their windows, but when I got closer, they were just snowflakes.  I always feel very proud of my Jewishness and even love that our festival of lights can (in all intended original purposes) rival that of Christmas traditions.  Even this Wikipedia passage notes the importance of displaying the holiday lights and unfortunately, when not to…

The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within”, but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle (i.e. the triumph of the few over the many and of the pure over the impure). Accordingly, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. It is customary amongst some Ashkenazi Jews to have a separate menorah for each family member (customs vary), whereas most Sephardi Jews light one for the whole household. Only when there was danger of antisemitic persecution were lamps supposed to be hidden from public view, as was the case in Persia under the rule of the Zoroastrians, or in parts of Europe before and during World War II. However, most Hasidic groups light lamps near an inside doorway, not necessarily in public view. According to this tradition, the lamps are placed on the opposite side from the mezuzah, so that when one passes through the door s/he is surrounded by the holiness of mitzvot (the commandments).

This year, was a year like any other until my husband came home with a rotating dreidel projector.  Normally, I would be thrilled.  We’d been talking about another inflatable that is Hanukkah themed, to add to our blue and white polar bears.  Any other year, I’d be ecstatic.  This year is different.  This year, only a few weeks after Trump won the election, swastikas are popping up everywhere.  A teacher friend of mine showed me photos of swastikas all over a notebook belonging to one of her Hispanic students. Luckily, he didn’t know what they were.  I have a feeling in a years time, everyone will know what a swastika is.  It shakes me to my bones.

Of course, I am a proud Jew.  I am happy my husband found such a fun decoration and we display it proudly.  We are now officially saying, WE ARE JEWS to our neighbors and passers by.  In truth, it is a source of pride and fear.  I worry that next year for Hanukkah, we’ll be asking family for a video surveillance system.  I worry that others will pass and not see a festive house, but a target.  I worry for my sons who are about to start into the public school system where swastikas are more and more prevalent.  But for now, we celebrate.  We shop and prepare for the holidays and make plans and move on with our lives.

I am lucky to have many jobs and side jobs.  A colleague was over dropping off some paperwork and we started talking about the new dreidel decoration.  She loved it and I confessed to her my fears.  Til that point, I had not verbalized my feelings out loud to anyone and it was rough.  She turned to me and told me if anything ever happened to me or my house that she would “have a wall of people standing in my front lawn with crosses around their necks 24/7”. And I just fell apart.  I can’t even type the words without tears in my eyes.

I guess it’s good to know that I know warriors of peace, that Maccabees can come in all forms and be from all backgrounds.  It’s good to know that there are people in my community who will stand up, instead of stand by.  It brings me peace.  It makes me feel safe in a very unsafe world. I am blessed, I am protected and I am free to celebrate the holidays however we wish. I hope you find the same peace and joy this year and all the years to follow.

May the Schwartz Be With You