Thursday, April 27, 2006

Cinco de Mayo

Beernut's class is having a fiesta in honour of Cinco de Mayo next week. They seem to be taking a page from some Reform temples that observe Jewish holidays on the closest Friday because Cinco de Mayo is being celebrated on Quatro de Mayo. Who knows.

Anyway, this morning Beernut asks, "do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo?"

And that is what it all comes down to for him. Is this particular holiday one of ours or one of theirs? And if it is not one of ours, is it OK for me to participate?

A few weeks ago, we had a similar problem with Easter. Beernut's classroom teacher, who has made a genuine effort to be inclusive, sent the following email:

The kids are making bunny ears and bunny bags for an egg hunt on Thurs. All we do is look for plastic eggs to put in our bunny bag and then come in and eat bunny cookies and juice while wearing bunny ears we made. Our spring festivities take place on Thurs. from 10:35-11:15. I realize our theme is around spring bunnies but if you would not like Ben to participate then I can send him to do work in another classroom during that time. Please let me know.


I can tell one thing. Making my kid stay inside to do work while the other kids are doing a fun activity that includes chocolate isn't going to instill a positive Jewish identity in him, now is it?

So I write back a sweet note and of course, allowed him to participate.

The day after the Easter Egg Hunt, Beernut proclaims Easter a "wonderful holiday!" I inquire and he responds, "I love Easter because that is when the Easter bunny gives us chocolate and spreads Easter joy to all the boys and girls."

I thought I was going to throw up.

And then my little Beernut continues, "so why can't Jews celebrate Easter? Jews like bunnies and Jews like chocolate."

That is a good questions, Beernut -- if Easter was only about bunnies and chocolate. And so I had to try and explain to my 5 year-old Jewish kid what Easter was really all about. (Yet one more thing I didn't learn in Rabbinical school.)

So I wrote the following to my dad:

Is there any point in trying to educate the schools that this is not a universal practice but really is tied to a religion? And if it is to truly celebrate spring, why is it not done in close proximately to the equinox??

Or is this just my problem since he’s not at a day school?



To which he wisely responded:
One of the reasons to send our children to a public school is to acquaint them with the world around them. Being acquainted with the secular aspects of both winter and spring seasons that coincide with Christmas and Easter are part of cultural literacy.

Your children live their Judaism at home, in shul, with family, with friends, etc.

I am reminded of the time the guys and I went into a drug store on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Osborne to get some candy on the way home from Pacoima Jr. High. The man behind the counter asked, "Are you looking forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny?" Without a moment's hesitation, I responded, "No, but I do expect John the Matzah Man!" Your kids will likely be as comfortable with their Judaism.

We do live in a multi-cultural society...and we do live as a minority in a a society that is colored by its Christian majority.

Some Jews try to insulate our kids from this reality by sending them to Jewish day schools, but that only puts off the inevitable. Or, we can make aliyah...and then be a minority THERE as Reform Jews!

Shver tzu zein a Yid!!


And you know what? He's right! It is hard to be a Jew.

And you know what else? I wouldn't have it any other way!

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

in response to what your dad said, you would be suprised at how many Jewish teenagers make smart comments to the secular holidays such as Easter, Christmas, and what not (ie. stopping the Santa Clause at the mall to ask where the Hannukah fairy is). I for one am always happy when I don't have to give something up for lent and the "non-jews" do. :)

Rivster said...

Um...Easter and Christmas aren't secular and it is a bit presumptious for the public schools to approach these holidays as though they are a part of everyone's experience. While a majority of folks choose to strip these very important holy days of their religiousity, opting instead to celebrate the commericialized versions, it cannot be ignored that they have very sacred meanings.

I do agreee that it is nice not to give anything up -- well, other than leavened products during Passover ;)

Rebgiraffe said...

It's nice to be quoted. When should I expect to see my royalty check?

Signed,
Frume Sarah's Dad

annabel lee said...

Wow, great e-mail from your Dad. I went to public school, and have often wondered how I'll decide whether to send my kids (if I am blessed enough to have kids someday) to public school or day school. This is definitely an interesting way to look at it.

Rivster said...

AL,
Most of the time we are very confidant with our decision to go public. Every once-in-a-while, though, I question it and wonder if I've robbed Beernut from all Judaism, all the time. Then I just think about what my dad said and realize -- hey, I went to public schools and I've got a great Jewish identity ;)

Whatever you decide, you'll sometimes wish you'd made a different decision. But if you are happy with the decision more days than not, you probably made the right one.

RG,
Your royalty check is right behind mine.

PepGiraffe said...

Interesting. Notice how the Matzah Man has a rather non-Jewish name and is also giving us Matzah instead of chocolate. It's a conspiracy, I tell you.

Here is a real question. It is possible, at some point, that Xmas and Easter really will be stripped of its sacred meaning, the way Halloween and May Day have. At that point, I wonder if we feel it will be okay to 'celebrate.'

gwheathie said...

I don't imagine Christmas and Easter will lose their original meanings until Christians stop ruling the western world -- not likely anytime soon. Perhaps John was really Jon.

Anyway, I often think about whether my kids (whenever they appear) will go to day school or public school. Finances being equal (which they won't be) I am VERY torn by this issue. Though we all have strong Jewish identities, much of that (undoubtedly) has to do with having a rabbi in the house. My kids will not have that.

PepGiraffe said...

Oh, I know that it won't happen anytime soon. I'm just saying. I love DadGiraffe's story of having something to say to the Gas Man. My point about Jon/John the Matzah Man (hey, that kind of rhymes) is that you have a figure who is offering something different but also not as good. (I know there are probably people who like matzah more than Cadbury Cream Eggs, but I think those people are all allergic to chocolate.) It is the same thing that Beernut's teacher was thinking of doing: You can't go on the bunny outing where you receive chocolate, but you do get to do homework by yourself in an empty room. [Yes! I've been waiting for months for someone to exclude me in the most obvious manner; my day is complete.]

Going to a public school can rob you of your Judaism or brand you as a Jew Extraordinaire.