I grew up in New Jersey – yes, on the Jersey Shore – and no, I was never like those people in that horrid anti-Italian tv show. I did grow up around a lot of segregation, racism and diversity. While there was a great deal of tolerance, I also saw a lot of people muttering under their breath, and bad neighborhoods decided based on the color of skin of the inhabitants, with even some walls built around the true ghettos. Actual walls… …walls that you could not drive through that blocked off roads that once connected one side of the town to the other.
Nevertheless, in high school I had a very diverse group of friends and my best friend, up until I transferred to the geek school (now well known charter school High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ) was Jewish. I would hang at her house on the holidays. I was just entranced by how awesome her family was (they had a shooting range in the basement of their large, pretty house) because they kept together the true meaning of these ancient holidays that we celebrate.
I will never forget the importance of horseradish for Passover Seder (you need a bitter herb to represent the slavery and the horseradish has to be raw and can be shredded or whole, arranged with other important elements).
I just thought it was so wonderful to have this much knowledge about one’s ancestors and one’s religion. The things I’d learned about Catholicism all seemed made up (if the smokestacks burn a certain color then we were all going to hell, etc.).
So when my best friend suggested we celebrate Hanukkah this year, it was like a breath of fresh air. I feel oppressed by a lot of different religions, but always appreciate the intellectualism of Judaism, as well as celebrating my nostalgia for Oceanport and West Long Branch, New Jersey — what little there is (I am more nostalgic for Oakland and Portland).
We are making a semi-traditional Hanukkah which will involve frying donuts and latkes (in my deceased mother’s world, latkes are plotskies, Polish version of the same thing), including a mushroom pecan latke. The oil symbolizes the oil that Judah and the Maccabees found in the temple which burned for 8 days. We will light a candle at sunset. We will give little gifts to one another. We will have golden beet borsht, and freshly made goat cheese.
Most importantly, we will spend the time together with the ones we love the most, sharing and laughing and enjoying, happily, and as healthfully as we can, together. We will have a fire going after the ceremony.
We will read stories about how people survived through all that horror. We will think about our place in the world, and even discuss it, because that is what we do, and that is our responsibility. Our house will be lovely, cozy, full, and warm, and we will be lucky, and there will be many stories told, and more stories made because that is what the holidays are about to me.
When I lived in Berkeley I cherished the holidays. No one would be in town. I’d be in the dorms or my little apartments and I’d walk the streets alone, smoking, drinking way too much coffee at Wall Berlin with people who were strangers (and now are not so much so at all). Sometimes my best friend would visit and we would walk the streets beatboxing Santana songs, or I would walk the streets and find togetherness and happiness with the ones that I could find. I would walk the streets with my black pea coat on, and sunglasses, and my Doc Martens. I would walk through campus and look around and dig around and read and write and draw. I was collecting stories. Because that is what the good of those among us do.