Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Chrismukkah Observed

I went to a public elementary school. During the "Holiday Season" we would sing Christmas songs in our music class, with the occasional Channukah tune thrown in to pacify the Yidden. I have a very vivid recollection of standing on line in my homeroom, waiting to be dismissed on the afternoon before winter break, when the class spontaneously broke into Christmas carols. I didn't have an issue, but I chose not to join in. One of my classmates, a friend of mine, noticed, and said: "why won't you sing? We sang your song earlier."

Now at the time I could not have articulated the fact that 'dreidle, dreidle' is not a song with particular religious significance, nor does it espouse any particular religious beliefs, unlike, for instance 'silent night.' Or the fact that it isn't exactly a fair give-and-take. I too had to sing songs that did not represent my beliefs in the music class, I felt like I had upheld my side of the bargain.

At any rate, when I watched the below video (courtesy of Orthomom and The Town Crier) all of that came rushing back to me.

While I love the song "Esa Enai*" I'm not sure a) that it is a Chanukkah song, and b) the purpose of singing it. I understand that public schools want to respect a wide variety of belief systems, but part of me feels like it is easier to just observe, or reject out of hand a single practice as "not mine" than try to cobble together enough participatory activities to make everyone feel included. The only word that I can think of to describe Channukah celebrations at my school was "shvach**." No one cared but me, it required a great deal of explanation, and the foods didn't carry well.

Also, in retrospect, the fact that my mom (who came in to explain every Jewish holiday to my classes over the years) and I were the representatives of Judaism bothers me. It sets up a paradigm where those in the secular world see Judaism as monolithic. There is one "true" Judaism.

Or maybe I just read a little too much into the holidays.

*Esa Enai is the Hebrew version of Psalm 121:1-2: I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

**Shvach is a Yiddish for weak, and is generally used to describe something that is not so nice

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In my elementary school, my parents were horrified at the "holiday program" to hear me and another Jewish kids singing "Away in the Manger," with the line "the little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head." This was by far the most heavily theologically charged song at the program, and my parents suspected our specific class was chosen for this ditty because it was the one with the most Jewish kids in the class, which is to say, two.

My Mom was a music teacher, and in her winter program, she not only avoided theologically charged songs, but did not include any Chanukkah songs period, including the dreidel song. Ironically, this upset less traditional Jewish parents, but my Mom felt that including a token Chanukah song was 1) opening the door for more overtly Christian songs, and 2) presenting Chanukah and Judaism as a minor sidebar and even a version of Christmas and Christianity.