Not Just Christ­mas

Pasatiempo - - Stories - by Mima Obo

I walked out­side and felt the frosty air turn my cheeks as red as fallen ap­ples. Only six days un­til Christ­mas, then all this stuff that doesn’t re­late to me is over. I am so sick of this, I thought. Am I the only one who gets it that there are five other hol­i­days go­ing on? Where’s our cel­e­bra­tion? I don’t hear the drei­del song on the ra­dio 24/7.

“I’m so ex­cited for Christ­mas! Aren’t you?” Tammy asked. She was one of the “pop­u­lar” kids in my sixth-grade class. I wasn’t a part of their clique, but I didn’t care. I had two re­ally awe­some best friends, Lilly and Eric. The pop­u­lars, or as we wrong­fully called them, the “wannabes,” were all the same.

“Not re­ally, I don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas,” I said, even more fed-up with the whole sit­u­a­tion.

“You don’t?!” she asked wideeyed, her mouth half open, like not cel­e­brat­ing Christ­mas was un­think­able. “That’s so sad; you don’t get any presents.”

“It’s ac­tu­ally any­thing but sad. I cel­e­brate Hanukkah. I get eight nights of presents.”

I was so an­noyed; no one but me got it! “Oh that’s so sad.” I mocked her in my head as I walked away. I made a gri­mace to my­self. I thought about ev­ery­thing every­one had been say­ing to me. When they asked about my re­li­gion and I told them I was half-Jewish, half-Mus­lim, I was al­ways asked, “Mus­lim? What’s that?” Heat rose to my face.

“Come on, homie. It’s not that bad. Can’t you just tell your mom you wanna cel­e­brate Christ­mas in­stead of Hon­awhatchamacal­lit? It ain’t your mom’s call,” Tammy said. That did it for me, I couldn’t bear this any­more.

“You’re right; it isn’t my mom’s call; it’s mine and I want to cel­e­brate Hanukkah. It’s the best hol­i­day there is,” I said in an al­most sar­cas­tic tone.

“OK, but I re­ally don’t see the point. It sounds stupid,” Tammy said, com­pletely un­aware of how much she was of­fend­ing me.

“Stupid? It’s re­mem­ber­ing the time they, ex­cuse me, we were in Is­rael af­ter our tem­ple was sacked. We only had enough oil to light the meno­rah for like two sec­onds, but it stayed for eight nights in­stead. It’s our mir­a­cle.” I liked ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about things like this, be­cause it meant they would un­der­stand me a lit­tle bet­ter and maybe stop talk­ing to me like I’m a freak of na­ture.

“What? That never hap­pened to us. You made that up!” Not every­one knew as lit­tle as Tammy did. A lot of them had heard the word Hanukkah, but that was all they had heard. I’m sure they would un­der­stand who I meant by “we.”

“I mean ‘ we’ fig­u­ra­tively. My Jewish an­ces­tors were the ones who had their tem­ple sacked. I’m a Jew just like them.”

I just walked away from her. My boot fell through the pile of crusty brown snow. My foot got wet and it was freez­ing, but I only hoped she would go away. I didn’t care about the lack of feel­ing in my foot. I wasn’t about to cry about this. I just wanted this all to stop. Just six more days, then I’d have a break un­til Easter, which wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily true.Then, dur­ing Ra­madan, I would al­ways be asked why I wasn’t eat­ing, and dur­ing Passover, I would be asked why I made my sand­wich on such strange bread, but re­mind­ing my­self I would have a break made me feel a lot bet­ter.

I got into the car with my mom. She could see that I was up­set and asked me what was wrong.

“No one gets it. They think there’s only Christ­mas. What about Hanukkah? What about us?” I was start­ing to cry even though I said I wouldn’t.

“It’s OK. I feel that same way all the time. We just have to stick to­gether. Just ig­nore them. They will never get how we feel, and that’s un­for­tu­nate for them; it makes us stronger, and I know you would rather be dif­fer­ent than be like them.” My mom is al­ways good at mak­ing me feel bet­ter.

“But wasn’t ev­ery­body Jewish in New York when you were a kid?” I asked.

“Most of kids in my class were, so as soon as I moved here, I felt even worse than you did, be­cause I was used to that.”

“I just wish they got it. Tammy didn’t even know what the word Hanukkah was. Be­ing dif­fer­ent is nice, but not if it means hav­ing to deal with this,” I said. I was start­ing to pull my­self to­gether. I had a great idea and it was fool­proof.

“You’re teach­ing your class about Hanukkah, right? And mak­ing your latkes too?” I asked my mom. She’s a first-grade teacher at my school.

“Yeah …” my mom replied. She could kind of see what I was get­ting at. “Maybe I could do some­thing like that for my class.” “Like what?” my mom asked, al­though she knew— I didn’t, yet. The next day, at re­cess, Lilly, Eric, and I walked to my mom’s class­room, where the over­whelm­ing aroma of crispy, salty, sa­vory, smoky, po­tato pan­cakes filled the air.

“Wow,” ex­claimed Eric. “What is that amaz­ing smell?”

“Po­tato latkes. Would you like some? I made a lot,” my mom said. She was hint­ing at some­thing. I wasn’t sure what.

We agreed right away, the long crunchy strips of deep-fried pota­toes danced upon our taste buds, urg­ing us to eat more and more.

“You should save some for other friends,” my mom said, and then I got it! She wanted me to teach my class about Hanukkah.

I told her and she pre­tended to be amazed that I came up with that “all by my­self.” My mom brought a lot of latkes, enough for every­one, a meno­rah and can­dles; she made sure I got the story straight, and I re­cited the prayer for her.

I passed out the latkes with ap­ple­sauce on the side. Many peo­ple were grossed out and very few will­ingly tried them, but no­body touched the ap­ple­sauce.

“As a lot of you know, I don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas like all of you.” As I said that I watched every­one poke at their latkes and re­act to the “hor­ri­ble­ness” that was the fact I don’t cel­e­brate Christ­mas. “I cel­e­brate Hanukkah, which means the fes­ti­val of lights, hon­or­ing what we did where our tem­ple was sacked.”

“She doesn’t re­ally mean ‘ we,’ she means her an­ces­tors,” I heard Tammy whis­per.

“There was only enough oil for one night, but it stayed lit for eight nights. It was a true mir­a­cle. Now, ev­ery night for eight nights we light the meno­rah and say a prayer.” I paused, a lit­tle ner­vous to sing be­fore my class.

“ Baruch ata adonai elo­henu melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzi­vanu l’had­lik neir shel Hanukkah.”

Every­one clapped. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s not of­ten I have this much en­cour­age­ment from my class. I went on for a while longer, ex­plain­ing ev­ery­thing with de­tail.

Of course this didn’t make every­one com­pletely ac­cept me, but it stopped the “Hon­awhat­i­cas” and the “how sad, no Christ­mas” for all of my years at that school. But I felt so much bet­ter now, that didn’t mat­ter.

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