How to celebrate Hanukkah in the anti-Promised Land

By Samana Shrestha

It has been universally decided that 2016 has been one of the worst years in the history of humanity. Donald Trump’s election, the mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, the poisoning of the water in Flint, Michigan, all in all this year has been pretty rough.

And to put the cherry on top of the dogshit sundae that was 2016, this year the first night of Hanukkah falls on the evening of Dec. 25. That’s right, Jesus gets to celebrate his b-day (despite that science has proved that he wasn’t actually born in the winter) with potato latkes and everyone’s favorite gateway gambling game, Dreidel. And this also means that this year, I get to celebrate Hanukkah in Ft. Wayne, Indiana with my Evangelical Christian grandparents! Hooray!

Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandparents. But celebrating Jewish holidays with them isn’t exactly ideal. You see, my mother, her daughter, was born into a very Lutheran family. And then, after going to college she decided that she would convert to Judaism. (No she did not attend Vassar.) My grandparents have never explicitly said that they were salty about this decision or that it meant my sister and I would be raised as Jews, but since they always use the freaky, Christian angel baby sheets on their guest bed, I have my suspicions.

Another reason I think they may be disappointed in my Judaism, is because their house is literally covered in Jesus paraphernalia; think of it kind of like how much shit stoners have that reference the fact they smoke weed … my grandparents are like that but with Jesus.

There’s this one picture of Jesus on their refrigerator which I really can’t figure out. No matter where I go, it definitely stares at me, but I can’t really tell what message he’s sending me. The look is telling me, “Hey, we’re both Jews, what’s up homie?!” Or, the drastically different, “Repent for your sins, pagan.” (Considering the context, I’m sure it’s probably the latter) Regardless, I’m not super excited to hang out with a bunch of creepy Nativity figurines by candlelight.

I think there are some opportunities to reclaim the holiday though! My favorite part is saying Jewish prayers in front of them, because they literally have no idea what we’re saying. I could be praising Satan or ordering Pad Thai or not even speaking Hebrew, and they would still pretend to be super engaged and supportive.

I imagine on Hanukkah, it’ll go something like this:

My mother, sister and me: Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

My grandparents: *smiling, with confusion in their eyes* What does that mean?

Me: It means, “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot, commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.”

My grandparents: Oh… that sounds nice!

I also look forward to opening gifts in front of them. This year for Hanukkah I asked for nothing but donations to organizations that I support, such as Planned Parenthood, the Trevor Project, MALDEF, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. I’m excited to look at the broken smiles on their faces when I open such gifts and realize that, not only am I Jewish, I am also a radical liberal.

Selfishly, I kind of hate going there because no matter what I ask for, for my “Christmas” presents (my grandparents always emphasize that they are buying my sister and I Christmas presents), my grandma gets me Avon soap. To be honest, I’m not sure where she gets it all from. I feel like she probably has hoarded thousands of bottles of Avon brand cucumber body-wash in the attic, next to a bunch of unused advent calendars from the ’90s. Literally though, no matter what I ask for I get Avon Soap. Ask for a puppy? Avon Soap. Ask for Bath and Body Works Soap? Avon Soap. Ask for acceptance of my decision to live as a Jewish adult? Avon Soap.

Part of the issue beyond my grandparents, is that they live in Indiana. I mean, I understand that my grandparents live there mostly because my immigrant great-grandfather “had to choose a place to live where he could find work” or whatever, but seriously? Come on Vassil, you could’ve done way better than Indiana: a racist, sexist hell hole straight out of a Conservative man’s wet dream.

Particularly after this election I’m not feeling super great about having to spend time in Mike Pence’s (and my mother’s) home state. But in spite of all this, I’m still optimistic that Hanukkah can go well. Besides, at least it’s not Yom Kippur that I’ll be celebrating with them. With a full stomach of latkes and my grandmother’s food, I might be able to handle this. If I were fasting with them, I might have to convert.

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