Blessings of the season.

My now-annual holiday post, an essay I wrote for the Chicago Tribune a few years back. If you’re celebrating, have a wonderful and very merry Christmas — and if not, I hope you have a really terrific Tuesday!

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem; Christmas c. 1930s

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem; Christmas c. 1930s

It’s about bringing light into dark places, isn’t it?

As I understand the winter holidays, our Holy Days, this is what they mean: Hope, life, tomorrow. Light, where there was none.

That’s what we mean at my house when we light our menorah, and that’s what we talk about with the kids. For eight nights, after saying the blessings, we sing a sweet, rousing song in Hebrew that announces to the darkness that it shall have no quarter: “Each of us is a small candle,” we sing. “Together, we are a great light.”

And though I am not a Christian, it seems to me that that is what Jesus’s birth means, too. Light in dark places, a small baby who brought hope to millions. “The weary world rejoices,” goes Oh Holy Night, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, “for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

And Kwanza? I’m white, but it seems to me that lighting candles to remember the struggles of the Black people, to reflect on unity, and to anticipate the future triumph over oppression is a statement of hope most deep.

There is so much darkness in the world, there always has been. But God – or Nature, or our own collective Best Self – has given us the tools to drive it back. The Jewish tradition speaks of tikkun olam, repairing the world in conjunction with the Almighty. This is our job, our highest calling. To quote another song, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”

And indeed, we are not the same. Our holidays are not the same, and even within our communities, our understanding of those holidays is not always the same. But in our own ways, we all seek a brighter tomorrow, a world without war, without hunger, without despair. And these holidays, even the ones that are not in my own heritage, can serve to remind me of that – as well as reminding me that there are many ways of battling evil and wrong, and that we need all of them.

We were created in a mighty multitude, and I believe God knew what He was doing when He made us different. Different brings creativity, it brings unknown joys, it brings solutions. I don’t need you to light candles at my house to believe that you are doing what you can to make the world a better place.

Every year at about this time, we hear over and over again, as we rush about our business,  that we don’t focus enough on “what really matters.” We hear from Jews who are sick of being wished a Merry Christmas, Christians who believe that one could, actually, take the Christ out of Christmas, and worshippers of the Simple who decry the cultural trappings of the whole thing. Our national anxiety about being made a victim comes to the top, and it isn’t pretty.

We need to stop. Take a nap, maybe have a cookie, and then look at each other. We’re trying our best, almost all of us, I’m certain. Sure we need to focus on “what really matters,” but bottom line, that’s what we’re trying to do.

We’re human, so sometimes we don’t do it very well. But I am certain that when my Christian neighbors tell me “Merry Christmas,” they’re just wishing me well. And when parents buy a lot of plastic for their kids, they’re just hoping for that up-from-the-gut smile that only a kid can give. Neither of these things are bad; neither of them can reduce in any way the power of the Divine to guide and comfort us.

And after all of this is behind us, it will be a new year. Let’s agree to fill it with hope, and with as much light as we can muster, for the victims of Katrina who are still without homes; for the people living with AIDS in African shanty-towns; for Israeli and Palestinian children who are growing up afraid; for the women of Darfur who cannot get water for their families for fear they will be raped. The world is a dark place; we are the ones who can bring the light in.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living in Oak Park.

(C) Chicago Tribune, 2005

Israel Embassy: Palestinians would “lynch” Jesus and Mary.

Every now and then, one reveals more than one intended. And gets caught in the act.

Yesterday there was a bit of a kerfluffle when Israel’s embassy in Ireland posted the following on its Facebook account:

A thought for Christmas…If Jesus and mother Mary were alive today, they would, as Jews without security, probably end up being lynched in Bethlehem by hostile Palestinians. Just a thought….

israel in ireland christmas

It was removed from the page in a couple of hours, and replaced with this:

To whom it may concern: An image of Jesus and Mary with a derogatory comment about Palestinians was posted without the consent of the administrator of the Facebook page. We have removed the post in question immediately. Apologies to anyone who may have been offended. Merry Christmas!

Last month I wrote about what Israel doesn’t get about Twitter, but I might as well have called the post “What Israel Doesn’t Get and Has Never Gotten About Communicating With the Outside World,” because the Twitter mishaps and Facebook comedy of errors are not isolated events. They reflect attitudes and policies that have characterized official Israel for as long as I’ve known official Israel (since 1982), and those attitudes and policies are, simply put, part of Israel’s problem.

Nearly every facet of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank (Bethlehem included) speaks to the fact that Israel sees Palestinians as suspect simply because they’re Palestinian—that indeed, random lynchings are to be expected, because that’s what Palestinian culture looks like.

Moreover, nearly every facet of Israel’s foreign policy appears predicated on a kind of us-against-the-world-ism that casts the rest of the global community as a set of stock characters, the behavior of each predictable and entirely unrelated to anything Israel might actually do.

America is “a thing you can move very easily,” for instance, and Palestinians hate and want to kill us because that’s just what Palestinians are like. That’s who they are. (Iranians, too). It doesn’t matter if Israel builds settlements or incarcerates children or surrounds Palestinian homes and farmlands with a 25 foot concrete wall—they just hate us. Haters gonna hate.

All of which explains why any event in the world can be seen though the eyes of Jewish suffering. Jesus and Mary? Not really that important unto themselves, but boy do they serve to make a point about Jews who’ve been killed by Palestinians. Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut? An opportunity to completely de-contextualize the decades-long war between Israel and the Palestinian people via sympathy note. The current geo-political stand-off between Israel, Iran, and the US? It’s all about the Holocaust, baby.

The problem with this, of course, is that people insist on being actual people, no matter what we think of them. Though Israel has tried to force the Palestinians into a mold for 64 years, the Palestinians have continued to insist on behaving as autonomous actors—and it’s really hard to get anything done when one is negotiating (or not) with a caricature rather than reality.

It is a good thing that someone in Israel’s Irish embassy caught the folly of whoever’s running their Facebook page (though they might want to take a look at the Twitter account, too), and I suppose that the apology, while rather anemic, is nice. Also, too: Merry Christmas!

But as long as we’re indulging in historical thought experiments, it bears noting that Jesus actually was killed, after all, and by folks who thought they could control his people through violence, and stripping them of their heritage.

How’d that work out for the Romans?

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Blessings of the season

Hanukkah starts tonight, and right smack in the middle of our eight days, you’ll find that other Solstice celebration. I wrote the following for the Chicago Tribune a few years back, and have already posted it here once, but I think it’ll be my Annual Holiday Post – I like it! I hope you do, too.

Happy, Merry to all and sundry!

Blessings of the season

Emily L. Hauser

It’s about bringing light into dark places, isn’t it?

As I understand the winter holidays, our Holy Days, this is what they mean: Hope, life, tomorrow. Light, where there was none.

That’s what we mean at my house when we light our menorah, and that’s what we talk about with the kids. For eight nights, after saying the blessings, we sing a sweet, rousing song in Hebrew that announces to the darkness that it shall have no quarter: “Each of us is a small candle,” we sing. “Together, we are a great light.”

And though I am not a Christian, it seems to me that that is what Jesus’s birth means, too. Light in dark places, a small baby who brought hope to millions. “The weary world rejoices,” goes Oh Holy Night, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, “for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

And Kwanza? I’m white, but it seems to me that lighting candles to remember the struggles of the Black people, to reflect on unity, and to anticipate the future triumph over oppression is a statement of hope most deep.

There is so much darkness in the world, there always has been. But God – or Nature, or our own collective Best Self – has given us the tools to drive it back. The Jewish tradition speaks of tikkun olam, repairing the world in conjunction with the Almighty. This is our job, our highest calling. To quote another song, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”

And indeed, we are not the same. Our holidays are not the same, and even within our communities, our understanding of those holidays is not always the same. But in our own ways, we all seek a brighter tomorrow, a world without war, without hunger, without despair. And these holidays, even the ones that are not in my own heritage, can serve to remind me of that – as well as reminding me that there are many ways of battling evil and wrong, and that we need all of them.

We were created in a mighty multitude, and I believe God knew what He was doing when He made us different. Different brings creativity, it brings unknown joys, it brings solutions. I don’t need you to light candles at my house to believe that you are doing what you can to make the world a better place.

Every year at about this time, we hear over and over again, as we rush about our business,  that we don’t focus enough on “what really matters.” We hear from Jews who are sick of being wished a Merry Christmas, Christians who believe that one could, actually, take the Christ out of Christmas, and worshippers of the Simple who decry the cultural trappings of the whole thing. Our national anxiety about being made a victim comes to the top, and it isn’t pretty.

We need to stop. Take a nap, maybe have a cookie, and then look at each other. We’re trying our best, almost all of us, I’m certain. Sure we need to focus on “what really matters,” but bottom line, that’s what we’re trying to do.

We’re human, so sometimes we don’t do it very well. But I am certain that when my Christian neighbors tell me “Merry Christmas,” they’re just wishing me well. And when parents buy a lot of plastic for their kids, they’re just hoping for that up-from-the-gut smile that only a kid can give. Neither of these things are bad; neither of them can reduce in any way the power of the Divine to guide and comfort us.

And after all of this is behind us, it will be a new year. Let’s agree to fill it with hope, and with as much light as we can muster, for the victims of Katrina who are still without homes; for the people living with AIDS in African shanty-towns; for Israeli and Palestinian children who are growing up afraid; for the women of Darfur who cannot get water for their families for fear they will be raped. The world is a dark place; we are the ones who can bring the light in.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living in Oak Park.

(C) Chicago Tribune, 2005

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