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December 2, 2011
I was raised in an interfaith family. For me, there was no great December holiday crisis. Hanukkah and Christmas made sense as a pair, and melted into one super month-long celebration of family, goodwill and warm and fuzzy feelings. Perhaps some of my fondest holiday memories included the overlap of the two holidays. While it might not be featured in any Norman Rockwell, I relished the scene of a crackling fire, a fully lit menorah and potato latkes enjoyed in front of the well decorated tree.
As time continued, my Jewish identity became stronger. With a bachelor's degree in Judaic studies, a master's degree in Jewish leadership and a job in the Jewish community, my association with Judaism, and my identity as a Jew, is unshakable. However, Christmas still plays a large part in my family- and this is not a connection I could ever contemplate breaking. How does someone, who fully identifies as Jewish, find a way to authentically celebrate Christmas?
For me, Christmas remains about family and showing your love. There never was an overtly religious connection to the holiday for my family, and in that way, I remain completely comfortable celebrating secularly. For others, I realize this is not the case. Yet, I remain so tied to the idea of the holiday, that I often wonder how I could create a Jewish celebration of Christmas in a completely Jewish household. Would I be allowed to marry a Jew, raise a Jewish family and keep a Jewish household? while still celebrating Christmas?
Navigating this holiday question has, interestingly enough, lead me to a powerful realization. If I am to celebrate a holiday that I define as a celebration of family, then shouldn't I celebrate in a way that honors that feeling of family? Shouldn't I celebrate by considering the whole of the community as a part of my own family?
Volunteering, and giving back to your community, is one way to capture the spirit of the holiday season. Many Jewish organizations feature large scale volunteer events on Christmas. The JCRC's ReachOut! volunteer program for Young Adults in Boston is one of the many organizations offering volunteer opportunities this Christmas. These programs encompass the spirit of giving that often comes over us during the holiday season, and inspire us to act and to look past the commercialism of the holidays. Finding ways to give back throughout the year also allows one to honor their community and remember that no matter what holiday one celebrates- or how they celebrate it- giving is not a onetime thing. (And that warm and fuzzy feeling of holiday spirit can stick around all year!)
So, I ask you: can a strong Jewish household celebrate a very not Jewish holiday? How do you navigate your own feelings?