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Feeling Jewish, and Also Enjoying My Christian Cultural Heritage

I grew up in a family that celebrated diversity and encouraged acceptance. Neither of my parents was raised in very religious households, and they believed that the most important values they could teach their children were understanding and acceptance of other cultures, religions, traditions, and, most importantly, individuals. These are the teachings I embrace from my parents.

We endow the holidays we celebrate--Christmas, Easter, Passover, and Hanukkah--with cultural and familial, rather than religious, meaning. I hope to continue these rituals and traditions and pass them on to my children and family.

My father's family celebrated Christmas and Easter and occasionally attended church. As he grew older, he welcomed the familial and cultural importance of Easter and Christmas, rather than any religious meanings. My mother's family of left-wing Jewish activists also accepted the cultural rather than the religious aspects of their identity. They taught their children and grandchildren tolerance, acceptance, and understanding of other traditions, cultures and individuals. They observed Passover and Hanukkah as celebrations of who they were as a family, with minimal ritual.

My parents introduced my sister and me to all of their holidays and family traditions. Growing up, and still today, none of the holidays are celebrated religiously. Instead, they offer an opportunity for our extended family to be together, and to appreciate who we are as individuals and as a family.

As I have grown up and explored my own spirituality, I have become more connected with my Jewish identity. I am not sure why this is.

I have always enjoyed the tradition and structure of the Jewish holidays, and, more specifically, the seder and the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. These holidays always gave me a great sense of ritual, which I embrace and enjoy. I have also begun celebrating Rosh Hashanah with a community that I have found separate from my family, and it is a new ritual to add to my repertoire of traditions. Although I would like to get more involved in the Jewish community on campus, I am still discovering who I am and what makes me feel comfortable.

The holidays I celebrate--Christmas, Hanukkah, Passover, and Easter--have different meanings for me based on the time our family spent together celebrating them.

Christmas, I remember as the day my father did not work. My family and I would spend the entire day together, on one excursion or another--going out to a movie, renting movies, going to the mountains for the day or a weekend, or going for a walk on the beach.

Similarly, for Hanukkah, what I most enjoyed were the eight nights of family meals that we shared lighting the candles.

I found Passover the most exciting holiday because it usually meant a family reunion with faraway relatives--grandparents, cousins, and aunts and uncles--in addition to various family friends. My mother and her sister felt it was important that their children understand and appreciate their heritage so that we could pass them on to our children. At this dinner we would tell the story of the Exodus and the story of our family--who we were and where we came from.

Each Easter, our family would also spend time together, either taking a hike or going on another family outing.

My father worked long hours and all of us were involved in numerous activities, which made family time quite special. We associated special childhood activities with each holiday, such as dyeing Easter eggs, and making and decorating a gingerbread house. These childhood traditions are the ones I now hold on to.

It is as times of family gatherings that these holidays have been meaningful to me. Now, perhaps because I am away at school, the holidays connect me back to my family and childhood. I believe that it is family that makes these holidays important.

Though I consider myself Jewish now, I do not forget my father's traditions, which have now also become my own. Growing up in a household of two different cultures never seemed strange to me. I always thought my situation was extra special because I had the opportunity to experience two separate traditions and cultures.

I do not regret how my parents decided to raise me. I now have more traditions and a broader cultural perspective to pass on to my children. It is understanding and acceptance, however, which I embrace most from my parents' teachings.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
Marissa Rose Green

Marissa Rose Green graduated from Brandeis University in May 2004 with a B.A. in Russian Language and Literature and has been taking pre-requisites in preparation for nursing school. She is involved in Jconnect Seattle, a Jewish young adult community and the University of Washington Hillel, Seattle, where she is preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah in August 2005.

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