Hanukkah In Vail

It’s strangely comforting to be amongst your people.

Don’t ask me if I believe in God. But one thing’s for sure, I’m a Jew.

I grew up in the Connecticut suburbs, surrounded by members of the tribe, but once I went off to college in Vermont I realized I was the other. A member of a minority. Often derided and scorned with no knowledge of my identity.

They say there’s a war on Christmas. That assumes we Jews and non-believers have that much power. Then again, I got an e-mail today referencing the greedy Jews who run the record business. Everybody hates the Jews. Maybe not you, but when you look for a scapegoat, we’re it. And to a great degree, we hide. We don’t want to take what you’ve got, challenge your beliefs, we just want to live in peace.

Don’t confuse Judaism with Israel. Don’t ask me to endorse the settlements on the West Bank. Just know that the goal of those complaining is to have Israel decimated, they want it to cease to exist. And that’s just scary. Do Jews do wrong things? Of course. Is Israel perfect? Of course not. Have the Palestinians sometimes gotten the short end of the stick? You bet. But when they want your entire race decimated, when they killed six million of your brethren, you push back.

But not vocally, not that often.

I went to the menorah lighting on a lark. To see who else would be there. The truth is Hanukkah or Chanukah or Hanukah is a minor holiday, but to satiate the little boys and girls envious of their Christian brethren, it’s been built up. I don’t need to light the menorah, I don’t need to eat latkes, however delicious they might be, especially with applesauce, but in a country dominated by Christian culture I was intrigued what would go on, right in the heart of Vail, by the covered bridge.

There were nearly a hundred people there. Probably not every Jew in the valley, but more than I expected. Why did they come? I was not sure. But I looked around and I felt warmth, I felt friendship, I felt like I belonged.

We all want to belong. We all want to be a member of the group. But right now our country is divided, not only on political terms, but religious ones too. Yes, terrorism is an important issue, but once we start branding people based on their beliefs we’re on a wrong road to a country that America never was, at least not in my era.

There was the community leader, who said in previous years on certain nights he was the only one in attendance, to light the menorah.

There were the little kids, one of whom flipped the switch to turn on the electric light.

There was the woman with the guitar. Music is an important part of modern Judaism. And it’s not all dirges, it’s often upbeat. They sang a new Hanukkah song that was only distantly familiar, making me feel less included, but then I saw some people talking in the back and I knew I was in the right place. Jews like to talk, to interrupt, to converse. We want to know what you think and we want to tell you what we do. It bonds us together.

And I was familiar with the prayer.

But I was most familiar with the people in attendance. We shared the dreary days of religious education. Baking challah in first grade. Attempting to learn Hebrew. Going to Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties, that’s where we learned to dance, we had our first girl and boyfriends at summer camp, we grew up in different places but there was a shared experience, and it made me feel warm inside to realize this.

So as the rest of the world celebrates the birth of their savior…

I will raise a glass, I will smile, I will go along.

But I will not feel included.

Yet tonight by the creek I was. All comers were.

I don’t know why we hate each other so much. I don’t know why certain people believe they have the answers. I don’t know why society has become so coarse, with the haves battling the have-nots.

But I do know at the end of the day we’re just people, here for a very short time. And what makes us feel best is to be part of a community.

Choose yours. Just be sure to join. To belong. Because people will surprise you. When you’re down and out they’ll lend a hand. They’ll listen to you.

At least my tribe does.

But I know yours does too.

Happy Hanukkah.

And Merry Christmas.

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