Tag Archive | Christmas

The Elephant in the Room



It’s Hanukkah, the time of year when Christmas is all around us. Some may say relentlessly so. Decorations and lights, music, shopping opportunities are everywhere. They prompt me to think a bit more than usual about being Jewish and what that means. For better or worse, I’ve never “looked Jewish,” and many people are surprised to find that I am. I don’t talk about religion much, and I don’t practice the faith outwardly. I tried the Unitarian Universalist church for a long time, but it didn’t take, not in any deeply connecting way (not their fault – I felt like a traitor to my people, a nice Jewish girl going to church on Sundays. What was I thinking?) Living in an area with a heavy Roman Catholic presence and a tradition of Yankee Protestantism, I simply don’t fit in and never have. At least that’s how I feel. I don’t fit in. Never have. Unlikely that I ever will.

In an excerpt from my novel set in 1968, PERSEPHONE IN HELL, Sammy is Glory’s older brother. He’s had a thing for Denise throughout high school and makes no secret of it. Denise is pretty but dull and unaccomplished. She looks good in tight sweaters; that’s the attraction.

“Everyone knew how much Sammy liked Denise, even though he was going off to college in only a few months and Denise would be left working at the dry cleaner in town.

Denise wasn’t so sure about who she liked, especially as she was an inch or two taller than Sammy. She had wanted a taller beau. But her mother said Sammy was a good catch. A college man, destined for success. Didn’t the paper say he’d graduated number three out of the whole class? A brilliant boy, an Ivy Leaguer, maybe law school after that. Good enough by far for her under achieving daughter.

Then Denise told her mother the truth, that Sammy is Jewish.

“He doesn’t look Jewish,” her mother had replied. “He looked perfectly normal, handsome even, in his tux on prom night. And he was so polite. You must have heard wrong, Denise. You must be mistaken.”

Denise told her mother there was no mistake – Sammy is Jewish. You don’t have a name like Samuel when you’re Christian, she’d said. That’s a Jewish name. And she’d driven by his house last winter and had seen blue candles in the window, but no Christmas tree, no wreath on the door. She’d thought that was oddly strange, but then heard that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. She didn’t know what Jews do celebrate, but it is some weird thing involving blue lights. They don’t believe in Jesus, Denise had said.

Denise’s mother didn’t know how Denise knew such things, but she was shocked by the report. She instantly reconsidered her daughter’s future. What had been a clear, smart scenario dissolved into a murky, uncertain view. And she wasn’t about to incur the wrath of Father O’Brien. God forbid her daughter date a Jew.”

Now, times have changed…they’ve changed….times have changed….haven’t they?

Best regards to everyone of every religion, race, nationality, gender, age, weight, height, and sexual preference. It is the content of one’s character that matters. And have a very happy holiday season. If it bothers you that I’m using the word ‘holiday’ instead of ‘Christmas’, well, I mean it with all good will and no, I don’t plan to change the way I wish you well.

Primal Scream


I was reading a blog, the subject being Christmas. Unlike most blogs of the season that wish everyone good cheer and talk about the wonder of the holiday, this writing is different. The author feels alienated from Christmas. He can’t wait for it to be over. He believes religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is a power forced on people who don’t want it, something that causes unnecessary divisions between people. He believes that much of the hatred in the world is caused by those who believe their own faith is the only true faith. Perhaps that point of view, hating Christmas and all it stands for, sounds extreme to you.

I recently experienced a bit of the negative power of extremism in religion myself. An author on my writing site left me an email promoting her book about her Christian beliefs. It started out ‘you need to find the ugly truth about your life’ – something to that effect. I froze. I was shocked and scared by it. It sounded so threatening! I was having a bad day anyway; her words to me, a total stranger, literally seized me up with fright. After I regained my breath, I replied back and told her what I thought – that I was threatened and frightened by her words. That telling me I need to change my life, that my life is ugly, did no one any good. That it was harmful and didn’t make me want to read her book either. Us versus them – not good for humanity.

To her credit, she wrote back to apologize. She said she had no idea her message was offensive and that she would revise it for future emails. I know she won’t change her essential belief that I cannot be her equal if I can’t follow her Christian beliefs. I guess I’ll never be saved! At least she found out, though, that I am a real human being with feelings. And I found out she felt badly for upsetting me. But she couldn’t have discovered that if I hadn’t challenged her message. A little communication goes a long way. Makes us realize we are the same in more ways than we are different.

Religious belief, or the lack of it, is a consistently occurring theme in my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL. Though my main character Glory doesn’t believe in God, she spends a great deal of time thinking about the subject. Glory’s mother Joyce is an atheist, and has passed her belief system on to her daughter. In this passage which happens close to the end of the book, Glory is agonizing about her loneliness and alienation. She desperately wants friends, to make human connections, find happiness. But there is no one left who cares enough to make communication possible. Glory is incredibly alone.

“I don’t have God. I don’t pray to the blue lights, or the cigarette gods, or the god of good fortune, or even to the goddess Persephone who raises the cruel spring.

It isn’t Persephone’s fault the spring brings chaos and disharmony. She ate three of Hades’ pomegranate seeds – big deal. That’s no reason to bind her to hell. That’s no reason to give up on her. Hades is the mean one, the gross and disgusting pig of an underworld god. Persephone isn’t much more than a child, Hades, though she looks adult. She’s just a girl, Hades. Leave Persephone be.”

Underneath every chapter of PERSEPHONE IN HELL is a cry for people to care about each other. It’s a primal scream of the most basic kind. A shout to the heavens to see who might be listening.