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Our Hanukkah Fight Wasn’t Really About What We Teach Our Kids

I took a seat at my computer while the girls were doing crafts in the kitchen and the baby was toddling around the living room. I started to make a list of goals for life in 2021.

My 2021 goals list started like this:

  1. Stop eating everything.
  2. No, seriously, stop eating EVERYTHING.
  3. Work on your writing.
  4. Work on your book.
  5. Work on yourself.
  6. Teach the kids that it’s the good things we need to focus on in the world, not the bad.
  7. Put those cookies down, and stop eating everything.

The list was going well. So why, right before Hanukkah, was the pressure of my interfaith family weighing down on this hot mama?

Some major stuff was happening. A few weeks prior, Adrian’s mom got very sick again. She’d been sick for a long time, with a history of diabetes and poor health. It got so bad that Adrian told me he thought she might die sometime soon. It was an awful realization, and for days I watched him bury his grief deep inside of himself.

One night we had an argument about the Hebrew alphabet that wasn’t really an argument about the Hebrew alphabet at all. It made me doubt everything I have worked toward with our interfaith family.

Adrian: “Why are you teaching the kids to speak Hebrew? They’re losing their Spanish!”

Me: “I’m not teaching them to speak Hebrew. I’m teaching them to read Hebrew, sing in Hebrew and praise God in Hebrew.”

Adrian: “Well, it’s ridiculous!”

Me: “Well, it’s my religion!”

Adrian: “But I’m the father! Half of them isn’t Jewish…” A dead silence ensued. Ummmmm… WHAT!?!?

I took a deep breath. “First of all, they’re ALL Jewish and ALL Catholic. We have known this since Helen was born five years ago, and then Alma and then Mathias. The Hebrew alphabet has been on the wall since all of the babies were inside of me, since when is this all of a sudden a problem?”

Adrian paused, he paced and then he yelled. “My mother is dying. She’s dying! And she speaks Spanish, not Hebrew! She’s dying and she’s never met my children!”

This is true. Adrian’s mother has never met the babies. She lives in a rural part of Mexico and every time we plan a trip I get pregnant and I’m too afraid to fly. And now there’s this pesky pandemic, which has slowed things down, especially travel. We speak to her often, but she has never held her grandbabies and it is heartbreaking.

“My mother is dying and you want to speak Hebrew!”

“I don’t want to speak Hebrew!” I yelled, “I was kicked out of Hebrew school! I want to, I just… I want… I…”

What did I want?

I thought long and hard before I continued, “I want our kids to know everything, and they do. They know Spanish, English and some Hebrew letters. And they know arts and crafts, math and science. I want them to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and see the Virgin on Dia de Guadalupe, and mostly, in the next two months, I want them to eat some turkey, light a menorah and pick out a Christmas tree. That is not how I was raised, but that’s what we’re doing.”

More silence followed, and finally, Adrian spoke in a quiet voice. “I don’t even understand Hanukkah.” And then Adrian did something he never does; he started to cry. And then I did something I had wanted to do for months: I hugged him really hard. After a long two hours of that, I asked him if he wanted to hear the story of Hanukkah.

“Not really,” he laughed.

But because I’m a pushy, Jewish woman, I told him anyway.

At the end of a turbulent 2020, Hanukkah means more to me this year. After all, the translation of the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication,” and most people don’t know that the Hanukkah miracle is never mentioned in the Torah. But, it is mentioned in the New Testament, the Catholic scripture. As the story goes, in the wake of turbulence, tragedy and the unknown, the Jews banded together and dedicated themselves to a cause.

What do we dedicate our time to? Since having children, I have dedicated myself to raising them with a dual faith. This isn’t always easy, because sometimes, no matter how much your significant other says they are all for it, there are going to be some tough discussions. It’s not always easy. The world will fall apart around us and we will feel chaos everywhere. Yet, our dedication is about lighting that menorah even during a disagreement.

Some Jews lit their menorahs in hiding during the Holocaust, and so I owe it to my ancestors and my family to carry out this tradition. Hanukkah is a festival of lights, and it is also a holiday about small miracles. We need to wake up to the small miracles some days not just the big ones.

I went back to my 2021 goals list. I added a number:

8. Be dedicated and keep looking forward.

I hope Adrian’s mother lives long enough to hold her grandchildren but I’m not sure that will happen. What I can be sure of is that we will continue to pray.

Two prayers, two cultures, two traditions, two faiths and two Gods live in my house. Well, really one God with two different names. And I can be sure that we are lighting a damn menorah this year, playing with dreidels, making latkes and leaving room for a tree, some stockings and a plate full of cookies. Then when 2021 rolls around, I can finally stop eating everything.

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Anna Keller

Author: Anna Keller


Anna Keller

Anna is a writer and teacher who lives in Brooklyn with her family.