Levels of Intolerance

Sometimes the holiday season makes me crazy. I can point you to posts that I have written about the hypocrisy of being asked to give once a year or the issues with the Salvation Army guy. I can show you the silly and the sublime in all of this. Recollections of fantasy and fact.

But I always find myself getting stuck in the same places. I think of them or it as levels of intolerance.

These are the posts where I tell you that there is no such thing as a Chanukah bush and that Jews who have them should call them what they are…Christmas trees. In years past I was far more vocal about it. I made it clear that I think it is wrong to do so.

Read through the archives and you’ll find the posts where I engaged in some pretty vociferous arguments with people about what should or shouldn’t happen. Every time I did I thought about what I was doing and asked myself several questions:

1) Was it right or fair for me to judge others?

2) Would I change my mind or convince others to change their opinions?

3) Were my words a help or a hindrance?

I am not just a guy, I am a father. I take that role seriously. I may screw around with comments about being the greatest daddy blogger ever but I don’t lose sight of what I am trying to do. I am trying to raise menschen. I am trying to raise good children of character, worth and value. Good children who make a difference in the world and are productive members of society.

So I look again at my levels of intolerance and apply it to my children. The answer to whether it is ok to be judgmental is simple. It is yes. I have to be. I have to make decisions about all of the facets of their lives. I make decisions about education, religion, nutrition and morals. I look at their friends and try to steer them away from those who will get them into trouble.

They aren’t automatons. My children make decisions on their own, but they require guidance. My levels of intolerance can be viewed in lots of different ways. Some people will nod their heads and agree with me. Others will look at me and walk away because I have pricked the bubble of their levels of intolerance.

I teach my children to judge people based upon their actions. I teach them that race, religion, color and creed are not suitable for making decisions about people. But the levels of intolerance make some of those discussions more challenging.

They have cousins whose parents are raising them to be Christian children who occasionally experience brief moments of Jewish life. They light a menorah each year and show up at a Passover seder. They enjoy the family aspect and the culture, but the religious component is lost upon them. My children have known for years that Santa isn’t real and have been taught not to ruin it for other kids.

But kids push and prod. Some try to taunt and the words fly out, “Santa isn’t real- your parents are faking him.” This is not what I want, but I am not responsible for helping to facilitate this lie. I have done all that I could to prevent the discussion.

I am caught in the middle. Orthodox relatives and friends tell me that since I have fallen off of the derech I am not allowed to talk this way. I don’t keep Kosher and I am not Shomer Shabbos, so why do I dare to say these things. I look at them and we engage in hard core debate about this and that. But we come to an agreement…sort of.

We are committed to ensuring that the kids stay Jewish and they accept that though my way is not theirs it is likely to happen. So I revisit my levels of intolerance and ask why I can’t extend the same level of courtesy to those who put the tree in the house.

And I come back to the same places. It is my line in the sand. The tree is beautiful. The festivities are lovely. It is much easier to assimilate. It is much easier to give in and I see this as a gateway.

I accept that I might be wrong, but the stories I heard as a child stay with me. Relatives fled Europe and pogroms for the safety of America. There are pictures of those who didn’t. Those are pictures of the dead not because of old age but because of the Nazis. I will not help Hitler reach out from the gates of hell and grab more of us.

But I will work harder to mask my levels of intolerance from my children and those who do other than I wish they would. I am allowed, entitled and permitted to be judgmental and so are they. They can do as they wish in their homes and it is not for me to say otherwise.

I am curious to see if over time my feelings change. I have mellowed on this. Maybe it is because I have fewer and fewer concerns that my children will want these things for our home. I am not really sure.

All I know is that each year I will continue to explore my levels of intolerance.

There Are No Jewish Christmas Trees & Santa Isn’t Real

Eleven years ago I would stare at my pregnant wife’s belly and wonder whether we were going to have a boy or a girl. I’d put my hand on her stomach and talk to the baby inside and promise that I would do everything in my power to give him or her the best life they could ask for.

When December rolled around and we started the ‘baby watch’ I really began thinking hard about all of the things that were going to come along with being a father. Part of that process for me included trying to think of really hard questions and how to answer them. Looking back on that time I can’t help but laugh at some of it.

Call it anxiety, nerves or whatever you want. I was terribly excited but I did wonder how some of it would go in real life.

Midway through the month one of the men in my office told me that he thought it was so cool that my children would get to celebrate with a real “Jewish Christmas tree” and that he was jealous that I would get to play Santa Claus.

I looked him in the eye and told him that there are NO “Jewish Christmas trees” and that I wouldn’t teach my children to believe in Santa Claus.

He told me that if I did that I was depriving my children of something special and that he thought I was wrong. I shook my head and told him that they would never miss it because it is not our holiday and that it was ridiculous to suggest that. As you might imagine the conversation had gotten a little bit heated and neither one of us was interested in backing down.

When I look back at that moment I see exactly where and when we trampled on each others beliefs and had I to do it over I might handle it differently.

It isn’t because I have changed my mind. There are NO “Jewish Christmas Trees” any more there are pregnant men. I know that some people disagree with this and that there are Jews who put up a tree in their home. That is not something that I can get behind or support. It is a hot button issue for myself and lots of others but there isn’t a way to spin it.

It may not be for me or my place to judge but I have more respect for the members of the tribe that are honest about it. If you put up a tree call it what it is. Don’t call it a “Chanukah bush” because it isn’t and it never will be.

But Santa Is Fun

My former colleague was more irate about my refusal to teach my children that Santa was real than about the tree. He told me that he thought it was terrible and that if my kids went to school and said he wasn’t real they would wreck Christmas for others.

I told him that I would teach my kids not to talk to the other children in school about it but that was as much of a compromise as I was willing to make on the issue. If my memory is accurate he didn’t speak to me again until well into January.

After a decade of parenting I think that I have a better understanding of some of these issues than I did. The joy and innocence of a child is precious and I have done my best to protect it for my kids. I expect no less from other parents.

Yet I can’t say that I feel guilty about teaching my kids that Santa isn’t real. It is not my responsibility or obligation to do otherwise. I am their father and my job is focus on passing along the values that I see as important and my religious traditions/beliefs will not be trampled on.

All that being said I can’t remember a time where any of this was a serious issue. No one has ever said anything to me that suggested that a problem has been created because of this. And my children have never felt like they were missing out.

I think that in part it is because I haven’t ever taught them that one is better than the other. When they have asked me about other religions I have always told them that people are entitled to believe what they want provided that they aren’t hurting others because of their beliefs.

And thanks to our neighbors we have had many opportunities to enjoy a tree in their home. It smells great and looks pretty- but it doesn’t belong in our home.

A Father’s Religious Obligations

And the story goes like this:

There is a knock on the front door followed by a dog parking and the sounds of children running to see who is there. Dad shouts from across the house not to open the door before he gets there, the kids yell back “ok” and the dog just barks.

It took all of thirty seconds for me to cover the vast expanse of the family estate to reach the front gates of the castle. I saw two twenty something men standing there. They were wearing backpacks, dressed in slacks and a tie. It was clear from the get go that I had a pair of missionaries on my hands. I issued a silent curse and rolled my eyes. If it hadn’t been environmentally unfriendly I would still have a moat surrounding the castle and I wouldn’t be dealing with these two boys.  In fact if it hadn’t been for the economy they would have been met by the chief of the watch and sent along their way.

Unfortunately I had to let him and the rest of my men go. I sighed deeply. In my grandfather’s day they didn’t worry about this sort of thing. If things got tight you squeezed the peasants and if you couldn’t do that you just conscripted them into your army and went a plundering and a pillaging. Damn this kinder, gentler world we live in.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my writing or otherwise slow to catch on that was all tongue in cheek. I most certainly do not live in a castle. Unless things change dramatically my kids aren’t going to inherit a vast empire or grow up as trust fund babies who are able to run amok and get into trouble because daddy’s money/influence is there to bail them out. However they do have a different sort of inheritance that I think is worth far more than cash and property.

They are Jewish and part of something that is exceptional.

Parental Philosophy/Obligations

Exceptional doesn’t mean that I think that by virtue of being Jewish that we are better people.  Race/Religion/Color doesn’t bestow magical properties or powers upon anyone. I know Jews who are miserable people that I never want to associate with or be associated with. I can say the same about any group. Read my posts, talk to me and you know that I teach my children to be judgmental. Judge people based upon their actions and respond accordingly.

As a parent it is incumbent upon me to provide my children with an education that encompasses the secular and religious worlds. So it is my choice to decide what religious upbringing they will receive and how it will be implemented. You don’t get to tell them to go to hell- that is my job. And if you tell my children to go to hell you will likely receive my size 12 boot up your ass. I don’t take kindly to it. I am not a good person to witness or proselytize to. I will tell you that I am not interested and then if you insist on speaking I will lay into you and attempt to verbally flay your skin from your bones.

But if you come to my home I am even less tolerant. So let’s take a second step back and review what happened when the lads approached the door.

I opened it and politely asked them what I could do. It was possible that I was wrong and I figured that they deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Are you of the Jewish faith,” asked the first boy.

Here is a PSA for those who care, members of the tribe don’t speak that way. If you say faith I know that you aren’t batting for the same side and I wonder what you want. So when the guy asked me I said yes and asked him what I could do for him. He responded by telling me that he had a gift. I don’t claim to be the smartest guy, but I am a city kid. Ed McMahon is dead and this guy wasn’t carrying an oversized check so I was skeptical about his gift. When I asked him what sort of gift it was he told me that it was a DVD that some man I had never heard of made.

When I asked him to tell me what was on it he hesitated and then hemmed and hawed.  Might as well dress up as a red flag sonny boy. You can’t come to the front door and talk about a gift and then not come out and say what it is. It makes people wonder what you are hiding. I politely pressed him on this and he told me to just take it and watch it. I refused and asked him to tell me what was on it- except this time I added a little edge to my voice.

Finally he told me that it was a gift that would change my life and that of my family because it offered something that I didn’t have.

And that is when I laid  into him and his friend. I told him that I thought that it was offensive to knock on my door on my Sabbath and ask me to watch something that  is going to tell me that I am wrong and raising my children in the wrong way.  I asked him what he would do if I told him that he was part of a cult that followed a mythological beast. I asked him what he would do if I told him that if he didn’t believe as I do he would suffer eternal torment and he visibly blanched. And then I asked him to think about what he was doing and suggested that others might be less charitable in their response.

Offending Others

When I took a few minutes to think about it I decided that I came on too strongly.  I have other things on my mind and was already feeling edgy when they got here. However his initial refusal to be honest about his intentions and purpose set me off as did his coming to my home. I appreciate faith. I understand that some people are convinced that they have something special and wish to share it with others but I think that there are better ways to do it.

I know why I believe what I believe. I am very confident in it. I do not believe in giving children a choice in religion. That is the rule in my house. I am not telling other parents that they have to do it my way. My children receive a secular and religious education so that when they are older they will have the tools and background to make educated decisions. They made decide to do something else. I hope not, but when they are adults that will be their choice and not mine.

I’ll fight to protect your right to practice your religion insofar as it doesn’t infringe upon others.

On a side note, I will never understand how some people can engage in witnessing and then be upset when I witness right back to them. Like I said, I don’t care what you believe as long as it is not hurting others or being forced upon me. If you try to witness after I have said not interested than you have given me license to say what I will. How can you keep a straight face and complain that I am being offensive.

Bottom line- it is my job to provide a religious education for my children and I won’t allow that to be taken away.

A Bad Case Of Blog Envy/Jealousy

I recently received an anonymous email that accused me of having a bad case of blog envy. It seems that they think that I must be very bitter that I don’t have more readers and that the brands haven’t bequeathed their bounty upon me.

It was kind of fun to read. Been a while since I got anything that resembled hate mail at least something that didn’t go off onto some antisemitic or anti-Israel rant. One of my favorites was the email that went on about Palin the Prophet. I responded to them that they mean to write Profit, but I never did hear back from them. Darn.

Anyway, back to my new friend the anonymous emailer. In my younger years I would have shared your email with all 17 of the longtime readers and the few stragglers that come along for the ride. But the kinder, gentler, er, dumber Jack accidentally deleted it and emptied the trash so we’ll have to do without for now.

Here is my response to your comments. I don’t spend any time courting the brands. I don’t pitch PR agencies about my blog. Don’t spend any time talking to them about how influential my blog is. And I don’t lose any sleep over that.

I don’t feel an ounce of remorse for writing that some of the bloggers who are currently considered to be popular and or powerful would not be without gifts to give away. Their content is weak and their community is dependent upon the gifts they give.

This joint has moments of brilliance and moments of mediocrity. Over time it has developed a respectable following. I won’t deny that I think it would be great to have six times as many uniques and ten times the number of comments. It would be great.

But I want to earn that. I don’t want to by popularity. We’re not the Yankees. We don’t use our enormous payroll to buy championships. We earn them.

Anyway, I appreciate your note and hope that you stick around for a while. Leave me a comment or two- show some love ‘cuz a bitter old guy like me can use it. 😉

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Wrestling With Atonement- Yom Kippur Kraziness

I am willing to bet that few people have written a post about Yom Kippur while listening to Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music. It is not really the sort of music that one thinks about as setting a proper mood for introspection but it happens to be what is playing on iTunes right now. In another moment I’ll shift gears and put on something more appropriate, but this will work for now.

In a relatively short period of time the sun will rise and set and rise and set and another Yom Kippur will have come and gone. And so I find myself sitting in the dark contemplating what it all means to me and what I have learned.

I’ll start out by quoting from Moments When I feel Closest To G-d:

“I have written a number of times about my struggles with G-d, how I Yelled
at G-d
and the challenges I have had with davening. If you are really interested you can read more here, here and here. There are probably a couple more links but that is enough time shilling for my own blog.

If you are here you are probably interested in what I have to say or trapped beneath a heavy object and unable to do move away from the keyboard. If you are trapped and without an internet connection I encourage you to search for meaning in what I say, I do all the time because what is the purpose of living if there is no meaning in life.

That is not really tongue in cheek, it is just my wry sense of humor saying that we all need to find a reason to be here and that it is an individual thing that does not have to mirror your neighbor.”

I used to dislike Yom Kippur immensely. I didn’t really find meaning in it. It was a day that seemed to be predicated upon enduring being uncomfortable. I didn’t find the davening to be significant, meaningful or interesting. Most of the people around me spent the time in shul complaining about something and few had anything positive to say.

At some point that feeling changed, but I can’t say when. I have been trying to figure out when and what changed, but it is like grabbing smoke. The harder I try the harder it is to determine. So if you’ll bear with me I am going to to just ramble a bit.

Unetaneh Tokef grabs me

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written and Yom Kippur it is sealed
How many shall pass on and how many shall come to be;
who shall live and who shall die;
who shall see ripe old age and who shall not;
who shall perish by fire
and who by water;
who by sword and who by beast;
who by hunger and who by thirst;”

Part of me shrugs my shoulder at it all. It is easy to blow it off and say that people die, earthquakes happen, fires burn and the world goes on. Certainly I won’t say that divine punishment is the reason for natural disasters. Neither will I say that some people die early because of some unknowable divine plan. That is not how I roll.

But I have come to appreciate setting aside time to sit down and take a hard look at my life. It is not always easy to engage in that sort of introspection, to take a hard look at the good and the bad. And that is what I do.

I try to take time to consider who I am. I am a flawed individual. There are many things that I need to improve upon. It would be unfair, unreasonable and unwarranted to suggest otherwise. I have made mistakes that I am very sorry for. I have traveled upon some dark roads that I wish that I could have avoided.

I don’t expect to find salvation by admitting all my sins. I don’t believe that with a few words they can all just be forgiven and washed away. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Neither do I believe that I should engage in endless self-flagellation for them.

What I will try to do is the best I can to improve. I’ll do what I can not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to try and be better for the future. A large part of that effort will be spent on trying to help my children avoid the pitfalls that I fell for and into. It was a challenging year, but that is how it goes.

So here we are at the end of the post. Have I learned anything more about myself? Nope. Not sure that I have done much other than babble. But I am a believer in the exercise so if I am still blogging you can expect to see this kind of post again.

And for what it is worth, if I have offended or upset you my sincere apologies.

G’mar Chatima Tova. I wish you an easy fast. May you be inscribed and sealed.