christmas is why i send my kids to a jewish school

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2 responses to “christmas is why i send my kids to a jewish school

  1. Philippa

    This post made me think a lot about the perceptions of ‘holidays’ that one experiences as an incomer. Most schools in Australia (including the local state primary that my two attend) are secular and there are no nativity plays or, as far as I can deduce, any mention of the ‘real’ Christmas story at school. I feel a little cheated by that, as the ritual subversion that occurs in many UK schools (as enacted in the film Love Actually) is to me part of the general British theatrical hilarity that comes from extrapolating many parts from a story with maybe a dozen actual roles or so… I was quite looking forward to the kids ending up as ‘third octopus’ or ‘rear end of sheep’ or something. I’m not sure what it says about my Christian upbringing that I don’t immediately and instinctively associate nativity plays with religion!

    Having lived in Glasgow myself in the past, I am of course aware that religion holds more intensity in that city than in many places elsewhere, and often not in a good way. Conversely, I haven’t struggled at all with the prevalence of secularism in the school system here generally, but instead, getting my head around the idea of Christmas taking place in 30-40 degree heat and coming at the end of the school year, and at the beginning of the long summer holiday, has been a stretch. Christmas – whether you subscribe to its spiritual significance or not – feels extremely odd when it’s not in winter. And that’s such a big part of Christmas for many non-Christians in the northern hemisphere, not so much the materialistic consumer orgy (though that is undeniably a core feature), but the relief and demarcation offered by a midwinter festival of light that many religions celebrate one way or another (pine trees are pagan in origin aren’t they?) Fortunately winter in June/July is no real hardship at this latitude, but I wonder if it would become horribly tedious here if the climate and hours of daylight were more Glaswegian? Probably. The midwinter need to celebrate light and new life, in some fashion – well, there’s a lot in that. I guess for you, Hanukkah fits here?

    I’ve come to terms with the Ozzie way now, as we’ve had enough time to build up our own traditions (camel riding on Christmas eve, Christmas morning on the beach, etc.). But I am intrigued by your religious evolution and why you have felt the need to assert this aspect of your identity by sending your children to a Jewish school when (you imply) that you do not believe in God. Would you have been content to leave them in the local school if it had been entirely secular in nature? Just wondering…

  2. hot christmases must feel strange! and point taken that the holiday is about different things to different people. the best i can to do explain why i send my kids to a jewish school when i don’t believe in god is to invoke an idiosyncratic feature of judaism, which i think makes it unique amongst the other major world religions. and that is the idea of being culturally jewish but not religiously so (i’ve never heard anyone describe themselves as a ‘cultural christian’). this paradox was summed up brilliantly as being ‘jew-ish’ but not ‘jewish’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/nov/30/jewish-judaism-jonathan-margolis). there is so much about the school’s curriculum that i embrace – the holidays observed, the culture imparted, the hebrew language lessons learned (and french too!) – that is distinct from the praying bit. my feeling on that score was that the kids were going to get god wherever they went to school and i was more comfortable, because of my upbringing, going with the devil i knew, pun intended ;). i am thinking hard about whether this choice was, as you describe it, a way to ‘assert’ my identity. maybe it was. my relationship with judaism, i realized as i wrote this piece, has become more complicated than i thought. as for whether i would have been happy sending them to the local primary had it been entirely secular, the honest answer to that is i just don’t know. i could only make the decision based on the available options, but no, it wasn’t solely to avoid the nativity play (as i point out in the first paragraph).

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