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I write, mostly to keep my head from exploding. It threatens to do that a lot. My blog is the pixelated version of all the voices in my head. I tend to dive into what connects me to God, my community, my family and my doubt. I do a lot of searching, not as much finding. I’m good with that. I have learned, finally, to live comfortably in the gray. In the meantime, I wrestle with God, and my doubt and my joy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Chanukah Matzo (yes, I said matzo)

The Christmas push is on. Red and green and bits of tinsel are being crammed into an aisle or two in many stores. An almost infinite variety of Christmas wrapping paper is quickly pushing out its more secular cousins. The generic metallic golds and blue-with-white-snowflakes papers can't compete for Santa Claus and Christmas tree eye candy. Last week, I was treated to a host of heavenly angels doing an easy-listening rendition of some carol or other. The ads are creeping with inexorable zeal into print, pixel and television, reminding the world that the season of giving (and buying) is nigh.

All this was a few days past Halloween. A week before Thanksgiving, the temperatures here in Chicago were a balmy 60 degrees and there were still more than a few trees clothed in green leaves. Ugh.

To be clear, this is not an anti-Christmas, War on the Holidays rant. I happen to love the Christmas season - I love the carols, having learned them in elementary school music classes, when it was still ok to sing them, and the only Chanukah tunes were the Dreidl Song and, um, well - that was it, so we all learned it and sang it, in between the four-part harmonies of Hark! How the Bells and Gloria in Eggshells is Day-o (or whatever the words were). I loved the Christmas specials on TV, the lights that twinkle on houses along my block, the trees that I see through picture windows, boughs spread so proudly, laden with baubles and silves and stars.

Nor is this a rant on the seepage of  the Christmas buying season into the days and weeks before its traditional launch on Black Friday (which now, apparently, is a month-long event in the eyes of marketers throughout the land). And bravo to those few, brave retailers who are advertising their refusal to open on Thanksgiving Day, to give people a chance to celebrate the holiday known for gratitude and thanks (and tryptophan comas on the couch, while the football is tossed about on national television)! Bravo, I say, bravo!

This is not even a rant on the derth of funky Chanukah songs and games and family fun activities that seem to just miss. Seriously - look at Mao Tzur. The song tells the story of this tremendous victory, a real David-and-Goliath story (by the people who invented David and Goliath; I mean, descended from the David of the David and Goliath story), of a small band of rag tag rebels who overcome the forces of evil with the help of a hammer and God - and we get a dirge to mark the occasion. I have a lot of musician friends who are writing and crafting fast, to change this, but change is sometimes painfully slow.

Here's the rant: even as we approach Chanukah, which seems, for so many, to wander through the calendar much as our ancestors wandered the desert, I know that the matzoh, kosher grape juice and yahrzeit candles won't be far behind.

Every Jewish holiday. Every time.

With the exception of those grocery stores in the more Jewish neighborhoods, every Jewish holiday meant a single aisle endcap display pf matzoh, grape juice and "jelly glass" candles. I'm 56 years old, and not much has changed in that time. When my son was little, he wistfully eyed the holiday finery that decked the aisles of every store I hauled him to - just as I had done when I was a kid. That the plastic toys and noisy-for-a-minute-until-the-batteries-died tchotckes were silly and cheap and would certainly be discarded within mere hours after I (or my mother back in the day) had caved was of no consequence.

And look, I am long past the days of yearning for a tree or a visit from Santa. I still love carols, still hate egg nog, have no problem with mall Santas and cashiers who wish me "Merry Christmas!" as they hand me my change. I still call it Christmas break rather than winter break when my son gets out of school, at least in my head.

Here's where I get stuck: matzoh, grape juice and candles.

Every Jewish holiday, for 56 years at least, that's what we get. And this goes way past the commercialism of holidays, Jewish or not. There is a recognition of the beliefs and ideals and existence that is far outside our community. You'd think, after all this time, after the science that marketing has become - where advertising and manipulation and cash go hand in hand in hand, these grocery stores would at least learn to distinguish which holiday requires matzoh, or when to lay out the yahrzeit candles. Apparently, we missed that radar.

Even more, there are still major retailers who refuse to carry Chanukah things in their glut of holiday merchandising. Refuse. In the 21st century, they are a picture of red and green and tinsel and bows, and they don't even throw us a bone of something in blue and white.

I'm not calling for a Marketing and Merchandising symposium, to ensure we Jews have a place at the tchotchke trough. What I'm saying is that we are Outsiders. Still. And this time of year, when the air is filled with family and community and love, it would be nice this year to feel that I was considered a part of that, regardless of my religious beliefs. It would be nice to feel as if I mattered.

It would be nice if the matzoh stayed in its crates in the warehouse, waiting for spring to come.