Friday, December 25, 2009

My Mother's Merry Chrismukkah

Here's proof that somehow my mother and I have switched roles and I've become her mother:  I'm the big Jew in the family and she's rejected all of our traditions.  Now she's constantly on the defensive with me, trying to justify her lack of adherence.

Two days ago Bar Mitzvahzilla, Daughter and I went over there - that would be on December 23rd. I knew from other Decembers that it would be a shock walking in, but still.  My Holocaust Survivor mother's house, filled with Christmas tchochkes.  And she's so proud of them, trying to take the kids on a tour of Christmas in her family room.  Did they notice the Santa with the full sleigh of Christmas cards from all her old real estate clients she never told she was Jewish?  Did they notice the tinsel, the little Christmas tree, the garlands, the lights, the reindeer, the candles?

My kids and I stood there like triplet biblical Moses', our mouths hanging open.  We were appalled. She realized the kids didn't want a tour of the winter wonderland, and then she looked at me and said, "What?"

"Ma, look at your house! What kind of role model are you for the kids?  You're their Jewish bubbe! And you're a Holocaust Survivor! You're supposed to be my backup here."

She said, "I have something for Hanukah." And she pointed to a thin, scraggly piece of dreidel garland, covered with dust, nearly obscured by the blinking Christmas lights nearby.

This is how I know that my life has descended into irony, that I've crossed the final line, and that I'm raising my mother, and badly.  I can't make her a Jew.  I don't even know how I made myself a Jew.

One time when I was a kid in Skokie we found a tiny, white, plug-in Christmas tree in the alley behind our house and we snuck it inside our laundry room.  I remember the hemming and hawing, trying to figure out the best way to ask mom if we could keep it - like it was a load of heroin we had stashed in the basement. Finally we told her and she came for an inspection.  It was a cheerful little thing, blinking on and off like a migraine headache.  She said, "You can keep it if you hide it down here.  Just don't let your grandmother see it."

And we sat there, for a couple weeks at least, mom sewing, the little tree blinking, me playing Barbies.  Ar least until the day my dad burst in and found it, snapped it half, and hid it in a non-Jewish neighbor's garbage can. Even our garbage had to be Jewish.

My mother now has a blinking tree.  My dad - long dead - gets me.


  1. wow, how ?????
    You would wonder, I think....considering. I can't say anything coherent
    skokie is pretty rascist if I know my geography correctly. Isn't that the place of the infamous kkk march? Through a traditionally Jewish neighborhood? Maybe it has been hard for your mom because she was a holocaust survivor and she felt she needed to come to this new place and assimilate. I can hear the heartbreak in your voice because you are trying to hold on to you're identity. You are trying to instill some pride of or for you identity in your kids...and to see your mom basically 'sell out'. maybe that is too harsh a term..but kind of assimilate a little too hard. My mom never took me to church. I went on my own from the age of five. I felt like there were times when I had to raise my mom as well. There was a kind of adolescent backlash after her divorce from the second jerk she had married. long story.
    wow. Well, you are the mother now...and you get to instill all the traditions you want with your kids. With such a rich and varied history, it's something you can do with a great deal of pride.
    G*d bless,

  2. It's funny how roles between parents and children change over the years.

    I am so amazed at the weight you have lost. And 9 years? You give me such hope. Do you mind if I ask you how you do it now? Maintenance. Do you count calories? Exercise a lot? Just curious.

    Sometimes I wish a had a real culture or religion. I was brought up a heathen.

  3. Chris, my mother was actually religious before the war, though she was young, but because of her wartime experiences she kind of lost her faith. Now I figure she just doesn't feel safe with it.

    As far as Skokie, we moved before the Nazi marching thing, but they were coming into Skokie from outside of Skokie to march there on purpose because they knew there were so many survivors who lived there. Skokie has had a significant Jewish population since the 1950s. Interesting, huh?

    I am happy that at least my kids feel the same way I do about being Jewish!

  4. Hi Learning, Thanks for visiting the blog.

    I've used WW points for years because I find that they give me tons of flexibility (heavy lunch/light dinner - heavy dinner/light lunch -etc.) and I work out 6 times a week now, but not at the beginning. I slowly increased over time. But I haven't gone to WW since 2000 and I use a really old version, like from the last time I joined, and I use a lot of logic, allowing a lot of flexibility in fruits and don't count vegetables. I also stopped eating the things I used to binge on, period.

    Maybe sometime I'll put a fat pic on here just to nauseate everyone!

    By the way, it's been great watching your journey and amazing determination!

  5. I could see how her war time experiences may have cost her alot in terms of faith.
    I have read quite a few books about the shoah. They were horrific to read, let alone live through.
    Just making it was a triumph.
    I am glad your kids share your love of your faith.

  6. Wow! Linda, I love this post. Probably my favorite of yours since I started reading Bar Mitzvahzilla last month. There are so many layers of meaning here - about religion, family, finding and losing faith. (I wonder if you might be able to shop this as the start of a feature in some magazine's 2010 holiday issue?)

  7. Thanks, Kristen. I do have a lot to say about this whole faith and the holidays thing. Maybe I'll spruce this up and do that.

  8. I've been looking all over for this!