Thursday, November 29, 2012

Xmas Trees and the Jewish Home

Question of the Week:
I am in a tricky situation. My sister and her husband are spending Chanukah with us. Her husband is not Jewish and so they usually celebrate both Chanukah and Xmas with their kids. They would like us to do the same this year. Should I have a tree and a family Xmas celebration in my home to accommodate my brother in law? I know he would do anything to accommodate us in his home, but I don't really want my kids celebrating Xmas. Am I being unfair?
The family home is an identity factory. It is in here that experiences are shared that form the picture of who we are. And children need a clear identity. The one thing kids cannot tolerate is ambiguity. If they are given mixed signals and wishy-washiness at home then they will seek identity from the outside, like TV or their friends. If you as parents want to be the ones to impart identity to children, then you need to be clear about your own identity in your own home.
For children to have a positive Jewish identity they must know who they are, and be proud of it. You need a good reason to be different when living as a minority in a welcoming society. But to celebrate a non-Jewish holiday, especially with their own family in their own home, is confusing and unsettling. We should teach our children to respect other cultures, but that doesn't mean actively celebrating them.
You are not being unfair in insisting that your home be exclusively Jewish. The fact that your sister and brother in law would accommodate your practices is in keeping with the way they have chosen to bring up their children. For them it is not a contradiction to incorporate Jewish practices in their home. But this is not the nature of your home, and so it is wrong to expect you to change your home's atmosphere for them.
Some think that this is a closed-minded and narrow view. They believe we should embrace all cultures and religions, and expose our kids to as much variety as possible to let them choose their own identity. But the truth is, if we give our kids a taste of every culture, we are actually giving them no culture. You can only be truly open to others when you are clear about your own identity.
Give your kids a clear sense of self, and they won't feel threatened by others. When they can confidently say, "I know who I am," they can be secure enough to ask, "And who are you?"
Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Moss

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