By Lauren Bander, NFTY-SW
As you pull up to my house this time of year, you’ll see bright blue lights lining my roof. As you walk through the front door, my dining room table is set up with a Star of David-patterned tablecloth, dreidels, and Hanukkiahs. As you look across into the living room, a brightly-colored Christmas tree will catch your eye. As you step into the room, you’ll find my family’s “Hanukkah bush” in the corner: a small tree decorated with a Star of David topper and Jewish-themed ornaments.
If you can’t tell, I belong to an interfaith family, and we celebrate both the Jewish and Christian holidays.
I have always identified as Jewish, more than I have with any other religion—I spent my childhood in Hebrew school, I “took the plunge” into the mikvah, I became a bat mitzvah on my 13th birthday, and now I am an active member of NFTY Southwest. This past year, my connection with Judaism has gotten stronger than ever before thanks to my love for NFTY, and I am grateful for the feeling of belonging to a kehilah kedosha when I express my Judaism. But this time of year, I feel like I may be lacking some of that Jewish-ness due to my family’s traditions: I grew up believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and I spent major Christian holidays with my extended family (my family mostly celebrates the Christian holidays without their religious meanings and focus on appreciating family, anyways). Most NFTY participants spend December 25th partaking in “Jewish Christmas”—you know, the stereotype of eating Chinese food and going to the movie theater like any regular day. But not me.
For some, being distinctive from other religions is part of their Jewish identity. I know I’ve always taken pride in being different, and my Judaism helped me with that. Sometimes I enjoy being one of a handful of Jews at my school because I get to express my individuality through my religion. But on this day, I’m not different from anybody else. And I’m not a part of the same community as many of my NFTY friends, either. It’s like I’m Jew-ish, but not Jewish.
I have to explain to everyone that despite being outspoken about my Judaism, and although I have never attended a church service, I still celebrate Christmas and Easter. I still know some Bible basics. I still have connections to different religions.
My mom was born into an interfaith family as well, with a Buddhist woman from Japan as her mother and a Lutheran man from America as her father. Then there’s my dad, who was born and raised Jewish. So, as a baby, my parents gave the embarrassing nickname of “Bulujew,” which is a combination of all three religions: Buddhism, Lutheranism, and Judaism. From this I learned that no matter what, I am a little bit of everything, and that’s okay. I don’t have to be just one thing.
Part of being in an interfaith family is learning to respect all traditions. That lesson comes when people are exposed to cultures different from their own; I was born with that exposure. I learned to appreciate both sides of my family: both the Jewish and the Christian traditions. (Unfortunately, I have nearly no knowledge of Buddhism, but I wish I had more.) There’s a reason my family keeps up our “Hanukkah bush” in our living room year round: we choose to celebrate Chrismukkah, as it embodies us and all we stand for. We’re mixed, and we embrace it.
That thought at the back of my mind saying, “You’re not Jewish enough,” is wrong because no one is sitting there marking down how many mitzvahs you do, how many Shabbat services you attend, or how you celebrate during the holidays. The reality is, you decide how you identify, nothing else. How I spend my December 25th does not decide that for me. I’ve decided that I am Jewish and interfaith, and no, they do not contradict each other. I can be me: a NFTY-loving, Christmas-celebrating Jewish girl on her own journey of self-acceptance. And however you identify yourself—by your religion, your sexuality, your gender, whatever it may be—you can be you.