It pleases me to wish all of you Happy Holidays, not Happy Christmas or Merry Christmas, which I had to endure for the decade I lived in England. I never thought I minded it until I returned to the United States; I thought it was quaint. I especially enjoyed the tradition of hand-delivering holiday cards and being invited in for tea. I've been doing the same in my new neighborhood—hand-delivering cards with thanks for warm welcomes into the community—but , sadly, have not been invited in for tea. I will have to do the inviting, which is fine by me.
We may be a dysfunctional nation right now, questioning our values, The Constitution—what it says and doesn't say—but one thing I know for certain: we are diverse, most of us respect and appreciate different traditions, and this respect is written into law. " Happy Holidays," embraces all traditions; I'm grateful we have evolved out of a primarily Christian season. Or, perhaps I should not use the word "grateful." We've worked hard to become a more tolerant nation.
Years ago, when our daughter was young and we lit the Chanukah candles and then went out to buy a tree, and played Santa on Christmas morning, a neighbor (from Germany) met us in the elevator as we were struggling with the tree and said, "Isn't your family Jewish? Why would you buy a tree?" Though I would have preferred to explain that our family is secular and intermarried, and that we enjoy all traditions in a non-religious way, and that I, especially, love sacred music and will go to a church on Christmas Eve any time, I could not resist a dig: "How Christian are you? Go to church often?, " or words to that effect. It was mean and un-necessary. This neighbor was a nice guy, we'd talked often, we liked each other. But he was philo-Semitic: aware of a Jew when he was, he imagined, in the presence of a Jew. Had I ever told him I was Jewish? I had not. So I'd been profiled, which is dangerous, to say the least, and often wrong. To imagine someone is one thing or another is an act of the imagination; it distorts reality. I could be Spanish, or Palestinian, or Moroccan, or Greek—originally or ancestrally—or whatever.
That was then, a while ago, this is now. All sorts of malignant sensations have been unleashed, including vicious racism, private hatreds expressed brazenly in the public sphere. And it's happened to me again, this time in a doctor's office, not a slur, not a smear, just philo-Semitism. Much more benign but troubling nonetheless.
New doctor, time for an annual exam. I got an earful. He'd had his DNA tested and was disappointed and somewhat relieved to learn that he was not one of the "tribe." "Which tribe?," I asked him sotto voce, as he was whispering this earth-shattering information to me in the examining room. "You know, the Jewish tribe." Again, I could not resist throwing stereotypes and expectations to the wind: "I don't know. I wouldn't know. Part of my family is from North Africa, part of it is Cree."
"No, Cree, from Saskatchewan. Native American, First American, as the Canadians call them, as they call us."
Was I being ornery or self-protective? Probably a little of both. The poor man looked stunned. Role reversal, I offered to take his blood pressure. I certainly didn't want him to take mine.