That pic above is the kind of information I didn’t have as a kid. I grew up as a Catholic kid in a middle class neighborhood in upstate New York. So, you would think that if I’m in New York there would be a lot of Jewish people around. You are sadly mistaken.
New York is a pretty big state. There’s upstate and downstate. Downstate is New York City, Long Island and a couple counties just north of New York City. That whole area is a five hour drive from where I live. The downstate area is filled with many unique, wonderful cultures, and the Jewish community is one of them. The upstate part of New York is more homogenized, although there are some quirky cultural things going on in different places.
When I grew up, I didn’t think that I knew anyone that was Jewish. I was sheltered. My Irish Catholic mother was too busy training me to be the next Pope. It wasn’t until I went away to college at 17 that I really discovered the Jewish religion. Many of my college friends were from downstate and chose to go to college upstate.
For me it was fun learning about the Jewish religion from my friends, and I was thrilled one year when my friend gave me a dreidel and taught me the song: “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, I made it out of clay, and when it’s dried and ready, oh dreidel we will play.” Thank you my college friend Gary. That song has been in my head every December since we met.
After having many Jewish friends in college and learning what surnames were most likely to be Jewish, I realized that I had had Jewish friends my entire life and just didn’t know it.
As an adult I’ve always craved learning about other cultures and religions because I felt like I grew up very generically. Go watch That 70’s show. I think the parents in that show were modeled after my parents. In the picture below, I was most likely to be Eric (actor Topher Grace) in the top right.
At the end of the day though, there’s almost really no difference between religions and the people that practice them. Every religion has different repetitive, quirky traditions and every religion in the world is based on the “magic guy in the sky” premise, so who cares if someone wears a different hat or says a different prayer? At 17 I thought my Jewish friends were this new and interesting novelty when it turned out that I had Jewish friends my whole life.
During the holiday season when Hanukkah and Christmas overlap, it feels like Hanukah doesn’t get the big publicity that Christmas does, and that’s a shame because they have 8 days of one holiday. If that’s not an excuse to day drink, I don’t know what is. Anyway, I just want to say Happy Hanukkah to all the Jewish friends that I’ve had in my life, even the ones that I didn’t know were Jewish. Now that they know I know, I hope they don’t expect eight presents times the number of years that I didn’t know they were Jewish.
If I could ask my Jewish friends one favor it is this: Could you decide on one spelling of your holiday?
Shalom and Happy Chanukah my friends~ Phil