Happy Holidays! A Time to Remember That What We Need Can Be Fought For and Won

As many people do, I have almost always looked forward to the holidays. When I was a child, I looked forward to gifts. As a student and teacher, I looked forward to a vacation from school. For most of my life, I looked forward to getting together with family and friends. However, there were years in college and as a teenager that I dreaded the holidays, especially the New Year, if I didn’t have a party to go to or a date.

 

The holidays have become so commercial that many now dread them. This commercialization is characteristic of our contemporary culture and it buries the deeper meaning of such moments in time. My wife and I ignore gift-giving for ourselves. The only gift we give each other is our presence.But for the children we know and charities⎼ that is a different story.

 

The holidays could be so rich. Hanukah is a festival of light and freedom. Kwanzaa of family, community, and culture. Christmas of joy in the birth of Jesus. So many holidays.

 

Humans have celebrated the winter holidays possibly forever. The time is obviously near the solstice and the longest reign of night, at least in the Northern hemisphere where I live. For us northerners, it is the darkest and coldest time. It is traditionally a time to engage in rituals to assure that the sun will come again, that spring will follow winter, renewal follow hibernation, warmth follow cold.

 

Many holidays have this sacred dimension or shadow that connects us to a depth of history. This history is not just about days of religious significance. These holidays provide workers a break from intense labor. They signify a recognition of shared humanity, however dim that recognition often was in the past and might be so again today.

 

Every one of us needs time to rest and connect with others. Every one of us needs time to step back and contemplate why we are here on this earth, to renew our selves, our relationships with fellow humans and the earth that sustains us. The fact that we have days of rest is beyond a right; it is a sacred necessity.

 

Americans, as well as people from most nations, fought in the past for a five-day workweek. They fought against those who would oppress them and were successful. But today, the GOP are giving to the rich and taking from most of us, so we need to fight this same battle once again.

 

This year, everything is both normal, like always, and yet totally different from any other time. Never have Americans had a President who has threatened so many of our values and institutions, and who brings with him the possibility of a truly frightening future. Yet, day follows night. We wake from sleep. Many things continue as they have.

 

Much is changing; much is staying relatively the same. It is time to determine exactly what, on the level of our daily lives, might benefit from a change. For many of us, it might be finding ways, each day, we can integrate opposing the President and his cabinet and working for justice and democracy. Or there might be local issues that drive us. We might dedicate ourselves to improving our understanding of history and ourselves.

 

This time of ritually facing the darkest time of year might remind us that in some ways, this is what nature calls to us to do, to face the darkness so the light will come again.

 

Have a great holiday season and New Year. Renew, enjoy, and celebrate with friends and family. It is something we all need, deserve, and share. It is a reminder that we do share so much, and that what we need can be fought for and won.

The Boy Who Thought He Was The Messiah

A story I wrote a few years ago:

I was in the third grade when I first thought I might be the Messiah. This was back in the fifties and I was attending one of those elementary schools in Queens, New York that had no name, only a number, PS 46 or 192 or 238. It was the usual type of building, red brick with bars on the windows.

 

The thought came to me soon after an incident in the morning assembly. The principal, like usual, had walked onto the stage at eighty thirty a. m., flanked by two of the oldest teachers in the school, and told us all to bow our heads as he got ready to read us a prayer. This was before the Supreme Court had outlawed this sort of bowing in schools.

 

Seated in the audience, I remembered being told in Hebrew School that Jewish people do not bow their heads, at all, to anyone, except in G-d’s own house and to Him only. Bowing outside of G-d’s house would be to acknowledge a god other than the Almighty.

 

Back then I thought of Him in a very spatial way. He was The Man Upstairs, looking down on us all. And even though I had never met Him, at least not face-to-face, I clearly wanted no trouble with Him. Sure, I was very curious. I mean, He was quite a celebrity and I wanted to know all the details about Him, like what He looked like and if He held a grudge.

 

But none of the answers I was given made any sense. The adults that I talked with obviously knew no more about Him than I did. So, I wouldn’t bow my head. My unbowed head attracted attention. I was taken to the principal’s office and my parents were called.

 

I remember sitting outside his office. The halls were empty, as everyone else was still in the assembly. Despite the isolation, I felt safe, because wasn’t G-d who inhabits the heavens and created the universe larger than a principal who inhabits a dusty eight by ten office? The principal was physical, someone I could touch and see, but who could touch G-d? Who could see eternity? My math teacher couldn’t even define ‘eternity.’ And especially to the limited view of an eight year old, this principal could be defined quite easily.

 

As students and teachers began to crash through the halls to their classrooms, his secretary rushed me into the principal’s office. The move was so abrupt as to be almost violent, and I began to wonder what it was about my action that had brought this on.

 

For a moment I faced doubt. My knees began to shake. I felt I was walking a tightrope of mind, stretched between what I assumed to be Heaven and what I feared to be Hell.

 

Then the principal entered. He tried to look angry and severe but it was too difficult a job for him. Confusion seemed more appropriate. “How could this eight year old boy,” he must have been thinking, “defy my authority, defy my whole idea of what should be happening, defy my whole notion of God?” He didn’t realize that we were talking of two different deities, his and mine. His, I could defy quite easily. But not mine, not the Almighty, Blessed Be He. He was Christian and I was Jewish and I would not let my religion be placed second to any other.

 

I must admit that the whole incident might have arisen from my looking around for something to act up about. You know how life is; it just goes by, day by day, and we read about exciting and courageous deeds that other people do but we don’t see them, not often, not first hand. And to live one? To live a heroic moment, to live as the Hero of G-d—how could I give up the opportunity?….

 

To read the whole story, go to Heart And Humanity magazine.