This is what I remember.
We only ever had a Christmas tree when my brother was living with us. He was half and half. That’s what we called it.
I don’t know at what age you actually understand what having a half-sibling means. To me it meant my brother hated my Mother and that he tolerated my sister and I. My first real memories of him are when I was 4 and he was 12. Being a 12-year-old boy with my mom as a step-mother must have sucked. And I saw how much it sucked, and took it in as much as a 4-year-old could. I heard the screaming fights, I knew my mom put newspaper in the hallway by my bedroom door so if he decided to harm us in the middle of the night she would hear. That must have sucked the most. Knowing your step-mother thought those things about you and your father didn’t stop it. If I think about it long enough my heart starts to break.
It must have really sucked for this other reason too. This is what else I remember. His mother only visited once. Maybe I’m wrong and it was a few more times than that, but it couldn’t have been too many, or I would have remembered.
So of course when it came to the holidays my father would be very careful to make sure my brother, who was half-jewish and half-catholic, got to celebrate his holiday.
What? Wasn’t it ours too? After all there was a tree, and presents under it. No, I learned once my brother moved out many years later, that it was not our holiday at all. We were Jews.
I do not remember being a Jew before we left New York for Chicago. I remember Hanukkah and I remember Christmas. I do not ever remember the “why.”
For as long as my brother lived with us there was Christmas and Hanukkah, we were the luckiest family ever – as most of my friends reminded me.
We never had a Christmas dinner, or Christmas Eve, but we had Christmas morning. We never had a Hanukkah dinner, but we had presents for 8 nights.
We were as Secular as Jews can be, and my brother was being raised as a Secular half and half.
In our new home our neighbors were Catholic. This was very clear to me. They were not secular, or at least not in the same way we were.
Their middle child, Anne, became my best friend. We were the same age, but she went to Holy Cross, I went to public school. I found this attachment her family had to the ritual of church every Sunday fascinating. So fascinating that after weeks of begging my father, I was allowed to go. I knew better than to cross myself (for that is the only way I knew to describe it) I also did not say “Amen” at the end of the prayers. Although I did say “Peace be with you.” Because that seemed nice.
My parents did not socialize with Anne’s parents, although they were our next door neighbors. Our parents quickly found the other upper middle-class Jewish families, our tribe so to speak, and assimilated. From that moment forward I would always be aware of a feeling of “us and them.”
This is the first post in a series. I have always been very guarded about my faith, for as you will find in the coming months, the specific combination of beliefs that make me me, make me part of one of the most discriminated against groups in our current society. This has kept me from writing about my beliefs, but why write if I cannot write about me.