In the past year, I’ve gotten to know Rachel Blumenfeld. A teacher in the Colonial School District, Rachel is also Jewish. She put a post up on Facebook this morning that she allowed me to share on here.
Every year, I struggle with how I should feel about people saying “Merry Christmas” to those like myself who are not Christian. This year, I’m no longer tackling that question: I know that I am offended.
My anger about this issue is not, as some frightened Christians would have you believe, a war on Christmas. I’m not trying to dismiss your religious beliefs, or your right to celebrate or practice in whatever way you see fit. Instead, I am trying to protect my religion and my identity, which, unlike Christianity, are actually threatened.
I am a public school teacher, and I am allotted 10 paid days off per year. I had to use 20% of my time off for the year within the first month of school so that I could go to synagogue and celebrate my religion’s holiest days, so that I could take my daughters to synagogue and show them the customs of our religion and culture. Christian staff do not have to use their paid time off to celebrate their holidays; public schools are always closed on those days. My particular district’s calendar even states that we are closed on the Friday before Easter for Good Friday; it’s only the next week that is closed for spring break, which, without fail, falls the same week as Easter.
Next year, my daughter starts kindergarten at a Jewish school and I am already scared of how many days I will have to take off to pick her up midday – leaving my coworkers in a bind, and my students without a teacher – when there is a bomb threat or when there is a suspicious package delivered in the mail. There were four threats between her school and the attached JCC campus last year, and there has already been one this year.
This does not account for the emotional stress, the trauma, of worrying about my child’s safety. Or the fact that children in almost all public schools might have active shooter drills, which they know are drills, but my child at the age of 5 will have evacuations that are not drills, and she will have them multiple times a year.
When Jewish students attend non-Jewish schools, they are regularly bombarded with swastika graffiti, or with students who think it is funny to perform the Nazi salute (I’ve seen at least one student do this every year that I have taught).
Even bigger than all of this is the shooting that took place in Pittsburgh in October. Jews were murdered during prayer, during a baby naming ceremony, solely for the fact that they were Jewish. And last year, at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, neo-Nazis chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”
So when I am wished a Merry Christmas, I am offended because my religion is in danger. My people are routinely dismissed, ignored, and hated – sometimes violently. These days, we live in a state of almost constant fear. We pray with armed police officers at the gate.
Wishing everyone around you a Merry Christmas is not a joyous, peaceful offering. It is making the choice to not see those who are different from you, to erase the fact of their existence, to insist that everyone’s identity must correspond with your own. That is not just not being an ally; that is being an aggressor.
This winter, open your eyes to those who are not the same as yourself, and have a happy holiday season – whatever it is you celebrate.
Thank you Rachel! I grew up north of New York City and it was a given we were off for Jewish holidays. From what I understand, it is a local decision decided on by the school districts. Christina School District and Red Clay Consolidated School District have these days off and apparently Appoquinimink will be next school year. Even if schools aren’t off, they should allow staff who are of different religious faiths to be given a paid day off that is not a part of their vacation. In addition, students who celebrate a religious holy day should be marked as excused without any restrictions.