I wish the merriest Christmas to my Christian friends, students, followers, and every other member of the Christian denominations that celebrates Christmas today.
It’s two-thirty in the morning and I can’t sleep. Later today my husband and I will pay tribute to Christmas together with other Londoners and tourists like us, when we take part in a special holiday meal in the charming English hotel we are staying at. It will be elegant and peaceful, fitting the spirit of this holiday. But right now my mind is not at peace. It’s unsettled. It’s racing from one topic to another. A mish-mash of thoughts, though they may be related.
I nearly fell asleep after thirty-six hours of jet lag. But something woke me up. I am anxious and distressed, and I don’t know why. I panic. I jump out of bed careful not to wake up my husband.
“It’s so easy to lose one’s mind,” I tell myself with concern. “It ran in your family. Your mother suffered from severe depressions, and possibly schizophrenia.”
“Don’t be silly,” I try to calm myself. “It’s just too hot in the room.” I played with the thermostat. I went back to bed. “It’s the blanket. It’s too heavy.”
I push it off but I’m still unsettled.
“Perhaps it’s the lack of sleep. It may play tricks on your mind,” I try to convince myself, but I am used to jet lag. I don’t recall that it made me feel so disconcerted before.
I think about young men and women who gave up their lives for an idea they believed in, after seeing earlier today yet again the musical Les Miserables. Young man and women around the world still do. Sometimes they fight for inherent rights, like Victor Hugo’s young revolutionaries; other time they are motivated by hatred.
My mind turns to various genocides, a subject I teach regularly at Queens College in a senior seminar that just ended. The most unique among these many genocides is the Holocaust that killed millions of my people.
“You are not supposed to think about these events today, a day of peace and fraternity. Even enemy soldiers who faced each other on the battlefield in WWI stopped fighting on Christmas day (only to resume the killing as soon as the holiday was over).
“May be it’s your writer mind,” I still try to calm myself. "Start writing. You owe you followers a blog.”
My mind takes me now to the lovely walk my husband and I took yesterday afternoon in the elegant Grosvenor area where many embassies are located. The perfect harmony of architecture and color did not represent the reality of the conflicts in many of the countries whose embassies we passed. I tried to guess the identity of the flags that are not obviously familiar to most people. As a pupil in grammar school I could identify every flag of every country; my geography notebooks covered with my hand painted flags of the countries of the world, then covered in turn with cellophane paper. They were my pride and joy until the day my mother threw them out when I was older.
“That’s Hungary’s”, I said to my husband. But it was Bulgaria’s flag. “What difference does it make?” I thought, “they both hate us.” I was thinking of the recent rise of anti-Semitism in both countries.
At night my mind finally took me back to New York, to the musical Spiderman, to which my husband and I took our six years old grandson this past Sunday.
“Is this show your Christmas present?” an elderly man seated next to him asked my grandchild.
Jacob looked at him and without hesitation said: “we don’t celebrate Christmas.”
“Me neither,” said the man. So what did you get for Hanukkah?”
Jacob smiled but didn’t bother to answer.
I was proud of my grandson for his identity, which he didn’t hesitate to announce. In other countries he might have learned not to pronounce it so openly.
I was proud and yet concerned.
“Perhaps I should suggest to his parents to remind him to say, “We celebrate Hanukkah,” as they have taught him, instead of the negative form of “we don’t celebrate Christmas,” lest he aggravates someone.
I have been in the United States since the autumn of 1969. I am an American citizen. I have given my service back to the community where I live. I have fed the homeless in churches on Christmas days. I have gone to listen to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve on different occasions. The words struck me as almost identical to what Jews say in their places of worship during their high holidays.
But am I fully integrated in a society I love and admire if I am worried about my young grand child announcing to a stranger that he doesn’t celebrate Christmas? If the answer is 'no', it is not because of luck of respect to my surroundings. On the contrary. Rather, it is because of my People’s history of being hated and rejected, blood-libeled and slaughtered, and my concern that this hatred has not vanished, and that it may never will. I am worried for the future of my grandchildren and their children, and that of children of other ethnicities, tribes and religious groups who fight each other. Examples are ample.
It’s 4:30 AM. Perhaps I can go to sleep now.
Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year to us all.