Happy "Holidays"

When I wear my menorah pin, which I do a lot during this season, people don’t know what to say to me. Some don’t know what it is so they just say Merry Christmas, which is fine with me. I am perfectly happy to have a Merry 25th of December although I am not spiritually moved by it. Others have no idea what to say and think I will melt or file suit if they say Merry Christmas so they stutter and move on. This is ridiculous but more damaging to them than me. Some say Happy Chanukah (sp?) and that is fine too since it is what I celebrate and it is always nice to be accurately recognized occasionally. The politically correct say Happy Holidays. There is something good about this and something not so good. The good is that having a happy holiday of any kind is a good and wonderful thing, so it can’t be a bad thing to say. It is kind, carries good intention and good feelings and is meant to bestow the good wishes of the speaker to the listener. But the not so good is that it is wishy-washy, ambivalent, non-committal. I just don’t know how I feel about this. Better, I think to have the courage of your convictions even you sometimes get it wrong. Someone might correct you and you might learn something. I think Season’s Greetings is marginally better because in some way it acknowledges that many of the ideals of the season are shared by various cultures and religions. It is a season of kindness, charity, freedom, not just a holiday. I know that seems a peculiar distinction but it is how I feel. So to all I care for and anyone else who might read this (my few, very few, loyal fans) my best greetings of this season to you, may you be moved and inspired by whatever it is you celebrate.

How Do You Spell That?

Chanukah; Hannukah; and both without the final “h”. I am guessing in Hebrew there is just one spelling but in English…good grief. I never know what spelling to choose, neither does Hallmark. Non-Jews think it is “like” Christmas, just as they think Passover has someting to do with Easter. Narcissistic; natural I suppose, but very wrong. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the most important figure (aside from God for those who believe God and Jesus are two separate entities) in Christianity (thus “christ”ianity). It is about a person, quintessential to the core beliefs of all christian sects and faiths. Chanukah is the celebration of an idea, the ideal of freedom; the idea that standing up for what you believe is right and good. A core belief to be sure, but not essential to Jewish dogma. The history of the Jews is fraught with enslavement and the fight for freedom. Generally the enslavement has been based on religious persecution but it is the history of the people, not the central religious idea. And so the two holidays are very different. In Israel, people love Chanukah (sp?) but there isn’t much gift-giving or decorating about it, I think. In America I think the gift giving and decorating comes as a result of parents feeling guilty that their children don’t experience the excesses of the season like the children who celebrate Christmas. I personally like lights so we put light on the house, although I can’t do red and green (we just do white and blue). And Chanukah is a festival of light (you could argue and our Rabbi said). I love our menorah collection because each has a story and a history, so we light them all, the house is ablaze with candles for an hour each night. And we exchange a (one) gift each night, mostly smaller. Other than that we just go about our business, to work and school and what have you. Where I live they don’t close schools or offices, banks or businesses for Chanukah. They don’t even know how to spell it.

Seasonal Charity

I spent hours wrapping gifts for foster children who had a great need and would have nothing for Christmas. I was appealed to by my dearest friend who works for a private foster agency regarding two sisters who did not have a sponsorship for their Christmas needs. Since my son is the birth child of a foster child we had in our home at one time, the needs of foster children is a cause dear to my heart. I in turn appealed to my company and many of the employees purchased toys and clothing and the children will be well taken care of, at least on Christmas day. It is heartbreaking, however, the extent of the need and how little most of us give the rest of the year. These are children whose needs extend far far beyond Christmas day. And in this year of economic chaos, hundreds of thousands out of work, the wealthy feeling their stock losses, the need for charity is overwhelming and the charities themselves are overwhelmed. Here in my little corner of the world I know about the Jewish Federation, among other things. They help families of all faiths pay their rent, their electric bills, they maintain a food bank, they collect gift cards for needy teenagers and clothing for everyone, they bring a seder to assisted living residents and holiday baskets to families with nothing, they purchase, stuff and distribute over 6,000 backpacks each fall to needy students; but it is never enough. And this year, it is really not enough. The only thing that trickles down in this trickle-down economy the Bush administration has bragged of so much is the consequences of failure. You lose your job, possibly your home, and the people who might have helped are also feeling pinched because their bonuses have been cut back to a few million (not discussing profits now) so the charities that depend on private funds (their government funding having been gutted in the name of private enterprise and war mongering) have none to help you. So while the CEOs worry about whether they can maintain three homes instead of five, or fly business class instead of the corporate jet, you are standing in line for a basket of food to make a Christmas dinner. I know this year that despite how tight my own circumstances are, I have given more than I thought I could; I worry about what will happen the other 364.

Chanukah PC

It is the first night of Chanukah, a time I love. But we were told (by the Rabbi) that there are lots of bloggers who are pooh-poohing Chanukah. Who say it is a minor holiday (correct in some respects); it isn’t even in the Bible (true) and finally that it is not politically correct because it celebrates war and aggression, etc. What a ridiculous idea. The modern popular view of Jews is of a bunch of greedy nebishes who walked sheeplike into the ovens of Hitler to be slaughtered by the millions. There is a grain of truth to this, after all, many hundreds of thousands went to their deaths with little resistance; cultural shock and denial? But there is another truth as well. Historians and other educated folks know that there were many who fought bravely and died to avoid that fate (look at the Warsaw ghetto). Nevertheless, there is a basic modern perception of Jew as victim. (The idea of the Israeli Jew as warrior in modern culture and perception is another discussion). Celebrating those who fought and died for religious and ethnic freedom is hardly a bad idea. Chanukah is not in the Bible. As religious holidays go, it isn’t much of one. Yet it has a joyous and wonderful feeling to it. In past years, when my son was young, when we had our annual party all our friends’ kids would attend. We would place the menorah where it could be seen in the window of our home and light the candles. I always asked one question: why do we put the menorah in the window? As the years passed the children learned the answer: “Because we can!” they would yell as one voice. In my lifetime people around the world have not been free or felt free to place their candles in the window, and so it seems very important to me to do so. We have a ragged page of paper, saved from a Temple bulletin of about 14 years ago that has a little bit of reading for each night of Chanukah, a principle or an ideal to think of as you light the candles. For me Chanukah is about justice and freedom and standing up for principle, for keeping your light burning brightly no matter what. What could be more pc than that?

Health "care?" and The Hospital

Wow, do I love getting (dare I say it?) middle-aged. I won’t say the O word because I am just not there yet. So I woke on a recent morning with abdominal pain that would stop a mule in its tracks. After toughing it out for several hours and assuring my husband that “of course he should go to work I would be fine” (mimicking the old Jewish joke about sitting in the dark) I crawled into the emergency room in my pajamas with tears streaming down my face. The brought me back after allowing a suitable period of suffering in the waiting room during which an elderly man brought me a wheelchair and two elderly female patients felt so bad for me they were holding my hand and patting my head and yelling at the triage nurse. They fairly promptly shot me up with dilaudid (kind of like pharmaceutical heroin) and other sorts of things. They admitted me. They poked holes in me. They took pictures of every part of my body with every type of imaging device known to man except a camera. They found a number of things wrong with me, none of which explained the sudden onset acute abdominal pain. I awoke from the initial round of medication with a blinding and intractable headache. They offered me more dilaudid (ordered for stomach pain which went away!) but nothing else because nothing was ordered for a headache. I refused. The headache continued. They determined that my medical history included migraine so the on-call doc called in a migraine medication which is intended to be taken every 30 minutes or so until the migraine is broken. She ordered it once every 6 hours. So even if I had had a migraine, it would have done no good. Even so it did no good since I didn’t have a migraine. Every time I said I had a headache they offered me dilaudid and this drug. I kept telling them I really did not have a heroin headache, they kept offering me dilaudid (ordered for abdominal pain, long since gone). After four days of this I managed to acquire a tylenol. They still didn’t know what was wrong with my stomach but by God they found everything else possible to find. I figured if they kept me much longer they’d kill me off. So I went in to the hospital with “something wrong with my stomach” and I got out with “something wrong with my stomach”. They placed a brand new IV hours before I went home, even though they knew I was going home. My arms have track marks, tape marks and scabs where they yanked the skin off. The back of my left hand is black. The back of my arm is black and blue where they taped a plastic bag to cover an IV port when I demanded a shower (I had to be punished for that!). I am exhausted from lack of sleep, my back is broken from the bed, I am broke from the co-pay and out of pocket expense (my old coverage didn’t have that) and I am not entirely sure it was worth it. I am now facing numerous specialist visits and the mystery continues. Hospitals seem to specialize in MRSA and indignity. Overworked nurses try and overworked aides often don’t. If your doctor is good, and demanding, it helps, but they don’t have much time either. If you don’t have someone to demand answers and care for you, you are in trouble, at the bottom of the list. Lots of people have written educated and well founded articles, books and letters about the state of health care in this country. Personal experience, however, makes me think that the term “heath care” is an oxymoron.

Drama – Who Needs It?

Wow! What a month. I could write volumes about how I felt when Obama won the election and what it was like to watch his acceptance speech; which was more about watching the people watching him than about actually watching him (except for that dress, of course). But people smarter and more articulate than I have already written volumes and so I won’t. In November, with the exception of the election, I was consumed with my family’s personal drama. It is a drama that is being replicated across America and it was scary and hard. The short version: like many other families, we were faced with a looming balloon and refinance. Unfortunately our home has lost some value and would not appraise for what we paid. Additionally, my husband’s unemployment has had a less than salutary effect on our credit. And so we contacted our mortgagor who wanted no part. The short version: we told the mortgagor what we could afford and basically said….if not, we walk away. My father is coming to live with us and I couldn’t see moving him and then possibly having to move again. I thought we should simply bring on the crisis and see where it led. I spent a huge amount of time simply hoping for some sign of what I was supposed to do. But then I figured out what I could do and said its this or nothing. Then I worked really hard to be ok with walking away if that was what was right and best for our family. Just as we were preparing to sign a lease and move, our mortgagor agreed to rewrite our mortgage for an amount the house is really worth! A small miracle for our family. Still a struggle but a miracle nonetheless. And a personal triumph for me. I negotiated something, the hard way, and it worked! And then my birthday, and family visiting and all that. What a month of ups and downs, fear and faith, the unknown and the concrete result. It has been a tiring time being caught up in my personal drama. I prefer others’ drama for subject matter and will return to those observations anon.