12 December 2007 by Published in: anecdotes No comments yet

So it’s Hannukah. I like Hannukah, and I like Yom Kippur and I like Rosh Hashanah and I like Passover. I’m not Jewish, so I don’t celebrate them, but I do admire them, that sort of admiration just a footstep away from envy. I admire how focused Jewish holidays are on the history of their occasion. Now I know that ostensibly Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, and that Easter represents His death and resurrection, but I always get the impression Christian celebrations are more about cycle than about past. We relive it instead of remembering it. Not so with Jewish holidays. The context of the re-told stories as history is inviolable. No one is pretending, not even on a spiritual level, that they’re breaking free from slavery in Egypt at Passover.

When I was little, I lived in a city with a sizable Jewish population. I have been told the concentration of Jews in Buenos Aires is second only to New York, but I don’t know whether this is true. At any rate, today Buenos Aires boasts the only kosher McDonald’s outside Israel, so that should give you some idea.Koshermcdsophia01 20070328 It was not uncommon for me to see men with the black hats and the sideburn curls or women with their heads covered as well as the less orthodox yarmulke wearers. Sometimes when I’m in Clayton or U. City and I see people wearing yarmulkes and walking, I swallow a little homesick yearning for that place that is not mine but I lived in for so long. I feel both an affinity and an exclusion, a recognition of something familiar but not mine. My not being Jewish but identifying with their holidays is like my not being Argentine but having lived there for nearly two decades, or being American yet stripped of the cultural signifiers that allow me to feel American.

When I was in grade school, I was friends with a Jewish girl named Analía Goldstein. In honor of Hannukah, I’m going to go into my history and remember her today.

I think we may have become friends by virtue of sharing the first and second spots in line. Our teachers arranged our lines (two, one for boys and one for girls) by height. I was short and usually first, but when Analía arrived she turned out to be even shorter. Finally, I had a companion in diminutiveness. Though I usually deny having had any nicknames when asked, I will (one time only!) confess to having been called, as a child, “Campanita” (Tinkerbell) and “Hormiga Atómica” (google images says the translation for this is “Atom Ant”, not “Atomic Ant” which I would have guessed). Both namesake figures are notable for their lilliputian qualities. Analía was not only smaller than I was, she was cuter too. She had a button nose to rival mine, and beautiful dark curly hair and sparkling brown eyes and a great big smile. I liked her a lot. I also liked not being the littlest, cutest thing in sight for a change. I liked having someone my size around. I liked being second in line instead of first. She was a smart girl who got good grades, same as I was. With Analía around, we could be a pair.

I don’t remember what games we played together, or whether we ever fought or how many years we remained close. What I remember, vividly, is how lonesome I was on the days when she had excused absences for religious holidays. There seemed to be two or three of these every other week. I’m sure, looking back now, that couldn’t possibly have been the case, but at the time it felt constant and interminable. I asked her once why she was absent so often and she told me it was religious. Since I spent a lot of time at church, I understood, but never once had I gotten out of school for it. That didn’t seem fair. Why did all my religious holidays coincide with the school being closed? Would I ever get a day off the other kids stayed in school for? Many years later, in high school, I skipped school for a while with an Israeli friend of mine and we watched movies downtown. Though that was a joyous time all its own, it didn’t quite fulfill that empty spot of having a holiday while everyone else worked.

Since leaving Argentina, I have heard humorous skits and read essays by Jewish Americans who felt overrun by the ubiquitousness of Christmas (most recently from Amy Klein on NPR). They speak of resentment, isolation, envy. I understand that. I’m not in elementary school anymore, but when I was, lack of my own special holy day made me jealous. I can still see my uniformed girl self, sitting at her desk with her feet crossed underneath, thinking of the long, lonely day ahead without Analía’s smile. What was she doing while I was completing one of a thousand indistinguishable workbook sheets? I remain convinced she was having more fun than I was. So to everyone celebrating Hannukah instead of Christmas I say, you are not the only one who sometimes feels left out. And to Analía Goldstein, wherever you may now be, I say, Happy Hannukah.

Bonus Spanish Hannukah trivia: a dreidel is called a perinola, but this is a generic term for four-sided tops. To have the specificity that dreidel connotes, you would have to say ‘la perinola de Janucá’. Isn’t perinola an awesome word?

Super Bonus Hannukah blog postings: My hardcore gaming friend Dave plays Dreidel for the first time and loves it! My Jewish friend John blogs “The Eight Days of Hannukah“. It’s like the “12 Days of Christmas” only with YouTube!


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