*Featured Image: “In de maneschijn” by Martine Mooijenkind
When I was young, one of my kindergarten classmates asked me, “Why did you kill Jesus?” I didn’t know how to respond. First of all, I wasn’t really sure who Jesus was, and secondly, I was pretty sure I hadn’t killed anyone. Not lately, anyway.
When I got home that day and told my mother about the incident, she sighed and said it was complicated — she’d explain it to me someday. Meanwhile, I shouldn’t worry.
A few months later, it was time for our annual winter pilgrimage to northern California to visit my grandparents. After closing the last suitcase, my mother sat down on the bed and firmly announced, “When we visit Grandma and Grandpa this year, I don’t want you spouting off about the little Christmas tree we have. And as long as we’re on the subject you need to know that there’s no such thing as the Easter Bunny and there’s no Santa Claus—remember, we’re Jewish!”
This was a lot of information to take in at the time. I had no idea what the statement meant, but it didn’t sound good. Besides, I liked having the little tree with all the colorful blinking lights. When my uncle had noticed me looking longingly at our neighbors’ Christmas trees, he handed money to my father and said, “Go get that child a tree.”
So there it stood, tucked away in a corner of the living room—our first and last Christmas tree.
My mother was justified in forewarning me, since religion was an important aspect of my California grandparents’ lives. My grandfather had fled Lithuania as a young boy due to his religion.
My mother continued, “We don’t want to upset them with our heathen ways.”
“Heathen?” I asked.
“Your grandparents are Orthodox, they go to temple every week. We are Reform. We only go twice a year. We’re more like Jews Lite.”
“Oh.” I nodded and pretended I understood just so I could get back to doing whatever it was I was doing before.
So, I kept my mouth shut during that trip and occupied myself by spinning the dreidel and pondering the fact that we were different. And if anyone asked me again why I killed their Lord, I’d just say he lived way back in history and I never met him.