The struggles of living in rural Farmville: if the one Target doesn’t have what you’re looking for, then chances are you won’t find it anywhere except online. I was in search of an electric menorah, since a regular one didn’t seem feasible with two curious kitties in the apartment. Hanukkah had little significance in my family, but I’m used to seeing a menorah on display in December.
My quest took me 40 minutes out of the way to a store called Jerusalem Gold. On the outside, it looked like a typical Judaica store. Inside, it was difficult to find merchandise that wasn’t engraved or otherwise decorated with crosses and Jesus fish. The display of necklaces in the front glass case featured Star of David necklaces with tiny gold crosses inside – something I desperately wanted in college, though once I did acquire one, it turned out I wasn’t brave enough to wear it. It’s a bold statement to make, and not everyone who sees it will assume it’s a nod to honoring Jewish heritage while holding Christian beliefs.
In short, that store brought back all kinds of memories of struggling to fit two sides of me together like puzzle pieces in the fist of an impatient toddler. I was trying to shove pieces where they didn’t fit. It’s not that my faith was ever explicitly Jewish in the first place; it was the heritage and tradition, the thought of betraying my family, that plagued me with guilt. At the same time, denying a faith I was slowly believing to be true would produce a different kind of guilt. I was literally damned if I converted, damned if I didn’t.
The funny thing is, if I did want to Judaize my Christian faith, this store (with a chapel attached) proved there was a community for that. In my early Christian days, my new friends at Cru tried to push me into this community, believing it was a perfect compromise. Much of my early Christian experience involved being pushed and goaded in different directions, as if my friends had a better handle on God’s will for my life than I did.
Truth be told, I am just as uncomfortable in a Judeo-Christian environment like Jerusalem Gold as I am in mainstream Evangelical churches. What I long for is a community of like-minded believers who share a cultural appreciation for Judaism, and treat it as an ethnic identity over a spiritual one. That is the compromise I have come to: no one can force me to disavow my upbringing because of what I believe now. Yet there is nothing I can do about studying Christianity through Jewish lenses, because that’s all I know how to do.
And despite learning new vocabulary and new prayers, being baptized and joining a bible study, there is no other point in the calendar year that I feel most Jewish than during December. To this day, I have no Christmas traditions (unless Chinese food and a movie count). December 25th still means nothing to me – in my mind it’s separate from the season of Advent, which is far more significant. I still can’t stand Christmas movies, which I never watched as a kid but just couldn’t get into as an adult, and contemporary Christmas music drives me insane (the hymns, on the other hand, are my favorite Christian songs ever produced). And it still tweaks my nerves that some people don’t make any effort to be inclusive when they say “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays” to strangers, even though their intentions are good.
Once Thanksgiving is over, I start singing a rendition of the Green Day song: Wake me up when December ends.
In the end, I did find a generic electric menorah, which cost quite a bit more than I thought it was worth, but I bought it anyway. The cashier, who wore a yarmulke and a cross, wrapped it up for me and wished me a blessed holiday season. I reciprocated those wishes and left, struck once again by the diverse ways people find truth. I’m glad it’s not my job to determine whose way is the “correct” one.