Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to Handle Christmas

Simple answer: The same way that you handle Diwali.

Long answer:

I've been looking over the annual "Christmas debate" posts elsewhere, and doing assorted eye rolls. Here are my basic guidelines:

1. While it may be part of the general culture for many people, it is still a religiously-oriented holiday. The fact that an atheist may still celebrate it doesn't change that. Some people will not want to celebrate it for religious reasons, and that should be respected.

2. Speaking as an observant Jew - I have no problem with other people celebrating Christmas as their holiday. Don't pretend that it is a secular thing on my account. I just want the fact that it is not MY holiday to be respected.

3. If I know for a fact that someone celebrates Christmas, I may wish them a Merry Christmas. Back in September, I also wished my Muslim legal assistant an Eid Mubarak. If I happen to be aware of the holiday that someone is celebrating, I'll give that person holiday wishes when the holiday is actually celebrated.

4. If I don't know whether a person celebrates Christmas, and Dec. 25 is approaching, I will often just say "enjoy your holiday". To me, a government-mandated long weekend = holiday.

5. Chanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. It is a minor Jewish festival, and it came early this year so it's over. My big holidays are in September/October and April. Nevertheless, I'll accept Chanukkah greetings with a "thank you".

6. If a friendly client happens to wish me Merry Christmas, I smile and say "Same to you." I assume that it was meant in a friendly way. I would only get annoyed if they went on and on about the "war on Christmas" or otherwise got preachy. If they ask specifically about my plans, I either say, "nothing much, we're staying in town", or "we're Jewish, so my husband is working his shift and I'll have Chinese food and a movie with the kids", depending on how much time I have to talk.

7. Yes, Christmas carols do sound nice. However, they are certainly religious, and therefore my kids don't know them. [I'll hum along in secret, just like I do with Duran Duran songs, because they both remind me of my 8th grade Glee Club experience.]

8. Snow is not Christian. Really, it's not. Jingle Bells is not a Christmas song. Winter Wonderland is not a Christmas song. When I once spent Christmas is New Zealand, I discovered that they associated Christmas with the start of summer. I also remember being really disoriented when I visited Bethlehem - in my mind, I also pictured "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" playing when we visited my grandfather in his chalet in the mountains north of Montreal over the Christmas break, so I thought of the town as being a snow-covered village in Quebec. Needless to say, the hot and dusty Middle Eastern reality was a bit different.

9. No, I don't need to start celebrating Christmas because "I'm in a Christian country now". My family has been here for over 100 years, and we are just as much a part of the country as anyone else. Would I expect my non-Jewish neighbours to start celebrating Passover, just because we live in a predominantly Jewish area?

I had to pinch myself while reading this:

Seriously, people? Lack of a Santa visit to a preschool prompts a "what is this world coming to?" Are there NO real problems in your world (like, say, rampant xenophobia)?

10. Please don't give out "Jesus is the reason for the season" cards unless you are prepared to get a "Pagan worship of the winter solstice is the reason for the season" card back. [I had no idea about this until an evangelical Christan friend told me that she didn't celebrate Christmas because it wasn't actually Jesus' birthday, but was a way of co-opting the Pagan holiday of Yule.]

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jenny Peto's thesis: visiting 2 websites apparently equals research

I don't expect U of T to censor their students so they avoid anything controversial. I just expect them to uphold normal standards, and not give a student a pass just because they embrace a cause with the support of a thesis advisor.

You can read her thesis here:

I had always thought that a Master's thesis required some real work, including research. In fact, here are the thesis guidelines for OISE (which is part of the University of Toronto):

They note that the thesis should embody "original investigation" and "will constitute a contribution to knowledge of the field".

Apparently, in Ms. Peto's case, original investigation means glancing at two websites, since actually talking to anyone would be too onerous for her as a part-time student, as she explains on page 12.

Alas, even that bit of web-surfing proved to be a bit too much for her. She describes the March of Remembrance and Hope as being Jewish program for non-Jews. Apparently, she missed the fact that it is run through the Canadian Centre for Diversity - a non-denominational group. They were less than thrilled with the thesis. As quoted in the Toronto Star:

“She makes unwarranted claims and false statements about our philosophy, our goals and objectives and our methodology. . .We were shocked and offended to read the thesis,” said Carla Wittes, the centre’s programs director. “We are a non-faith-based organization concerned with educating people about the dangers of discrimination, and the Holocaust is obviously a prime example.”

She doesn't particularly seem to focus on the information that she does bother to pick up from the websites. Testimonials from a Rwandan-Canadian and Aboriginal-Canadian, for example, must be part of a plot to instill white, male Zionist values. She is oblivious to the irony of her work - she claims that it's bad for white Jews to teach about tolerance, but yet she feels that the comments of non-white trip participants need to be filtered through her (white, Jewish but anti-Zionist) worldview instead of actually speaking to them and allowing their own voices to come through.

The self-centred approach is repeated when discussing non-European Jews on page 86. Peto wonders how such a Jew would experience the trip, since she doesn't plan on actually speaking to one. Well, my husband is an Iraqi Jew, and we were on a similar trip together. No, nobody said that the trip is limited to white Jews. He wasn't bothered by Eurocentrism on the trip, but does have some issues with the fact that the "Israeli Apartheid" crowd often seems to forget that non-white Jews exist, that Sephardic Jews and even some Muslims were also victims of the Holocaust, that Nazi influence spread across the Middle East during WWII and that it directly led to the June 1941 Farhud (progrom) which killed 141 Jews in Baghdad, and that his father was also a refugee when he fled Iraq for Israel.

I should also add that our Anguish to Hope trip in 1993 (by the same organizers as March of the Living) DID deal with non-European Jews. We visited an aborption centre for new immigrants, meeting with and learning more about the recently-arrived Ethiopian Jewish community, and also met with Yemenite Jews in a Project Renewal community. We became friends with one girl from that community and kept in touch when she came to Canada for university. Of course, Ms. Peto didn't bother to find out such details.

Speaking of an ego-centric approach, the first section of the thesis is a rant by Ms. Peto against her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and (understandable) rejection by the community for her anti-Israel activism. Perhaps that would be appropriate for a coffee group, a memoir or a therapy session - but not a thesis.

On page 90, she assumes that the March of the Living is putting down Holocaust victims for being weak. She doesn't bother to find out about the testimony of survivors who accompany the trip - if she did, perhaps she would have learned about women like Anna Heilman, who accompanied our trip and described the her role in the plot to smuggle gunpowder to the sonderkommando, who used is to blow up a cremetorium during their revolt.

On page 97, she assumes that participants will never see a Palestinian. On our trip, we met with Arab-Israelis in their homes through Givat Haviva for a very frank and open discussion.

On page 98, she wishes that participants would use the trip experience to fight racism. Perhaps she did not notice the very first post on the March of the Living websites' participants section, which ends with a description of how 2 participants became Darfur activists.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Two approaches

Approach #1

A fellow whom I will call Blogger A believes that heretics are bad. Very bad. So bad, in fact, that he gives tips on how to "out" them that include electronic tracking devices, and putting night vision cameras in a child's bedroom. When he thinks that he has discovered one, he thinks that it is productive to make comments out of nowhere like "Do you like [crude name for male organ]?", to call a young woman's home, to use such lovely terms as "fat", "whore" and "liar", to make a slew of sexually-based allegations and finally to suggest means of committing suicide. He seems to belong to the Torquemada school of thought.

This fellow, though extreme, is real. He's not entirely alone. The Westboro Baptist group would likely agree with his methods. So would those who would like to kill Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Approach #2

Actually listen to what someone is saying, even if you think that it is heresy. Realize that people with proper brain function will ask questions. Encourage them to do so. Correct blatant misinformation, and provide sources so they can access proper information for themselves. Reach out on both an intellectual and emotional level. Show respect and love and concern for them as human beings. Be a positive role model. Have a sense of humour. Invite them for dinner, and make an awesome chicken soup. If someone has been hurt or misled or exposed to horrible attitudes, acknowledge that experience and the fact that it was wrong, and don't be afraid to criticize those behind it. Show a better path. Accept that someone needs to go on their own spiritual journey, at their own pace. Reject fanaticism, especially if someone's view of all religion and religious people has been tarnished by it.

If you have ever felt alienated from religion or questioned major beliefs, I want to hear from you!

Which do you prefer, Approach A or Approach B? Which of those have you experienced?
Which would be most likely to have a positive effect on you? Which would be most likely to push you away?

Polite comments welcome. Crude comments or SPAM will be moderated.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Low expectations and moronic parenting

Read this:

Now, the other posters on the board largely echo my feelings: hitting a baby is NEVER okay, don't excuse it, and take some responsibility as a mother for your choices.

If there is one thing that I will teach my daughters, it is to have high expectations for the men that they will marry. It's a message for everyone. When you are getting into a relationship and planning to spend your life together, you know to know, with rock-solid certainty, that no matter what happens, you and your future children will be safe. You need to know that your partner will always love and treasure your children, and would never, EVER do anything to mistreat them.

When I had our firstborn, my husband learned to care for her the same way that I did. We were in the hospital together, took basic instructions from the nurse, and then figured it out because that's what parents have to do. Books and courses won't always tell you what to do with a baby that won't settle between 1 and 5 a.m., or a baby that has a massive poop so explosive that it reaches her neck while you are traveling, or a toddler that vomits on your head in the middle of the night, etc. You deal with it, and you make sure that the other parent is someone capable of dealing with it too.

I'm happy to report that I have that sort of confidence in my husband. He may be tired or lack patience in other situations, but it was crystal clear that our children were/are his life. When our firstborn wouldn't settle, he would take her and gently start crooning "Can't Help Falling in Love" and other songs to her. Another time, he got her to settle by gently rubbing her tummy. I've seen my brothers-in-law act the same way. They always showed that they were patient, gentle men who were just meant to be daddies.

That brings me to my next point. This lady, and those like her, need to take the blinders off. You just can't say that a man who is "not violent or abusive" spanks a 5 mo old baby. Open your eyes, and stop making excuses. Lots of people get tired in the middle of the night. Lots of people hate the sound of non-stop crying. Lots of people don't always know how to stop the crying. None of that is an excuse. Decent parents deal with the frustration and know that there are some lines that you just don't cross. You shouldn't HAVE to explain to the father of your child that spanking a baby is wrong.

I was doing child protection work before I had children, and had a few "boyfriend beat the baby" cases that broke my heart. I'd hear moms say that he did it because he was frustrated because she couldn't have sex for 6 weeks, or because he couldn't stand the crying. I'd correct them, saying that he did it because he was obviously violent and immature, and needed to be locked up away from children.

UPDATE: At page 39, the situation starts to make more sense. Mom shares that she herself was physically and sexually abused until the age of 17 - which seems to explain both her insistence that the husband was "not abusive" and her idea that she wanted to be in total control over the baby even before the birth. I hope this is a wake-up call for some major counselling for BOTH of them. It also reaffirms my view that it is important to not just condemn abusive behavior, but to ensure that children grow up with functional, non-abusive role models.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To be a "Menu Jew"

"Cafeteria Catholic" sounds cool, but Cafeteria Jew doesn't have the same alliteration, and besides that, most cafeteria food sucks.

So, since I'm a bit of a foodie and I like things that rhyme, I've come up with the new term "Menu Jew".

What is the basic philosophy of the Menu Jew?

1. Before concluding that you don't like something, find out if you were really having the most authentic and properly presented thing.

One pet peeve of mine is people who say that they hate Indian food, but have never had anything other than stale yellow curry powder. Taste the real thing, cooked decently, before you diss it.

Similarly, don't judge your religion by what another religion says about it, or a random blog, or a statement by someone who is frankly clueless. Put in the effort to do the spiritual equivalent of finding the best Indian restaurant.

2. Acknowledge that not everything that is authentic will be palatable.

From time to time, you may encounter the spiritual equivalent of haggis.

3. Let me taste the real stuff, and don't Gerber-ize it.

Baby food makers often mash and puree food, sometimes adding in starch or salt or sugar because they claim that babies won't eat the stuff any other way. I'm not sure that's a great way to feed babies, and I'm positive that adults shouldn't be treated like that.

So...don't decide ahead of time that concepts need to be dumbed-down, or that you won't show the original sources, or that you won't discuss all of the viewpoints on an issue, or that you need to alter stuff from the original because I wouldn't like it. I'm a big girl. Feel free to review or comment on the offering, but let me chew on the real stuff.

4. Sometimes fusion works, sometimes it doesn't.

Butter and mayo on a Montreal smoked meat sandwich is just wrong. So is Chrismukkah.
Guacamole on challah, though, works quite well. So does Judaism and liberal democracy.

4. It's the restaurant's job to present the full menu. It's my job to select what I consume.

We can talk about what constitutes the range of Jewish belief - ie. what should be on the full menu. Ultimately, though, there is another question: as an adult with G-d-given free will and intellect, what am I choosing?

All a matter of perspective, I suppose

I had a good chuckle reading this:

Seriously, someone thinks that 26 degrees F is "bitter cold"? Not even close, in my books. This mom also thinks that temperatures just above the freezing mark demand a hoodie and hat PLUS a winter coat. My kids and I would melt.

Then again, maybe from her POV I'm a wimp, because I have no tolerance at all for heat.

So, I can some this up by saying it's all a matter of perspective, based on what you are used to experiencing. That said, if it's obvious that the original poster lives in a place like Ontario, Canada, where cold weather is the norm, why on earth would you think that your "26 is bitter cold" comment is remotely relevant.

Anyway, for what it's worth, my son went to school today in runners. It's around 26 degrees, and he's just fine.