Wednesday, December 07, 2005

This poem was the product of a slow day at work in 1998. My mother got her hands on a copy, and that copy begat many more copies, until they'd been spread all across the land, with enough left over for the guests a-gath'ring from far and from wide to bestow their pasta salads and swedish meatballs upon my family's annual Hannukah party buffet. And thus was born the Hannukah tradition in which the eldest child is humiliated before 50 of Mommy's nearest and dearest friends.

This year I think I'll beat her to the punch and embarrass myself; on a global scale, no less. Who's laughing now, Ma? Who's laughing now? (I believe this is what's known as "taking back the night.")

Here's my loving tribute to Christmas -- which is, believe it or not, my favorite holiday of all.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

‘Twas the month before Christmas
in Oakton, V.A.
All Halloween costumes
had been stashed away.

Second grade students
sat eating their paste
while Mommies at home
prepared turkeys to baste.

In finest attire
the children were dressed,
with iron-on Rudolphs
adorning their sweats.

Their classroom -- it looked
like the North Pole exploded;
canned snow had been schpritzed
and the windows were coated.

Red and green bows
spiffed up macrame elves,
googly-eyed reindeer
wore cheap metal bells,

tinsel and popcorn
and twinkling lights
swirled 'round push-button Wise Men
that played “Silent Night.”

Trinkets were hung
on the tree by the door,
the branches so heavy
they sagged to the floor.

Boy, when it came to Christmas
they laid it on thick;
‘twas no end in sight
to this holiday schtick.

You'd find nary a dreidle
or latke in sight,
no homemade menorahs,
no candles to light,

just stockings that hung
o’er the blackboard and wall,
the names of the students
glued onto them all.

But one stocking was missing —
belonging to who?
It was little Danielle,
second grade’s only Jew.

Now I send out this message
to all fellow Yids
who felt a bit slighted
when you were just kids:

We Jews have a lot
that most goyim can’t claim --
stuff that puts doilies
and fruitcake to shame.

There are words like meshugenah
mieskeit and tuchas,
and schlemazel,
farklempt and mishpucha.

We never pay retail,
we’re most of us smart,
we know from good food,
we have great taste in art,

our chicken soup heals,
our brisket’s delish,
it’s amazing the stuff
we can make out of fish.

So next time you fancy
a tree filled with chotchkes,
or you wonder if fruitcake
tastes better than latkes,

remember how wonderful
Jewish can be.
I’ve been to the other side;
take it from me.


Gordon said...

It's what the holidays are for. At the weekend it was my mother's birthday, we go out for dinner with some of her friends. One friend tells how she recently saw an old school teacher of mine and then proceeds to tell everyone this story.
"Oh Mrs Glendining always asks after you."
I smile, that's sweet I think, my mum's friend continues.
"And she always tells the same story."
I smile, again, I know exactly what story she's talking about, it will be that time that my friend and I emptied large boxes of drawing pins in the teacher's car park.
"It was the time you danced naked on the classroom desk after swimming practice."
Everyone laughs. It was a long time ago, but really I'm kind of embarrassed.

Reya Mellicker said...

Humiliating? I think your poem is fabulous! If I were you, I would recite it proudly and loudly. Thank you!

There were so few Jews in the neighborhood where I grew up that my mother said I asked if we were the only Jews left in the world. Almost every year one of us had to stand in front of our class and explain Hanukah. If I had another cup of coffee I could probably remember my little speech verbatim. Everyone else in class sat there politely, but the looks on their faces said it all. I knew they were thinking, "That girl talking about the Maccabees is an alien. And ... didn't her people kill Jesus?

Talk about humilitating!

always write said...

Reya, I'm so glad you mentioned that because it reminds me of a sidenote to this story: This all took place in an area that was both a suburb of D.C. and the northern tip of The South. As a Jew with a Forest Hills lilt, I was something of a square peg. I clearly remember, sometime during the second grade, being called upon to stand in front of my classmates and explain to them WHAT A BAGEL IS. The concept of bread with a hole they could handle; Smoked fish, not so much. Silver lining: When nobody sits next to you in class, you get all the crayons to yourself.

Washington Cube said...

I loved this piece. A mitzvah for your mother to have such cleverness come from her shana madel.

Paulo said...

Oh, come off it. You know you're proud of this poem.

Thank God you don't write lymerics. Nantucket would never recover.

Barbara said...

I love your poem. I never realized how rich Jewish traditions were until I converted 30 years ago. Now I could never go back. I really have the best of both worlds in many ways because I know all the Christmas carols and I have all sorts of Christmas crafts. But my decorated felt door-knob covers look equally good with a Star of David or a dreidle.

Your comments about the public school remind me of what continues to be the obligatory Hanukkah component -- even in the choral holiday program where I work. They seem to pick the grossest Hanukkah music -- instead of pieces like PP&M's Light One Candle.

I would love to meet you. Do you ever go to the Blogger happy hours? Do you by any chance sing in a synagogue choir? I added you to my link list.

Berry-licious said...

great poem!
growing up just outside nyc i was lucky enough to always be surrounded by handfuls of other jewish students in school (ah, my 'jew crew'). it's sometimes odd living down here now when i realize that that people don't know what a good bagel tastes like, have never heard of kreplach, and 'mishigas' isn't part of everybody's vocabulary.

Merujo said...

I *love* the poem! My favorite Christmases in recent years have all been pretty Jewish. Here in DC, I've gone for "Jewish Christmas" with friends (pancakes or Chinese food and a movie) for years. The last Christmas my mom was alive, we had latkes with sour cream and apple sauce for Xmas eve dinner. And I made a pot of borshch and this Ukrainian-Jewish cheese potato bread thingy for Christmas Day. (And then, we all just sat around and watched old movies. Not a one of us even thought about hauling our butts off the sofa to go to church... pagans, pagans, all!)

Heather B. said...

that was fabulous and quite funny.

Chairborne Stranger said...

I would love to meet you too-mitzvah, borsch, perogis, ice cream, whatever....LOL

Anonymous said...

no matter how many times I hear it, I still always love it!

<3 lilsis

Natalia said...

Woohoo for the poem. No rejection slips from this crowd.

-OK, back to writing-


Snowflake Chaser said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian said...

This is great. I am going to read it to my son tonight :)

Snowflake Chaser said...

Ah, the beauty of growing up in a polish catholic family and then converting to judaism is that when the holidays come around, I'm still eating the same food. so ultimately, i'm happy, either way! god bless latkes and the peasants of eastern europe. toss in a little kugel and i think i'd even make my busha (grandma) proud.

your poem is awesome. twice already i've bothered people who were 'in the middle of something' to read it to them. though annoyed at first by my intrusion, they were both plastered with big, toothy smiles in the end.

Bravo! :D

Dilly Dilly said...

I love the poem, I just had to send it to my Aunt on my Jewish side of the family!

And can you believe in the day and age working between Baltimore and DC I am still the "Judiasm Expert" at my job? They come to me asking if putting up garland in the office would be offensive to the non-Christians.

The Girl Who said...

That's so great! Reading that poem should be a tradition handed down for generations.. Shit.. you should try and get it published somewhere. S'cute!

Indri said...

I love it!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful, I kvell with your mother.

Indri's Mom

Eric the Something said...

Fabulous! I love your brains!