Latkes and Loempia

There’s a woman in Memphis who gets offended when someone greets her with “Happy Holidays” instead of  “Merry Christmas”.  Imagine how offended she would be if she knew that I was Jewish when I wished her a “Happy Holiday”. It’s hard not to get caught up in the celebratory spirit of this time of year no matter what your religious belief, or whether you even celebrate anything in December. So it is a month when spirits are high and there is a collective feeling of warmth amongst us. We take the time to wish each other happiness in a personal way that is comfortable to each of us. And that’s shameful to the woman in Memphis.

Jews have always had a difficult time of it in December. The commercial bombardment on tv, the radio, print advertisements, billboards, and Christmas music seems to assail us wherever we go. It is rare that one hears the “Dreidel Song” or the story of the Maccabees anywhere other than a private home, synagogue or Jewish Community Center during this time. December is the month when we feel most invisible and often unwelcome, such as the woman in Memphis would like us to be.

Though our family is Jewish, we celebrate December holidays with a nod to our multiculturalism. In our home and community we embrace, respect and honor everyone’s religious belief and their choice of celebration. Of course we light one candle on each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah and we display a lit menorah in our window as well as hang a Hanukkah banner above our front door. We also display the many Christmas cards we receive from our Christian friends, family and colleagues. We receive red and green wrapped Christmas presents from our relatives who celebrate Christmas and share Christmas greetings with our neighbors. And on December 5 we all get our initials in chocolate to remember Sinterklaas from our family’s Dutch heritage.

If we know that someone celebrates Christmas then we wish them a Merry Christmas. If we don’t know them well enough to know their religious beliefs, then we wish them Happy Holidays. It would be presumptuous and arrogant of us to assume that everyone around us celebrates Christmas.

Food is something that unites people of many different backgrounds. And in December, it shows. Of course, we make latkes, a potato pancake fried in oil which represents the miracle of the oil that burned after the destruction of the Temple during the time of the Maccabees.

Latkes cooking in oil

But  in the spirit of embracing our diversity, we also use that oil to fry loempia, a Dutch-Indonesian eggroll. The understanding and acceptance of diversity begins at home. And what better time to teach this than during the holiday season.

Loempia with chicken and vegetable filling

So to the woman in Memphis, who cannot see beyond her own bubble of church, religion, community, listen to me. December is not only for you, it is for all of us. For all of us who choose to celebrate or not.  To celebrate Christmas or not. To celebrate Hanukkah or not. To celebrate Kwanzaa or not. To celebrate St. Nicholas Day or not. To celebrate Festivus or not. Or not to celebrate at all. December is about respect, tolerance and acceptance.

When I say “Happy Holidays” to you, relax, smile, and enjoy the season.

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Anniversary of an Ear

Yes, you read right.  It was nearly 40 years ago, when my friend Loretta convinced me that I needed to have my ears pierced.  We were overwhelmed freshmen in college going through our first taste of final exams, and somehow Loretta knew that I needed a break. She and I trudged through inches of slushy snow to our school’s infirmary where a kind grandfatherly physician had a small potion of steaming liquid waiting for us. He took out a long shiny needle (it must have been 9″ long) and dipped it into the potion. Then he whisked out a cork from an old wine bottle and placed it behind my ear lobe. I caught his eye in a questioning gaze and I thought I saw  a gleam of merriment in his.  Torture indeed!  Well it was over before I knew it, and I left with two shiny gold studs decorating my ear lobes.

Fast forward to 2011. I think I have allergies to all the earrings I had worn over the years. My not wearing earrings has caused my  ear piercings from so long ago to close.  And this pains me because so many of my fellow artist friends design and create exquisite earrings that I long to have to adorn my ears. This is what I’m talking about.

Handpainted earrings on ostrich egg shells by Ansley Larsson

Ansley Larsson has an etsy shop here. And then there’s this.

Hand fused glass earrings and jewelry by elucido glass

Elucido Glass’s etsy site is here. And this.

Polymer Clay jewelry by Linda Livaudais

At this time, Linda Livaudais does not have an etsy shop. However, if you are in the Memphis area, Linda’s jewelry as well as elucido glass’ and Ansley Larsson’s jewelry can be purchased at WinterArts  Winter Arts is a consortium of elite Memphis artists and craftspeople who sell their work through a retail shop during the holiday season. Please come and visit us at 2055 West Street at Poplar Avenue in Germantown, TN. We are in the Shops of  Saddle Creek South next to Talbot’s. Oh, and did I mention that I will also be selling my handwoven clothing and accessories as well as my handbound books there?

Getting back to Loretta. She had an adventurous spirit that I couldn’t quite capture at 18. Loretta didn’t graduate after 4 years as I and most of our classmates did. Instead she chose to take her senior year off and work as a concert assistant to two of her professors. They were a musician couple that went on a classical concert tour of Europe the year that the rest of us were agonizing over boyfriend angst, graduate school dilemmas, job prospects. Loretta spent the year traveling through Austria, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other exotic European destinations. I believe she even performed some of the lovely piano pieces that she had become known for in college. And then yes, she did come back to graduate college a year after the rest of us. And as far as anyone knew she spent the rest of her adult life in Austria and Italy studying music and teaching. Such adventure.

Sadly, a few years ago, I received a notice that Loretta had passed away at 51 years of age after a long illness. She and I had not kept up over the years, but I still felt a bit of heartache as I remember that cold wintry day when we both set out for a small challenge. And for Loretta, she chose to take the road less traveled, a road that seemed to have taken many twists and turns and certainly great challenges. So in celebration of Loretta’s life and in memory of the young woman who made beautiful music and didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, this is written for you. And I will get my ears pierced again.