December 11, 2012

When Christmas and Hanukkah Crashed

For the first time in my life, I was the only Jew in the group.

My winter break when I was 15 was a turning point in my life, although I had no idea it was coming. My dad took me and my brother to a ski resort in Canada where we enrolled in a week long ski school to improve our jumps and form. The teenagers in our group were from all over the world, and most of them were far better skiers than we were. But we kept up with the grueling exercises, skiing down mogul lined slopes with one ski and preparing for the final race scheduled for the last day of ski school.
Most of the kids were friendly, but for the first time in my life, I was the only Jewish girl in the whole group. My life had been pretty sheltered. I went to a Jewish day school in New York, lived in a mostly Jewish neighborhood and went to Jewish summer camps. I wasn't used to being the odd one out.

It was also one of those years when Christmas and Hanukkah coincided, so while everyone was discussing their Christmas plans, my brother and I pretended not to hear as we adjusted our boot settings. And we avoided eye contact with the instructor who asked us whether we were coming to the party that night. I thought about the little silver menorah in the living room of our chalet, and about the blessings that we would say that night.
That afternoon in the ski lodge I warmed my hands next to the fire and stared at the enormous pine tree decorated with hundreds of lights and shiny gold ornaments. I had never really looked closely at a Christmas tree before, and I was surprised by how beautiful it was. The lights were simply mesmerizing, and when one of the girls who I had been skiing with that day sat down next to me and asked if I was coming to the party that night, I began to reconsider. I didn't have to drink or eat anything. I could light the menorah with my family and then hang out with my ski class for a while. It seemed like it would be anti-social not to go, and there wasn't anything technically wrong with going to the party, was there?

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