Being a Jew during the winter holidays is hard; being a middle-school-aged Jew during the winter holidays is even harder. Everything at school is transformed into some twisted variation of Christmas. The periodic table is green and red, word problems are all on the topic of Santa’s exponential present-making, and “extra fun” holiday crosswords are passed out.
Last year, seventh grade, things were a little different, thank God. I don’t know how happy I am about the fact that students have to be studying the Holocaust to be aware of Hanukkah, but at least everyone wasn’t completely ignorant. Whenever it came up that I was Jewish, my classmates were usually very excited.
“A real Jew, here?”
“Does she really celebrate Hanukkah?”
‘“I heard you only get one present!”
“What’s a dreidel?”
It was fun to be recognized for a change, and I basked in it for a while. Only a few days before the big winter break, our Family and Consumer Sciences class—it’s actually Home Ec., but they like to say “Family and Consumer Sciences,” because it sounds more educational or something—is waiting outside the classroom for the teacher to let us in. We’ve just recently wrapped up our unit on the Holocaust, and the Jew-induced buzz is starting to die down. Some kids next to me start up a conversation, and I, being the thriving social butterfly that I am, join in. The conversation somehow turns toward the topic of the break, as conversations tend to do, and then to the holidays.
“I’m Jewish,” I tell them, following their inquiry about my Christmas list.
A girl in our group, big-boned, black hair, asks, in a state of wonder: “You’re Jewish?”
And she looks around with some concern, her shoulders hunched secretively as if I’d just divulged my secret identity.
She looks at me again and whispers in disbelief, “Were the soldiers mean?”