The SMITH Diaries Project

A Chanukah Song

Friday, December 15th, 2006

By Ben Kaplan

“Excuse me,” the waiter in the fancy Italian restaurant said as I waited for my wife to arrive. I was just getting into my first Beefeater martini on the coldest day of the year, eavesdropping on a mother dining with her teenage girl.

“No disrespect,” he said, with a hard-to-place accent, a black guy with green eyes, “but when is Chanukah?”

“What tipped you off?” I said. “Look or disposition?”

“Both,” he said. “No disrespect, but my lady friend is Jewish, and she actually doesn’t know. I’m an atheist myself so the holiday season kind of drifts by in a blur.”

I actually did know when Chanukah was. It seems like since the moment I got baptized into the Greek-Orthodox church I’ve had aspirations of becoming the Super Jew. Of course, that hadn’t amounted into actually doing anything Super Jew-like. In fact, the night before my wife asked me if I’d rather be the ghost of Christmas past or the ghost of Christmas present in a family production she wants to stage with her five-year-old nephews for her sister, homebound with MS.

“I want to be the Chanukah King,” I said. “The Hebrew super hero, with lights and fire—I’ll kick Christmas’ ass.

I told the waiter Chanukah was December 16. Last Chanukah someone on the street was passing out free menorahs and candles and I got one and lit it in Julie’s parent’s basement where I lived at the time. I wasn’t baptized yet, or married, but I could see the writing on the wall. It was the first time a menorah was lit in the home of the president of the Greek Orthodox church.

My cheap ass, I never did buy a new one. But I’d made a mental note to take out that cheap hunk of tin on December 16.

The holidays are a weird time in the mixed home of the newly wed. Standing on the street today listening to a couple arguing while shopping, I wonder if maybe it’s just a tough time for everyone. But I want Julie to have a good Christmas. A tree. Stockings. Carols. The whole thing. But at the same time, secretly, and then sometimes not so much, it’s like: fuck Christmas. It still has the tarnish of making me switch. In fact, I’m leaving to visit my parents in Maryland on Christmas Day. My wife is joining me a few days later. Now we made these arrangements because of work schedules but somehow that seems a little too pat.

She’s spending Christmas at a church in Canada with her sister’s kids and I’ll be in America with my Jewish parents, eating Chinese food and probably seeing that Mel Gibson flick. I wish Julie and I had been married for longer and could talk about these things and have them be fine. But we haven’t and we don’t, and sometimes we get mad about other things because it’s easier, if far from ideal. I wish that black waiter with the green eyes didn’t see my new wife get up from the table in tears and later me, so drunk in a dive bar that, well…

Last year we went to midnight Mass. This year I’m not sure what we’ll do. I love seeing my wife light up when I do something good. But they’ve already somehow broken me. I went to church when I was giving it to them. But now that they’ve taken my bigger thing, I no longer want to go.

Not sure where that leaves my wife and I.

But the waiter returns and another martini appears and it’s cold outside, freezing actually. And it’s the holidays.

One response

  1. Eloise says:

    Sounds like you didn’t loose your religion. Just challenged. I read this twice. Just digesting all your emotions.

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