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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Chandler

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Good Jew vs. bad Jew? More Jewish vs. less Jewish? Growing up, I remember thinking about Judaism in these types of harmful terms. My friend who kept Kosher was more Jewish than me. A friend that had never had any formal Jewish education was less Jewish. Did you belong to a Jewish youth group? Did you go to a Jewish camp? Did you go to Monday night school? These things made you more Jewish. Did you eat bacon? Did you skip high holiday services? Well, you could chalk it up to being a bad Jew.

These archaic formulations of Judaism are always harmful, but they can be especially harmful to Jews who marry non-Jews. In some definitions, we are the bad Jews. We do not care about our Judaism. We have relegated ourselves to the bottom rung of the ladder of Judaism, those lesser Jews who are a mere slip away from losing our membership to the tribe altogether.

But this is all nonsense. There are not good Jews and bad Jews. One is not more Jewish or less Jewish. Judaism is not a competition with a big theological scoreboard tracking our Jewishness is competition with every other Jew on the planet.

Depending on your formulation, Judaism is a religion, a people, a culture, or some combination of all of these. For me, Judaism is a strand of light connecting me to God, to the world, to my family, to 6,000 years of history, to my community, and to the earth that I feel beneath my feet. These strands were not severed when I fell in love with my Catholic husband and they were not severed when I married him. If anything, through our love my love of God and attachment to my Judaism has strengthened.

When a friend first shared the link for on their Facebook page, I clicked on it. Over the next several days, I clicked again and again and again. I simply love the simplicity of the message. “Every Jew is Jewish enough.” No caveats. No explanations. Just a simple message. Every Jew is Jewish enough.

In a world full of second-guessing, gatekeeping, challenges to identity and belief, this simple statement is the antidote. Every Jew is Jewish enough. There are no good Jews or bad Jews. We are not less of a Jew or more of a Jew. We are simply Jewish. And that is enough.

Other readings on being Jewish enough:

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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Chandler

Every year on Christmas Eve, I serve my husband, children, and in-laws a Polish feast which consists of many dishes including dill pickle soup, pierogis, oplatek, kruschiki, and – the bane of my December – czernina. Czernina is the Polish word for duck blood soup. I may hear about how Nanny, my father-in-law’s grandmother, made this from scratch with one of the grandchildren going to the butcher to collect the fresh duck blood for the soup. Yes, there really is duck blood in the soup. Not one for handling blood, instead I go down to Hamtramck - the Polish enclave inside Detroit where my husband’s family lived generations ago and is now an amazing mixture of Poles, Bangladeshis, Yeminis, and others – and buy soup from one of the traditional Polish restaurants. Except every year there is some crisis.

A restaurant that is normally open is now closed on Christmas Eve Day. A restaurant will not sell me enough to accommodate the three bowls apiece the Polish males in the family seem to require. The broth, once all of the offending noodles and dried fruits are strained out, is too sweet requiring my husband to dump what seems like an obscene amount of vinegar trying to make the czernina passable. Once I stood inside a Polish market crying faced with a freezer full of bags labelled in Polish that clearly contained different items, but each only had one English word – “Dumplings”. At least once in this horror show I will likely be on the verge of a panic attack, wandering what a Jewish girl is doing running around to every Polish restaurant in 20 squares miles in an attempt not to ruin Christmas.

But this crisis has nothing to do with me being Jewish and the Polish feast has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. This is about recreating my husband’s holiday memories of Christmases past and passing down these holiday traditions for our children. For other holidays, we have aspects that are traditional – such as the gefilte fish that we make at my mother’s house using my Bubbie’s recipe as my father complains about the fish making the house smell. We also have aspects that we created ourselves – such as our Passover seder complete with singing the story of the Exodus to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”. Holidays come with tension – when do we stick with tradition, when do we create something new, what do we do when something inevitably goes wrong, and how do we agree as a couple what each holiday should look like for our family? And then, what happens when a parent or sibling disagrees with the choices we have made – do we stick with our decision or is it back to the drawing board?

This dilemma may be more apparent when you see both a Christmas tree and a menorah in the window, but it exists for everyone in ways big or small. Which church to go to on Christmas Eve and which synagogue to go to on Yom Kippur? Dinner with his family or hers? Marriage can be a negotiation of making two lives into one – and holidays are often the lynchpin of the negotiation. Maybe the disagreements are religious in nature – whether to go to church or put up a tree? But more likely they are conflicts about the expectations around holidays and the vision for what family life looks like. This is true no matter which holidays you are celebrating this December.

The true dilemma is trying to celebrate the holidays in an authentic and meaningful way while coping with the expectations of families and communities. Traditions may have to bend and change over time as people come and go from our families. But the heart of the holidays remains: gathering with family, friends, and food to celebrate miracles. Through give and take, communication and compromise, I hope that we can create a December that is full of meaning, light on stress, and – in my case – abundant in czernina.

For other takes on the “December Dilemma” please check out:

Why There’s No Such Thing as A “December Dilemma” by Laurel Snyder at 18 Doors (

A No Dilemma December by Laura Drescher at 18 Doors (

How Can We Deal With the So-Called December Dilemma? By Rabbi Jeffrey Goldwasser at ReformJudaism.Org(

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  • Writer's pictureAlicia Chandler

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

I have been thinking about what it means to have a holiday season in a pandemic. Now, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas are far from the first holidays of this pandemic. We have celebrated Passover and Easter and Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and birthdays and Memorial Day and Labor Day and the 4th of July and Halloween and Diwali in this pandemic. But this is a moment where we are celebrating - and missing our celebrations - together. And there is meaning in both of these things - the celebrations and the missing of the celebrations.

I love Thanksgiving and Hanukkah and Christmas (in whatever order they fall in). As I have written about before: READ MORE.

I am not one who likes to smush holidays together. In our family, we keep Christmas and Hanukkah separate - even when they fall on the same days. But there is a thread that binds these two celebrations together - they are celebrations of light. For Jews, Hanukkah celebrates the flames in the Temple in Jerusalem following an improbable military victory. For Christians, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who was called the Light of the World.

These days, this winter, will feel very dark. There is isolation. There is sickness. There is anxiety. So what does the light mean in these dark days? Are we waiting for God to perform a miracle - through miracles and saviors? Or is the light something different?

Whether you are a theist or a humanist or some combination thereof, I would argue that each of us has a light within us. Perhaps you believe, as I do, that the light was placed in us by God as each of us was created in the image of the Divine. Perhaps you believe that the light within us is nature. But regardless of how the light was placed there, this holiday season is a chance for us to nurture and share our light with each other and the world. Even though we are physically separated, we still have the power to bring joy and love and light to those who need it.

May each of you be blessed in this coming year with health, happiness, friends, family, and - when safe again - hugs.

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