Merry Happy Whatever A tiny elderly woman in a crochetted hat turned to me, as we stood, strangers united by the imposing multi-tiered wall of Christmas cards and said something in Bern dialect to fast for me to understand - except for the word "Juden." A word I have developed an almost unconscious hackles up reaction to in my time here.
Desperatley afraid that she would say something anti-semitic and that I would have to decide whether to challenge or withdraw, I said, " Noch einmal bitte, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut"
She immediatley switched to perfect english with a slight Oxford edge and repeated, "My daughter married a Jewish man and I have no idea what to do about Christmas cards."
Ah, I thought, this I can handle. I told her I had a similiarly split family and shared the same quandry. My mother is a non-practising Jew (who loves christmas - which she celibrates without any aknowledgment of Christ what so ever... and really, its not hard to do since its only a small step from its pagan roots anyway), my father is a recovering Anglican, I was raised completely without religion... BUT; My father's common law wife with whom he has two small children is an increasingly devout Jew.
So we joined in the diffecult search for cards that not only didn't say "Christmas" but didn't look it either.
I told her that although I had no interest in following a religious life - I still bristled at the slightest hint of anti-semitism - which is much worse here than I'm used to. I've even had to confront Stefan on a few things which are so ingrained into speech that he was unaware of the origins. Then again, to the Swiss, Jews are just another sort of Auslander (a catch all catagory for those not born in Switzerland, French, Serbian, Vietnamese - doesn't matter) - which seems horribly racist from the outside (and certainly hasn't helped my integration) but starts to seem oddly explainable when you have lived here awhile. But more on that another day.
She told me that the last year had been something of a revelation. She had been invited to join her inlaws for Seder, for Rosh Hashona and so forth. It was difficult, she said, to get comfortable at first. She felt as though she had to appologize for the war - for the gold - for the entire last century. "But, my dear, I don't really like what Sharon is doing in Isreal either"
I know the feeling. I don't either. But never make the mistake that being jewish and supporting Isreal are the same thing. She seemed a bit relieved about that.
I told her about my Anglican Nana tearfully asking me why she wasn't allowed to give her grandchildren Christmas presents. She tried for a year or so and then retreated into the safety of cheques enclosed in cards marked "Happy Holidays" and sent some random time in December as a blind stab at Hanukah. I've never understood why they can't just let her respect her ways and they respect theirs.
And I told her about my own discomfort at suddenly being expected to BE JEWISH for my father's new family - Rather as though my pedigree made it easier for them to except him.
She looked at me for a moment and asked me if I believed in anything, "You know, dear, a powerful spirit - one that can't be seen, only felt."
And I do. But I can't explain it, and I don't really feel the need to.
She smiled and said that that was enough to get me through, "to really belive in nothing, that would be a tragedy."
Eventually we both found cards - I, a box of artsy shots of candles, she, a series of pictures of snow covered Bern. They were a little on the christmasy side - but she'll get away with it.
And I left the store feeling good. I had had an intimate, random conversation with a total stranger, which is one of my very favourite things. I realized that this time of year is suposed to be a fun break from the misery of cold and darkness - whether you celibrate Christmas, Hanukah, Quanza or the pagan solstice - and its getting lost in family politics...
And I am entertaining thoughts of starting my own temple, devoted to the intangable SOMETHING. With a sign on the door reading: Accepted: cards of good wishes from any denomination!