Passing Down Passing
1. It is impossible to avoid the pervasiveness of Christmas. My 4-year-old son watches videos. He attends preschool (that Santa, he never forgets to give out gifts!). That my son has any idea we’re Jewish in Christian-centric America is a victory.
2. “Mom, we can’t sing Christmas songs because we’re Jewish people.” “We can sing any song we damn well please,” I think, but I don’t want to confuse him, so I say, “Yes, we usually don’t sing Christmas songs because we don’t celebrate that holiday. We celebrate Hannukah, so we sing Hannukah songs.” “Yeah,” he smiles, “we sing Hannukah songs.” “Do you want me to sing you a Hannukah song?” I ask hopefully. “No thank you, Mommy.” He never lets me sing.
3. I feel proud that he’s learning he is Jewish, but it frightens me too. I have daydreams where he proudly proclaims, “We don’t celebrate Christmas because we’re Jewish!” to the wrong person. As I teach him about his Jewishness, will I also have to teach him how to hide? How to pass? Anti-Semites aren’t just at alt-right rallies donning swastika tattoos. They live somewhere. Here even. They pass too.
4. Will my son learn how to pass just from being my son? As a bisexual Jew, I know all about passing. Every time someone assumes I’m straight or Christian, I have to choose whether to correct them (declare my truth) or let it go (pass). My internal meter gauges each situation and asks, “Is it safe? Is it worth it? Will I embarrass them? Will I have to then placate their embarrassment?”
5. Is passing down the skill of passing to my children a gift—a safety tool—or is it a burden—a legacy of shame and fear?
Minna Dubin is a writer, performer, and educator. She is the founder of #MomLists, a Bay Area literary public art project. Her work has been featured in Parents, MUTHA Magazine, Huffington Post, and various literary magazines. When not chasing her toddler in circles around the dining room table, she is eating chocolate in the bathroom while texting. You can follow her work on Instagram: @momlists Facebook: Facebook.com/momlists.