When we first moved to Blueridge Drive, a tone-y neighborhood in Knoxville, Heather was just four years old. We walked across the street with a freshly baked loaf of sourdough to introduce ourselves to one of our new neighbors. This kindly white-haired lady was wearing a picture sweater with snowflakes and stockings. She greeted us warmly. Then the friendly neighbor picked up a huge pine cone from her yard, offered it to Heather, and said, "This will look nice under your Christmas Tree!"
Heather stiffened and replied, "Lady, I am NOT a Christian!"
The lady staggered back and said, "What are you?"
"I'm Jewish!" Heather proclaimed, proudly. I was a bit embarrassed at this first encounter with a neighbor, but also proud of Heather's strong sense of self at such a young age.
At least until later that day, when a shopkeeper in Bearden said, "Merry Christmas!" to Heather, and she began her identity-politics announcement all over again.
In the car, I told her, "Honey, when people here say 'Merry Christmas," they are wishing you something they believe is a very good thing. They are being nice and friendly and good-natured. It's okay just to say, 'Same to you!' You don't need to keep explaining your religion, your sense of otherness."
Heather has grown into a fine young woman, still very proud of her Jewish identity. She's poised, warm, funny, friendly. Unless you say something that's anti-Semitic--even if you say it without realizing that you're being offensive. My child, my grown daughter, is a cultural missionary and diversity watchdog these days in the heart of the Midwest. So watch your mouth out there!
And Merry Christmas, y'all!
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.