Dan’s favorite Chanukah food is Latkes, those greasy, fried potato and onion pancakes that make an oily mess of my kitchen for days on end. He dredges them in apple sauce and somehow manages to eat more potatoes in the form of Latkes than he ever does in any other potato manifestation.
My favorite Chanukah food, on the other hand, is a little less traditional. It’s a mass produced sugar cookie from the local Safeway grocery store, shaped like the Star of David with bright blue sprinkles that stain your mouth blue. You can always tell when I’ve been in the box because my mouth looks like it is blue and chilly from lack of circulation (my husband argues that this is the chronic problem with my feet and hands, especially at bedtime).
I was at the store, purchasing my annual holiday treat, when the cashier decided to be chatty and inquire about my unusual choice of cookies. I’ve noticed that the large pile of Chanukah cookies goes largely untouched at our store. I don’t think we have a huge Jewish population in these parts, or at least one that likes disgustingly good artificially sweetened, high in saturated and trans fat cookies.
As she held up the box of brightly colored Stars of David, the cashier asked, “Are you Jewish?”
It sounds like a simple question, but in my experience, questions are seldom simple, especially when they concern faith and religion.
I considered saying no, since technically, I’m not 100% fully Jewish in the typical sense of the word. My mother isn’t of Jewish descent, which is the way most orthodox Jews sort it out. I also don’t attend a synagogue, nor have I undergone the Mikvah ceremony to convert to Judaism as a gentile believer.
However, I’m married to a Jewish man. In marriage, I am one with him, and I’m part of his Jewish family, where I embrace their heritage and practice their traditions.
But, of course, we can’t forget Jesus. First and foremost, I identify as a Christian. My identity is in Christ, as his child. However, those two identities, Christian and Jewish, don’t necessarily have to contradict one another. Some people in my situation have adopted the term Hebraic Christian. It means that you’re a gentile Christian who looks at his or her faith through the lens of Judaism.
I thought about explaining all this to the cashier, but there was a line forming behind me, and I was going to be late to a meeting. Instead, I opted for simplicity. “Yes, I’m Jewish,” I told her. She wished me a happy Chanukah, and I went on my way.
Jesus got asked all the time who he was, what sect he belonged to, and how people should identify him. Some wanted to know if he was the Jewish Messiah (Matthew 11:2-3), others tried to peg him as a Samaritan (John 8:48). Leave it to Jesus to give the shortest possible answer with the most possible meaning.
Here’s what he said in response to these questions: “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). Maybe that doesn’t mean much to you, but his audience understood exactly what he meant. It made them so upset they tried to stone him to death for saying it. The controversial part is at the end. Jesus was uttering the holy, unspeakable name of God (Yahweh). Not only that, he was referring to himself!
In hindsight, I should have attempted to briefly explain that even though I’m a gentile and believe in Jesus, I celebrate the Jewish holidays with my Jewish husband, who also loves Jesus. Yes, it’s confusing, but Jesus never let that stop him from telling the truth. He didn’t shy away from controversy, and I’m sure he wasn’t worried about getting through the line as quickly as possible.
The next time I’m at the store, I think I’ll buy two boxes of cookies: one box of Stars of David and one matching box of red, sugar coated Santas. I’ll make sure I get in her line and see if she asks me any questions.