Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Boy I once was lives in me

 I've been following a Charles Dickens reading group mailing-list since the past few months.

Charles Dickens Discussion/mailing list:  Inimitable-Boz


There are some committed members who read the books and contributes to many wonderfully detailed discussions. Here is one that caught my attention. This came up in the A Christmas Carol discussion:

When I was a boy in the 1940s, New York City, my city, had the largest Jewish population in the world, about 2 million people out of the city's 8 million. And yet Jewish culture and history were almost never acknowledged in public discourse. Although 26 students in my class of 28 were Jewish, our teachers made us sing Christmas songs and make Christmas decorations. This badly insulted our identity, doubly so as nothing was ever said to us in school about the Holocaust, which had made all of us crazy with distress, which made us all ache with despair. The stores were always decked out for Christmas, as were the magazines, and the songs on the radio were all Christmas songs. Our culture, our identity was utterly invisible, it seemed. We weren't the only group that was ignored. Black people had it worse, as did gays and lesbians. And our situation was mitigated by how many Jewish entertainers there were on radio and early television, but those comedians and singers were almost never identified as Jewish, although we all knew that they were.
I bring this up to explain my identification with Scrooge. If Christian culture was going to deny our existence so thoroughly, we would harden ourselves against Christmas. If our teachers couldn't manage to wish us a Happy Hanukah, we'd view their holiday joy as humbug. Because anti-semitism intensified at Christmas and Easter, became more visible and vocal, we were always made uneasy at holiday time.
We live in a much healthier time, one in which many cultures are acknowledged, and as a result my children don't cringe, as I used to, when strangers and friends wish us Merry Christmas, thinking they're being neighborly. But the boy I once was lives on in me, and I still love it when Scrooge say, "Humbug!"  At that moment, he represents for me the refusal to submit to everyone else's assumptions.


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