Annette Gross

Coming Out: It's the Jewish Thing to Do at Chanukah

Filed By Annette Gross | December 24, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living

I recently read an article written by Jay Michaelson entitled "Coming Out: It's the Jewish Thing to Do at Chanukah." Mr. Michaelson is Jewish and gay. He tells us that Chanukah is a "coming out" holiday - both in its origins and its contemporary forms. He goes on to talk about being open and honest with oneself and one's values, and demanding that difference be accommodated.

I can see some similarities with being gay and Jewish, especially at this time of the year. I grew up in New York City, which has the largest Jewish population in the world. Until I was 19 years old, I honestly thought that the Jews were the majority of people in the world. It wasn't until I left New York to move to a small college town in Ohio that I learned otherwise.

I did not specifically hide my Jewishness, but I did not know how and when to express it. Now, living in Indiana, most people assume I am Christian. I am bombarded with Merry Christmas greetings. I am asked if I have bought all my Christmas presents. How do I respond? Do I mumble yes, or do I say "I don't celebrate Christmas?"

Just as most people think I am Christian, most of them also assume my son is straight. When asked if he is married and I say no, they say that they're sure that he'll meet a nice girl soon.

In the past few years, I have started to fight back. The last time someone wished me Merry Christmas, I told them I do not celebrate Christmas. The last time someone asked me if my son was married, I said he's gay and he's not allowed to get married. These may not seem like the most gracious of replies, but they are honest answers.

As I light the candles on my menorah, I think about how the Maccabees fought against the status quo - how they were determined to be true to themselves and their religion. Chanukah was the first battle for religious freedom. Then I think of the GLBT community and how they are fighting for their freedom and their rights. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And as I am learning that it's okay to be who I am, we have to urge GLBT people to come out and be true to themselves. As Jay Michaelson goes on to say in his article: "To celebrate Hanukkah today is thus a form of coming out: admitting difference, recognizing that one is not the same as everyone else and, hopefully, celebrating the unique gifts that being different offers."

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I think it's good to be direct and honest, but I also think it's important to pay attention to who you're talking with. If it's a friend or an acquaintance you know fairly well, by all means say what they're not expecting you to say. But if it's a complete stranger, someone you just met, or someone you're never going to talk to again, I think it's not worth the trouble or discomfort it's going to cause.

There's nothing wrong with plainly stating the fact that your son is gay or that you are Jewish. Why the "fighting back?" With that attitude, you are just going to alienate people who were simply being courteous and asking about your holiday plans. Boy, if we all have to start taking into account whether someone is Jewish or Muslim or Christian, especially in an area that's predominantly Christian, we're really opening a can of worms. There are some things that are said and done just to smooth the way; they aren't meant as a slam against you. I'd urge you to reconsider and take a more balanced approach.