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Last night on Facebook, I read something that rubbed me the wrong way.  A peer, a woman I worked with for two months, posted a conversation she and her mother had had after seeing a yoga mat tucked into a Toys for Tots donation box.  “That’s not a Toy for Tots!” she cleverly quipped, “It’s a Present for the Privileged.”  I wasn’t sure how to articulate it at the time, but it bothered me, so I passive-aggressively posted a link to a blog that had gone viral about a woman finding quinoa in the food donation box at a school where well-heeled children attended.  The blog, of course, was about not judging “those people” who receive food donations or welfare, in the face of blatantly prejudiced concerns about welfare moms toting iphone 6s while gaming the system for free WIC benefits and food stamps.  The author had unexpectedly found herself in a position of using a food pantry previously, she writes, and far be it for us to assume who is at the other end of our donations.  I didn’t expect my former colleague to see herself in that story, but it set my brain on fire.


During the two months we worked side by side at a state-funded program for full-day pre-kindergarten for needy families, and children with developmental delays, she had lamented, while justifying why a professional woman holding a master’s degree was still living with her parents, that in this economy, one could have a car, or an apartment, but not both.  It’s insulting not only because I was doing both at the time, but more so because the families we worked with, most of whom were single-parent and/or immigrant families, were struggling without the benefit of native English proficiency, white privilege, or higher education that she and I both enjoy.


Then there’s her assumption itself, that a yoga mat is a privileged item, that yoga is a bourgeois pursuit, that a $10 yoga mat is an inappropriate gift item for a child in need.  What, pray tell, would one rather choose for a 10- or 12-year-old girl?  A piece of mass-produced commercialized plastic drek that will last no longer than Christmas morning?  Whereas a yoga mat needs no batteries, no assembly, has no directions, and no limitations.  Boys, girls, young and old.  And, contrary to the assertion of another Facebook commenter, it can provide more than just a “clean surface to play on” over the presumed squalor of the recipient family’s overcrowded tenement.  My own kids, not even three, but already in the throes of pretended play, have commandeered my dormant yoga mats, and set them up as roadways for their cars, towels for their “beach” excursions, and blankets to hide in.  A pair of pointe shoes or a riding helmet might be a White Elephant for an impoverished child, but a quick trip to the library would yield a DVD or a book of yoga poses to imitate.


Many years ago, around Christmas time, my mom read a “letter to Santa” in the local paper, written by a little girl whose family was in need.  My siblings and I spent our first night of Hanukkah wrapping matchbox cars, Barbies, stuffed animals, winter coats, and an artificial Christmas tree.  My mom played elf and delivered it all to the little girl’s school.  When we were talking about our first nights of Hanukkah at confirmation class the next day, I shared the warm, fuzzy feeling I had gotten from our act of charity.  Cynically, one of my classmates posited that it had been a hoax designed to garner sympathy and free stuff.


Is my classmate the same kind of person who thinks a yoga mat is a trapping of the well-to-do, that charity should be practiced with a distinct separation between the stuff we use, and the stuff they’re allowed to receive as gifts?


The social justice club at my school is collecting canned/boxed foods and free turkey certificates so that local aid organizations can give traditional thanksgiving meals to the hungry.  What started as an effort by a small group of kids resulted in a school-wide donation of 30 boxes of canned food and 10 free turkey certificates.  Due to the need for the stuff to be shelf-stable, most of the donations are the usual food pantry staples: mushy canned yams, canned corn, limp green beans, jellied cranberry sauce (with the ripples from the can), and boxes of instant mashed potatoes.  I don’t know of another way to collect and distribute food donations, but the result is that those have become poor people food.  Those are the go-to donations.  Alongside my jar of cranberries from Trader Joe’s in the donation box was the 30-cent can of corn niblets I found at Giant.


The canned-corn-and-instant-potato-flakes stereotype speaks to the larger issue of access to fresh fruits and vegetables that is often lacking in “food deserts”.  Fresh food costs more, has to be stored differently, expires faster, and requires more time to prepare.  But does that mean hungry people don’t deserve quinoa or yoga mats? If we really want our charity to be meaningful, we should choose things we ourselves would use.  There’s a significant difference between donating canned caviar, and buying an extra jar of the same spaghetti sauce your family uses when it’s 2/$5.


When we used to collect coats, hats, and mittens for a preschool service project, we would tell the kids it was for “friends we haven’t met yet” to make charity accessible to a 3-year-old brain.  That’s all “those people” are — they’re just friends we haven’t met yet.  I’d buy my friend a yoga mat, wouldn’t you?



I’m Jewish and I hate Christmas.  There, I’ve said it.  Do you really need to read any more?

Yet somehow I’m going to muster my strength to tell you more.

I hate the commercialism as much as anybody.  I hate to see people who can’t afford to pushing around two shopping carts at Target or Walmart or Toys ‘R Us loaded with crappy plastic toys that have no scope for imagination.  They epitomize everything I hate about the way we thrust junk on our kids and throw money at foreign toy-makers with recognizable characters emblazoned on their products.  Why again do we need Dora cereal and ice cream?  Why is Spongebob on my backpack and my lunchbag?  Why does my step-nephew have a Disney “Cars” television set?  Why does a four-year-old need his own TV? How did I even get a step-nephew?

More than the overt commercialism, I hate the way Christmas is shoved down our throats en masse.  Whether it’s churches being “clever” with their signboards reminding us of the Reason for the Season or a timeless, heartwarming Santa bringing Coca-Cola to the polar bears population, it’s everywhere.  It’s in the tacky traffic signal colored lights our neighbors string up, the giant blow-up snowmen, reindeer, and snow globes that threaten to jump out at me from the tiny lawns.  It’s everywhere.  I can’t stand shopping during this “season” because of the infernal Christmas carols.  Jewish or not, I have not yet met one person who enjoys the retail nose pollution of the top 140 Christmas songs.  The B101 radio station actually plays this garbage non-stop throughout the month of December.  Can you imagine how much their listenership drops if you don’t count mall franchise stores? 

And don’t try telling me people choose to listen to B101, and choose to play Christmas music in their retail establishments.  Don’t tell me I can choose to avoid these things, because they’re everywhere.  Mr. Apron’s uncle couldn’t attend our play two weeks ago, because on Sunday, the one day a week his store is closed, he had to put up his Christmas display in the front window and decorate the store.  He is a Jewish man, as Jewish as they come, and he is not beholden to any franchise or chain mandate.  This is a Jewish man who owns his own business, and is compelled to deck his halls for fear of seeming heretical. 

Tonight Mr. Apron and I made the grievous mistake of venturing back down to West Chester, PA, where our beloved play was performed 2 weeks ago, to see our friends perform a 40-minute opera in the historic courthouse.  We didn’t know, or had conveniently forgotten, that it was part of the “Old Fashioned Christmas” (their quotes) in the historic downtown.  The drive down was the usual rush hour madness, but what was worse was trying to cram the 6 zillion cars into the 17 parking spots not marked “resident permit parking only, zone A”.  Finally, about ready to give up and drive back home, we found a spot scarcely longer than my little Honda Fit, and into which no other car (save a Smart car, a 3-door Yaris, or a Ford Fiesta) could have fit.  All while slurping down hot soup from Panera. 

I chose soup because we had little time to wait for food to be prepared, and the line was out the door.  (On a Friday night.  In West Chester.  Yes, it’s that kind of town…a town with a vibrant downtown full of acclaimed restaurants, where the populace chooses Panera, a subsidiary of McDonald’s.  But I digress.) I slurped it down while vainly trying to keep the soup off of my new red wool coat.  See how festive I can be?  I burned my tongue because the coat was more valuable to me in the moment, and the faster I inhaled my soup, the lower the liquid line went, as did my chances of spilling.  We rushed to the courthouse, past the sheriff’s deputies earning some pretty overtime, and sat down to a delightful opera. 

I did not sing along with the carols after the show.  I don’t know the lyrics, and even though they thoughtfully provided lyric cheat sheets for the goyim who don’t know the words either, I chose not to sing.  I used to sing.  In 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, when I was in the chorus, I would sing along to the dozen Christmas songs, and one Chanukah song in the holiday program.  I don’t have to sing now because those aren’t my songs, and my parents aren’t in the audience forcing smiles.  They’re fine for other people, but I’m not singing about Christ and Saviors and Bethlehem and the inevitable talk of miracles that seems to pervade all religions this time of year.  They’re not my miracles.  And I’m certainly not singing about figgy pudding. 

If that makes me bitter, bitchy, hostile, or intolerant, so be it.  All my life I’ve been misunderstood by people who were ignorant or intolerant, because I’m Jewish.  I’m not trying to “fight back”.  I’m expressing my rights and my choices.  I went tonight to see and support my friends, who, by the way, did a fabulous job.  And I don’t think anyone noticed my mouth not moving, or missed my voice when they wished each other a Merry Christmas. 

So then we left, and had to fight our way through yet another anxiety-producing situation.  In the 45 minutes since we had entered the courthouse, approximately 42 thousand merry souls had descended upon the streets wearing Christmas sweaters, Santa Claus hats, and balaclavas.  And they were all, each and every one of them, blocking my speedy egress.  I held onto Mr. Apron’s hand tightly, and he steered us through the merriness.  We fought and clawed our way to the street corner, where the conveniently located opening in the police barricades was completely blocked off by people trying to get a good look at the impending parade. 

Yes, a parade.  At 8 o’clock on a Friday night in December.  To mark the “Old Fashioned Christmas”.  The only thing old-fashioned we saw was one strange man wearing a top hat.  I heard decidedly not-old-fashioned Christmas music being pumped into the streets by some definitely not-old-fashioned DJ setup.  I saw some decidedly not-old-fashioned commercialized festivities.  And I wanted out more than anything.  I hate huge crowds of people.  Being 5 feet tall, I cannot see over most people’s heads, and in trying to see where I’m going, I trip over small children and strollers.  Mr. Apron’s bony shoulders and 6 foot tall frame edged his way through some stubborn parade watchers, and he led me across the street, through another throng packed tightly at another “opening” and, finally, away from the madness, passing only disgruntled teenagers with pink hair, dressed in black, and smoking cigarettes.  I hated them, too. 

I tried, folks.  I wore my red coat, I persevered in finding a parking spot, I did not have a complete nervous breakdown in the middle of the street.  But it found me anyhow.  Somehow it came.  It came with small children, it came with police barricades.  It came without sparkles or snowdrops or grenades.  I hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming; it came.  Somehow or another it came just the same. 

And that’s just fine.  Just don’t shove it down my throat.