As the holiday season approaches, I reflect on what I believe to be the greatest gift I ever received from my parents: the simple gift of open-mindedness.
I come from a bi-religious household. My father is Jewish and my mother is Christian. With those two heavy hitters, you would think they would just cancel each other out. But, instead, my mind was opened to both. Each year, my father lead the lighting of the Hanukkah candles on the very ‘70s menorah my parents hand-made when they first were married. He taught us about the Maccabees, the importance of standing up for what you believe and that miracles, like with the oil, can happen. He also always raved about my mom’s potato latkes.
My mom loved unwrapping her favorite Christmas ornaments for our tree, our fake tree, that my father assembled every year. This ritual often provoked my mom to speak about what she felt was most important: to trust in God, to love your enemies, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and that miracles can happen. I existed in this very happy bubble until other people told me this could not be.
In a sixth grade English class, I was paired up with another student to work on an assignment. We got to talking about the upcoming Christmas break. I told her that, in my house, we celebrated Hanukkah for my dad and Christmas for my mom — and I was pretty sure we got more presents that way.
She sat there for a moment, just looking down at her blank sheet of paper. Finally, she said, “I’ve met your dad, he seems really nice, it’s just a shame that he’s going to hell.”
Silence: My heart sank. I was shocked. I had never heard this before. My dad: going to hell? My dad was the nicest person, and so quiet and unassuming. What had he done? A Jewish friend told me that it was shameful for me to celebrate the Jewish holidays since my mother didn’t convert. What had happened? Would half of me go to hell? Who exactly was I offending? I felt terrible.
When I told this all to my parents, they were quiet and listened. I could tell that they felt no shame in having raised my sister and me to embrace both of their religions. My dad said I should ignore the hurtful things that girl said, she wouldn’t want someone to say that to her. My mom said that because some people believe certain things to be true – doesn’t mean that they are. I should stand up for what I believe.
For all the fundamental differences between my parents’ religions, what they both had in common was a great openness toward each other and to other people. I believe that embracing the world with an open mind is the best gift my parents ever gave me. During this holiday season, I salute it — for it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.
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