Don’t Tell Me To Have a Happy New Year

by robinhardwick

“Happy New Year!” my coworker brightly says to me.

“Thanks!” I say with a polite smile. I loathe small talk.

She presses further. “So what are you doing for the holiday?”

“This?” I saw, with a general sweep of my hand to indicate that I will, indeed, be spending it in my prison of a cubicle,  trying to keep it light.

“Oh,” she replies, surprise in her voice. “I assumed you’d take the day off or see family. Iisn’t this an important holiday?”

“Sure it is. To some people. I don’t really formally celebrate the Jewish holidays.”

“Oh.” Not really wanting to know the whole mishigas about how I identify myself spiritually.

I appreciate the intent. They want to be the one who says the right thing to the seemingly Jewish person to celebrate their holiday. Please leave it at that. I can either say “thank you” to those I don’t know well, or give a sarcastic response to my closer friends who know how I feel about religion.  But this happens around this time every year. People see my (given) last name and assume what I need to be doing on the holidays of my “supposed” religion. As with say, any other religion practiced in North America, there is a wide spectrum of how people embody, internalize, individualize, and celebrate their religions. To all my coworkers who put up ungepochte decorations in their cubicles, I don’t question them on why they weren’t at church every Sunday.

I know I sound defensive about not being a good enough Jewess, which is ironic because those that know me well and are willing to listen to my diatribes know that I consider myself atheist. However, I can’t deny the fact that my last name is as Jewish as corned beef on rye, my grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, my grandmother and mother used Yiddish words that became part of my vernacular, that my grandparents, and now my parents, retired to Boynton Beach, Florida. I can use part of my Jewish cultural identity as I please, but please don’t assume that I then need to follow every tenant of what someone else thinks makes a “good” Jewish person.

It comes from the other side too. A “good atheist”, whatever that means, should supposedly shun all parts of any religious practices, thus denying part of a childhood or identity or part of who I am. Get on one of those fokakta atheist message board and have a fun time trying to say anything good about any of your childhood or family tradition.

So, coworker, when I tell you I’m not doing anything for the holiday, just accept that. And I won’t bother you about why you aren’t eating only fish, don’t have seven wives, or aren’t praying to Xenu, or whatever other religions are “supposed” to make you do.