Usually, I spend Christmas Day sitting on the sofa in my pajamas, eating a once a year feast for one, and binge-watching Christmas themed movies. Last year, I didn’t. I searched the internet for an event that would force me to leave my apartment, and meet people, or, at least, learn something new. And I found
The week before Christmas, I bought a ticket to Being ___ at Christmas, and spent Christmas Eve prepping my clothes and choosing which bus routes would get me downtown and back on the holiday schedule. When Christmas Day finally arrived, I got to the National Museum of American Jewish History an hour after it opened, and spent four hours touring every floor of the building, from the top down.
Beyond the abundance of history, I found that Being ___ at Christmas was about family, and humanity. I noticed both, everywhere: from a father holding the hand of his toddler as they slowly walked up the stairs, to eyes scanning the faces and bodies of those who were obviously different but moved on without attempting to engage, and for those who did. I witnessed it on every floor.
On the floor where the story of American Jews began, a teen-aged boy stood with an older woman discussing a display before he leaned into her side. Automatically, the woman wrapped her arms around his back, lovingly. A grandmother excitedly told her grandson, who was more interested in handling everything, that she attended one of the summer camps named along one of the walls of the Dreams of Freedom exhibit. In front of the Palmer Raids display in the Choices and Challenges exhibit, a man and his wife mused over the similarities between justifications for mass deportations then, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric of today. And, at the video exhibit on the death of a Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a teen-aged girl, a volunteer and I spoke of the South, and its history of mob lynching under the guise of justice. Seemingly much had changed, but the struggle to treat each other as equals worthy of respect was never ending.
Those moments remain with me because they reminded me that the struggle to sustain a distinct cultural identity without abandoning my humanity or negating my Americanness was a universal story. It was my story.
—Written by CJTerry