“Us” and “Them”

At a preschool Hanukkah celebration—held in a nice liberal church—an atheistic Jew wonders where he fits in, and what to tell his daughter.

  1. 1. I stood at the back of the crowded room. Before me, like sunflowers ripened and swaying in the breeze, or like lighters at a rock concert when the slow song comes on, was a sea of raised hands, each holding a smart phone or camera aimed at the rabbi and the children assembled at her feet. She was telling the story of Hanukkah to a captive audience sitting cross legged on the floor in clumps, each representing a pre-K class at the Riverside Church Weekday School. Among them sat my daughter. She is 4 years old, but not for long. I stood in the back because I am very tall and can see over everyone, and I did not want to block anyone’s view. Also, because it affords me distance, which I need in order to observe, analyze, and to feel apart from the proceedings, across which now and then I allowed a flicker of emotion and feeling to leap. In alternating beats these emotions were kind, warm, and hostile, annoyed.

    2. My daughter has taken to drawing a curious form, a kind of sign: ...

The complete text of ““Us” and “Them”” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on www.tabletmag.com.

Originally published in Tablet, December 2011

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