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Uh Oh, Florida Didn't Mean To Ban Chanukah From Schools! They Were Targeting Entirely Different Minorities!
A letter from a Jewish parent with a lot of thoughts.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's "Don't Say Gay" and "No CRT" bills are working out exactly as planned — which is to say that schools are now censoring minority viewpoints to comply with a deliberately vague statute imposing onerous penalties for running afoul of it. Great job, Ron!
Florida Politics reports that New Port Richey parent Rachel Long, who has made annual Chanukah presentations in each of her children's classrooms, was initially rebuffed this year because Pasco County Schools were trying to comply with the so-called "Parents Bill of Rights Law."
“As per discussions with the team and Admin, the new Parent Bill of Rights (sic) obligates us to follow the 5th Grade Standards as written,” the teacher told Long. “At this time, a Chanukah presentation is not in our standards.”
Later, the principal explained that if they let Jews talk about their holidays, they'd have to talk about Kwanzaa and Diwali, and you know we can't have that!
To which Long replied: "Then, I assume, no Christmas activities will be done?”
Well, of course not! Everyone knows white Santa and Rudolph are the backbone of the December curriculum.
“(The) kids are watching the musical ‘ Elf Jr. ’ during school, the school is completely decorated for Christmas, and there is a ‘Santa night’ planned,” Long told Florida Politics.
“(The principal) explained these things by saying they are holiday-themed, not Christmas, and parents are able to opt their students out. Teachers are allowed to have Christmas trees in their rooms but are not allowed to do Elf on The Shelf. If students can participate in all these activities or be opted out, I suggested that students could be opted out of my Chanukah presentation.”
Ughhh, alright. Fine.
The school district has walked it back. Good for them.
At this point, as a Jewish parent with a lot of thoughts, I'd like to commandeer this blog post for a little personal rant, if'n you all don't mind. Because, with all due respect for Florida Politics, describing Chanukah as a holiday that "takes place around the same time as Christmas and similarly involves gift giving" rather misses the point. Chanukah, which commemorates a second century BCE military victory in Jerusalem, is a relatively minor holiday. There is no "holy day" prohibition on work, and the gift-giving tradition is a wholly American invention concomitant with the elevation of Chanukah to position it in parallel with Christmas. It's just not a thing in Israel.
Yes, of course I gave my kids Chanukah gifts — but I felt weird about it then, and even weirder now. Because we Jews are not off-brand Christians, and Chanukah is not the Jewish Christmas. We have our own traditions and calendar, and elevating a minor holiday because it happens to coincide with the major one practiced by the dominant culture is ... problematic . And to the extent that Christmas has become a secular American holiday, devoid of religion, well, that's no reason we should make the same decision about our own observance. Besides which, we've got a whole lot of holidays, and I am very tired from making chicken soup constantly.
At the same time, I appreciate that, as a parent, you have to seize space for your children when they are not like the other kids. That's true if they're Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or atheist, or autistic or LGBTQ+, or any other minority. You have an obligation to ensure that your children are proud of their identity, and that they are a known quantity to the people in their community to keep them safe. I would prefer that there would be no religious observance in any public school classroom. But that's not going to happen, and I have huge respect for Mrs. Long's efforts — even if Mrs. Dye made a different choice.
What I don't respect is that this law rests on the tacit understanding/agreement of everyone involved in imposing it that it's only supposed to be used against the minority groups they don't like . You know, the ones who celebrate Diwali and Eid, or, worse, Kwanzaa. And most especially, the ones who celebrate Pride. And in case that wasn't totally clear, the governor's office clarified to the local ABC affiliate that "the Parental Rights in Education law absolutely does not restrict the ability of teachers, school staff or volunteers to discuss Hanukkah. This law prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in Grades K-3.”
So, I'm glad that the school relented and let Rachel Long make space for her Jewish children. In some sense, my children have benefitted from the Mrs. Longs in their schools who were less neurotically conflicted and fired up their electric skillets for latkes, covering the entire classroom in a delicious film of oil that lasts way longer than eight days. But I want the same space for all the little kids named Patel, or Abbasi, or Zhao, or Jackson. And also for the kids with they/them pronouns who are at this moment the targets of the GOP's culture war.
Because, let's cut the BS, there's no war on Christmas. Christmas won a long time ago. There is a war on LGBTQ+ kids, and we need to stand up for them and make space for them to be safe at school.
Mother (or father! or non-binary parent! or guardian!) to one, mother to all.
[ Florida Politics ]
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