Living in Highland Park, Illinois for over twenty years, and mingling among its 90% Jewish population, I should have known better than to expect my second grader to be happy with one night of Christmas. But since Christmas and Chanukah often came around the same time, none of us had paid attention. Then came a year such as this, when the two events were weeks apart and on a Monday, when I picked up my son from school, I noticed a new gloom in his attitude.
“What’s wrong, Cyrus?”
At first he wouldn’t say, but as I insisted, he mumbled, “We’re so cheated!”
“What do you mean?”
“I get one night of presents, but all my friends are getting something for their seven nights of Chanukah!”
Familiar with the tradition, I decided to take a step ahead and asked him, “Are you sure you don’t get anything?”
“What do you mean?”
I explained to him that everyone was allowed to celebrate Chanukah, that he was no different from his friends and that all he had to do was be a good boy and then maybe each morning there would be a gift under his pillow!
The next day, having found a small toy under his pillow, which I had left there, the night before, he could hardly wait to reach school and share the news with his best friend Zach!
Through the next six days, I made sure that my little boy would not be disappointed.
Holidays passed and come January, I received a call from his teacher.
“Dr. Ghahremani, may I speak with you after school, please?”
My first thought was, “Oh, dear, what has C.J. done now?”
Mrs. Lovi had known me for years, as she had also been my two daughters’ second grade teacher. As soon as the last of her students had left, I asked CJ to wait for me in the hallway and entered the classroom. The now older teacher came around her desk and gave me the biggest hug, saying, “I now respect you ten times more for the way you raise your children!”
She offered me a chair and proceeded to tell me the reason. On the first day back to school, she had asked the class, “Which of you celebrated Christmas?” Three hands went up, one was my Cyrus’s.
“And how many of you celebrated Chanukah?” Twenty-five hands went up, and so did Cyrus’s!
“Now let’s see who happened to celebrate both holidays?” Ten hands went up and sure enough, my CJ raised his hand with enthusiasm.
Having known us for such a long time, this news came as a big surprise to Mrs. Lovi. “Why, I had no idea Cyrus! Which one of your parents is Jewish?”
To which my little boy responded, “Not sure, but think my mother!”
Every year at Chanukah I think of Mrs. Lovi and her story.
How impressionable our children are, how easy it is to make them see what many adults have yet to realize. My son grew up knowing that he is not different from any of his friends and to this day, he remains open-minded and free of prejudice.
When I listen to the news or hear of all the animosity around the world, and whenever my hope for peace begins to fade, I remind myself that I have succeeded to raise three peaceful individuals who believe in man’s unity. Perhaps peace is not as far-fetched as we make it. Despite the news that tears mankind apart, maybe peace can begin at home.