Pictured left: Lynn LoSecco and Anna LoSecco
I’m a native Hoosier, born and raised in that humid Indiana heat by a Jewish mother. I don’t mean “goes to services twice a year” Jewish, I mean “still makes a challah every time she sees me and gets personally offended when I eat pasta during Pesach” Jewish. She makes pointed suggestions about me marrying a Jewish man. She speaks Yiddush around the house. We sometimes speak Hebrew (until I run out of words I know) when on the phone in a public place. She’s Jewish as all hell.
I was the only Jew in my elementary and middle schools. I got the high holidays AND Christmas off school and that was just about the extent of what my peers understood about Judaism. When I was in fourth grade, my mom offered to teach my class about Hanukkah. I was mortified because, on top of being 9, I was also naturally very awkward. She promised that she would get in, serve up some latkes, and get out with as little interference in my budding social life as possible.
And that’s how I became the kid of the Hanukkah Mom.
So it’s almost Christmas break of fourth grade and my mom lugs in her menorah, her latkeot ingredients, our extensive collection of neon colors dreidels (does anyone know where those come from? They just appear every December in our house). The class falls silent and my mom effortlessly launches into the story of Hanukkah. My classmates are enraptured. It’s a miracle that is celebrated with fried foods so, even at a young age, we knew this was something worth remembering. The dreidels were passed around and my class spends the rest of the afternoon learning the symbols on the side and eating the chocolate gelt.
Every year for the following two years until I started middle school, this tradition continued. I managed to create enough distance where some people hadn’t realized that the Hanukkah lady was my mom when she first visited our classroom but that anonymity didn’t last long. The thing that struck me as beautiful is that my classmates never expressed disdain or prejudice against my mom or anything she was teaching. I’ve found in the years since that there are people older and wiser than my elementary school classmates that never hesitate to regurgitate close-minded, disrespectful comments about my religion. My 9 year old friends were curious and eager to learn.
There are a lot of stories within Judaism that I like to tell friends that don’t know many Jews. We’re a people of perseverance and I’m always so proud of the feats we have overcome. It’s important to note that my mother LOVES teaching people about Hanukkah. She once gave a boyfriend of mine dreidels for Christmas and insisted I teach him the game later. He wasn’t notably keen to learn (I know, it’s a timeless masterpiece of a game. He’s a fool.) but she was convinced that if he learned, he would better understand my Judaism and therefore better understand me. It was a sweet gesture, and it was the first time I was skeptical of someone that wasn’t interested in learning more about my culture. It’s a turn off when you’re a member of a culture that is smaller, maybe a little less well known that the mainstream, and someone you love doesn’t want to learn more about this aspect of who you are. This piece of me, this pretty notable part of my life, makes me unique. Jews are some of the few white people that can be on the receiving end of racism and our illustrious history shows some creative methods to single us out for persecution.
Pictured above: Anna LoSecco and Tali Friedland celebrate the fourth night of Hanukkah.
I now work in politics and Jews in this industry are either spoken about with either reverence and respect for their extraordinary over-representation in our government, or they’re talked about as if they have an unreasonable control over our country. Liberal Indian-Americans admire and wish to emulate the trajectory of the Jewish people in terms of representation and the Freedom Caucus turns a blind eye to the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Being raised as the solitary Semite in a crowd of gentiles has taught me to listen closely before speaking when Judaism comes up around people that may not realize they’re standing right next to a minority member. I am who I am because I was raised to be unabashedly different in the middle of Indiana. And for that, I am grateful.
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