This year, the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays had a klezmer band among the Christmas shows, tucked between the France and Morocco pavilions. The band was called Mostly Kosher; they're a self-proclaimed “Post-Klezmer Indie band” and the first Jewish music ensemble to perform at the Disney parks, bringing with them Yiddish lyrics and a variety of musical styles as wide as the spread of Jewish people around the world.
I watched their show several times, and enjoyed it each time. It had been too long since I’d heard klezmer music, let alone any live performance of Jewish music, so I was plenty eager to clap, sing along, and jump up to join the hora dance.
At one point in their show, the singer steps forward to make a speech about the journey their performance will take us, through many different countries where the Jewish people have called home in the Diaspora. This speech is repeatedly interrupted by the band playing the dreidel song, and the singer tries in vain to draw attention away from the silliness and back to their message.
This moment is ostensibly funny, but it struck a chord with me, because the thing it's poking fun at might not be clear to non-Jewish viewers. It isn't making fun of the singer for being serious. It's demonstrating the way people so often don't take Judaism seriously, how they would much rather hear about dreidels and miracles than about the rest of it.
My elementary school teachers used to ask my parents to come to class and teach everyone how to play dreidel and tell the story of the miracle of the oil. My parents always replied that they would come only if they could teach about Shabbat and Rosh Hashana and other important parts of Judaism, too.
That never happened.
The miracle of the oil story is what we tell to children, and playing dreidel is what we do with children, if we do those things at all. And even when my siblings and I were children, we understood this, and were capable of thinking about both the fun and silly things and the more serious things. But dreidels and oil miracles – the fun and silly things – are all you'll ever see of Judaism in media (even though it would be so easy to portray us more complexly!).
The conclusion I came to at a very young age is that gentiles on the whole would much rather see Jews as innocent and childish than engage with us as adults with a legitimate belief system. Why think about the rich culture that the Jews have developed during our long history of exile when we can sing about playing with dreidels instead?
I've written before about my complicated feelings about Chanukah. Some Jews celebrate it. Others ignore it. Still others celebrate but take it with a grain of salt, remembering how the Maccabees killed not only the Greeks but the assimilated Jews in their community.
As I’ve said before, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Jews celebrating, getting joy from, or attributing spiritual significance to Chanukah. G-d knows all three are true for me! But when the only thing that non-Jews know or want to know about Judaism is the children's version of a minor holiday, it's infantilizing. We deserve better than to be treated like children.