Category Archives: Married to a Moroccan

Christmas Series Part 2: Hanukkah

Part 1 of my Christmas Series 2017 was about how Jesus is also the Messiah in Islam. Part 2 is about Hanukkah.

My wife is Moroccan and from a Muslim family. I am from the U.S. and not from a Muslim household, so people often assume that religion would be a barrier in our relationship and in raising our children. But quite the contrary. What I always explain is that I was raised in a mixed household and community. My father was born in New York, the son of Italian immigrants and had a very strict Jesuit education, attending mass almost every day of his adolescence. He grew up in a very small apartment in the Bronx and was surrounded by the brown people of his generation: Italians, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Irish and African Americans. Meanwhile, my mother grew up a more middle class suburban lifestyle. Although her mother was a first generation immigrant, my grandmother’s parents were Swiss and integration was much smoother for them. She was a quintessential WASP, and my father was not. When they married, my father’s closest friend would not attend his wedding because it wasn’t in a Catholic ceremony, and at least as legend has it, my father was not the ideal son-in-law.

I grew up in a non-denominational and secular Christian household in a Washington, DC suburb. Most of my friends were Jewish. In fact I have seen more of the inside of a Jewish temple than a church, having spent every weekend at thirteen shuffling from bar mitzvah to bar mitzvah. When I was little, about the same age as my seven year old is today, I thought of people, not as Jewish or Christian, but as Hanukkah or Christmas. When you drove through my neighborhood, you could tell the two apart from how their houses were decorated in December. Christians had Christmas lights, and Jews had candles in the windows. I was always assessing whether it would be better to be Christmas or Hanukkah by counting the number of presents I got on Christmas morning to see if I had more than the eight my Hanukkah friends got. Plus, I loved potato latkes. My jealousy of my best childhood friend had no limits due to his father being Hanukkah and mother Christmas. He got both.

So what does this have to do with Christmas 2017? A few weeks back, my eldest son was pestering me about whether Santa Claus was real. I mean, he said, it just doesn’t make sense that Santa could deliver all of those presents to all the kids around the world in just one night. Good point, but: (1) there is a seven hour time difference between Madrid and our cousins in Texas, so he could make it; (2) not all kids are good every year; and (3) not all families celebrate Christmas. I then explained more or less the story of the birth of Jesus, the newborn king of the Jews in the time of the Romans. That Spaniards celebrate the three wise men or Reyes Magos, and that in Morocco where mommy is from, even though they believe that baby Jesus was the newborn king, they don’t celebrate Christmas. And finally, I explained that when I was growing up many of my friends were Jewish and celebrated Hanukkah, where they lit a candle every night for eight nights and for each night they got a present.

The look on my son’s face was the exact same look I had at his age. You could see conversion in his eyes. He was doing the math.

A few days later I announced to my wife that I wanted to get a menorah and have the family celebrate Hanukkah as well. We’d light candles each night and say a prayer. No, I am definitely not a religious person or even a believer, but how can you not be infected by the Hanukkah spirit when you see these tweets from my childhood classmate Leslie?

Tonight we celebrate the opportunity to remember the light of knowledge and understanding between neighbors. #Chanukah2017 pic.twitter.com/VY4t7x7ksJ

— Leslie Flaum Genna (@LeslieAlane) December 14, 2017

On Chanukah, we get together to fill our home with light; we also raise our voice in song to push away the night. Songs of joy and gratitude for living proud and free, songs that make all singers into one big family. pic.twitter.com/M1gxrgaRIr

— Leslie Flaum Genna (@LeslieAlane) December 18, 2017

The first issue I saw was where to find a menorah in Spain on such short notice, unless I went somewhere like Toledo or Cordoba where they sold fancy menorahs for Jewish American tourists. But reality set in when I proposed the idea to my wife. She suggested me that maybe I was going a little overboard. We had a Christmas tree that I put up on November 24th. We had stockings, lights, mistletoe, an advent calendar filled with chocolates, Christmas music was playing non-stop in the house, a failed gingerbread house, and I had already been cooking all of my family recipes from eggplant parmesan, meatballs, turkey stuffing, peanut butter cookies, and was constantly serving Moroccan tea.

I think she is right. At least for this year. Next year we can drop the gingerbread house and substitute it with a Menorah.

Shalom, Salam and Peace on Earth!

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Filed under Digressions, Living la vida española, Married to a Moroccan, Parenthood

Christmas Series #1 : The Muslim Jesus

I just really enjoy Christmas, first as a child and now even more that I have children. I hope that over the next few days I’ll have time to write a series of posts about my Christmas 2017.

To start with, last month I read Mustafa Akyol’s The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims. What does this have to do with Christmas? Well, Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and Mary (or Myriam in Arabic), the mother of Jesus, is a central figure in the Koran. While this should be no surprise to anyone with a basic knowledge of the Koran, Akyol explores more closely the historical Jesus and how Islam in many ways ties the knot between Judaism and Christianity in its view of Jesus.

According to the Koran and Islamic tradition, Jesus is the messiah in a very Jewish way. As Akyol explains, both Judaism and Islam are fiercely monotheistic. In Judaism, the Messiah was always intended to be a human prophet, not a God-Child or God incarnate. For the first Christians, what Akyol calls the Jewish Christians, Jesus was this Messiah. Not the son of God or the founder of a new religion, but the awaited prophet of the Jews who came to reform their religion. It is not until Saint Paul brings in Greco-Roman concepts of the divine, with gods who are born and die and beget, that Paul introduces the idea of Jesus as the Son of God (a notion absent in earlier Gospels).  Looking at history and scripture, Akyol then ties the knot between those first Jewish Christians and the Islamic concept of Jesus as the human messiah.

It is a shame that more Christians, Jews and Muslims cannot appreciate just how similar their religions are and where and why they have often parted. Akyol concludes with the following:

As Muslims, who are latecomers to this scene, we have disagreements with both Jews and Christians. But we have major agreements as well with Jews, we agree a lot on God. With Christians, we agree that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he was the messiah, and that he is the Word of God. Surely, we do not worship Jesus, like Christians do. Yet still, we can follow him. In fact, given our grim malaise and his shining wisdom, we need to follow him.

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If You Voted for Trump, Own it. All of It

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a Bollywood-themed charity concert put on by the Republican Hindu Coalition in Edison, New Jersey, U.S. October 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RTX2P03M

UPDATED BELOW

I had been hoping to put together my overall thoughts on the outcome of the election, focusing on how this election was lost by Hillary Clinton. Not so much because Trump was a great candidate or because Americans were overtly racist – actually Obama has the highest approval ratings of any modern exiting president. So race is not the story. The fact of the matter is that Democrats didn’t want Hillary in 2008, and there was no new reason for a large number of Americans to suddenly want her now. The sad moral of the story was that – although one could argue that the Clinton’s did some good for the country – it was more than time for them to be retired and to just leave us all alone.

I was even going to give a few arguments about how besides Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich suddenly becoming the second and third most powerful men in the world, the country definitively becoming a police state and the end of the bill of rights as we know it, likely the country would not change course. That’s the beauty (or tragedy) of our fictional political system, something that my father-in-law graciously pointed out to me when he saw his two American grandsons and son-in-law on the morning after. Plus Trump has never kept a promise, so why would he keep his campaign promises now?

But then this morning, I started reading and hearing first-hand accounts of multiple acts of racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and anti-Semitic acts of intimidation around the country. Things like Hispanic school kids being taunted by the classmates, chanting Build the Wall and your father is going to get deported, black women being assaulted in public by white men (with “Obama can’t help you now”), blacks and Hispanics being told to sit at the back of the bus, swastikas decorating buildings, and a Muslim American woman who got along with her neighbors for years but woke up to a sign on her lawn telling her to go back home.

If Trump had said, for example, vote for me and I will deport all Jews to Israel, and you voted for him, then I would tell you that voting for him was incompatible with our friendship. And if Trump said, as he did repeatedly, Muslims (which include my wife and children) would be banned from entering the country and you voted for him, then I would want to know why you thought that our friendship and my family were more dangerous than a Hillary presidency. Don’t tell me that Trump isn’t really going to do that. He’s already publicly said that there is something wrong with my family. Is there?

The thing is that the cruelest acts against humanity don’t happen because of isolated evil masterminds. They happen because of complacent masses looking the other way. I hate to use the Hitler analogy, but that is exactly what happened in Europe. Give the people a common cause and enemy, and they’ll commit the most atrocious acts in your name.

Of course, I am not claiming that the majority of Trump voters are deplorable, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semites. But everyone in the country who voted knew perfectly well that Trump was courting all of those extremist factions in our society, and by winning, there are Americans who now feel empowered to openly, publicly and without shame insult, intimidate and assault minorities.

Trump opened that can of worms, and if you voted for him, you have absolutely no excuse NOT to take ownership. What do Republicans call this? Personal Responsibility? So own it.

Don’t we tell Muslims that they are all collectively responsible for terrorists claiming to be Muslim? So take your own medicine and start owning up. Maybe these acts are temporary and will wane over the next few days, but they won’t until as a society we say they are unacceptable. If you voted for Trump, denounce the racism, xenophobia and antisemitism being perpetrated in your name, lest you too be a terrorist.

UPDATE 11/11/2016:

I apologize for beating a dead horse, but I keep hearing Trump voters saying that they should not be held accountable for the acts of other Trump supporters. But if you just voted for a guy who clearly made part of his campaign value proposition that (1) no Muslim could be trusted because a few Muslims were terrorists, and (2) Mexicans were racists, how can you now say that is it unfair to judge the whole group based on isolated actions of the few?

It’s like saying that I voted for Hitler’s Make Germany Great Again part but not the antisemitism, so you can’t blame me for the Holocaust. It doesn’t work that way. If you voted for Trump, you can’t now pick and choose what you voted for.

When I advocated for Obama in 2008, the moment he won, I immediately began criticizing those policies which I disagreed with and have done so ever since.. So if you don’t agree with the racism, xenophobia and antisemitism, then challenge the man you elected to disavow those who do or own it. It’s your country  now.

To the same extent, the Democratic Party needs to take ownership of why they failed so miserably to produce an electable candidate and platform. Over 90 million eligible voters did not vote. That is the true story of this election. The DNC has some explaining to do. Those who didn’t vote also need to own this.

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Ashamed

I have this beautiful baby girl in my arms, my lovely wife on the other side of the bed, my two boys in the next room, all sleeping peacefully while Americans are voting to ban them from entering our country!

My in-laws are visiting. What do I tell them when they wake up and ask if my country hates them?

I am profoundly embarrassed and heartbroken.

I hope you are all real proud.

 

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If You Vote for Trump, You Are No Longer Friend or Family

oh-canada

Looks like we‘ll need a Plan B if Trump is elected.

Canada may be the closest place in North America that Mr. Trump will allow my family. And I say this as a person who had to degrade himself by pretending to be Canadian just to get some in Europe during the Bush years.

In all seriousness, family and friends, please do not vote for Donald Trump. I understand and get that you may dislike, detest even, Hilary Clinton. I am certainly no fan of hers.

BUT PLEASE DO NOT VOTE TRUMP.

Think about it: besides Mr. Trump running a campaign centered fully on hate, fear and division, he has also pledged that if he becomes the next President of the United States of America, he will prohibit my wife and children from entering our country. That means that if you vote for Mr. Trump, you are saying that is is perfectly alright to:

  • prohibit my family from entering the U.S., and
  • never see any of us again.

I say “never see us again” because if you vote for him and I find out, you are not welcome in my home. I will take your vote for Trump as a personal rejection of me and my family.

If you don’t like Hilary, either vote for a third party candidate or just vote down ballot. If you are a Republican or a Conservative Christian, you know quite well that Trump is neither. He is a dishonest cheat in absolutely everything he says or does. As USA Today recently wrote in its unprecedented editorial against Mr. Trump,

He is erratic. Trump has been on so many sides of so many issues that attempting to assess his policy positions is like shooting at a moving target. A list prepared by NBC details 124 shifts by Trump on 20 major issues since shortly before he entered the race . . .

He is ill-equipped to be Commander-in-Chief. . . .

He traffics in prejudice. . . .

His business career is checkered. . . . A series of investigative articles published by the USA TODAY Network found that Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits over the past three decades, including at least 60 that involved small businesses and contract employees who said they were stiffed. So much for being a champion of the little guy. . .

He isn’t leveling with the American people. . . .

He speaks recklessly. . . .

He’s a serial liar. . . .

For the life of me, I don’t see anything concrete that Trump stands for other than racism, xenophobia and insult. If you vote for him, that is what you stand for.

Finally, I am a U.S. citizen as are my children, and what possible argument can there be for denying my family from entering my home country and the place where my parents and siblings live? Because my wife and children are Muslim?

2-brothers

As far as I know, no one in my wife’s family has ever advocated for or supported:

  • Capital punishment
  • Bombing, invading or occupying another country, preemptively or otherwise
  • Carpet bombing
  • Killing human shields
  • Killing the (innocent) family members of terrorists
  • Torture or enhanced interrogation
  • Humiliating women or your political adversaries.

Meanwhile, Trump (and arguably Hilary even) have supported all of these.

So you have a choice this election. Do you ever want to see me again? Because if you vote Trump, you are rejecting me and my family. That is clear. It is not a joke. It is not funny.

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#ParisILoveYou

ParisIloveYou

Paris holds a special place in my heart. It was in Paris that I met my wife and in Paris that we were married on a sunny day beneath the red, white and blue French flag.

For three years I commuted between Madrid and Paris to be with the woman I love, and during 2010 while my wife was pregnant with our first son, I made 27 trips alone to the city to be with her. And we still travel frequently to Paris to visit friends and family.

The three cities I feel closest to are Washington, DC (my home town), Madrid (where I have called home for the past 15 years) and Paris. All three have suffered terrorist attacks since 2001. After the attack on the Pentagon in DC in 2001, my immediate sense was of doom, anticipating that my country would take drastic measures and that the world would forever be changed for the worse. I was in Madrid on the morning of March 11, 2004 during the Atocha train bombings and was (and continue to be) amazed by how the Spanish reacted calmly, without panic and without the thirst for revenge. Now today after the Paris attacks, I am left with only profound sadness. There are some many things I love about Paris, about France and its multiculturalism (which I generally see succeeding in ways it doesn’t always do in America), and my heart breaks.

No one has the right to take the lives of others, and certainly no murderous, sociopath terrorist has the right to speak on behalf of anyone other than himself or to invoke the name of a god he certainly does not share with a billion other people around the globe or with my children who are citizens of the great nation of France.

Thankfully our family and friends in Paris were unharmed, yet we know others – including friends of our friends — were not so fortunate.

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Musée Mohammed VI d’Art Moderne et Contemporain

musee-Mohammed-VI-2

Yesterday we went to the (relatively new) Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat, Morocco.

All of the artists displayed are Moroccan and there is plenty to enjoy.

Lalla Essaydi (converging terr)

My personal favorites were the above painting by Lalla Essaydi and La Foule by Amine Demnati.

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