Dec 23, 2020

A Christmas Story, Though Christmas Only Makes a Cameo Appearance

When I was a stranger in a strange land (third grade)

By Ed Goldman

As a kid, I had enough Jewish classmates at Public School 106 in the Bronx to make celebrating Hannukah every December seem like nothing out of the ordinary. At that age, the glue that bound Christian and Jewish kids wasn’t world understanding: it was comparing holiday gift hauls. 

Since Hannukah lasted eight days, we Jewish kids generally received a small gift each day, leading to an impressive cumulative total. But when we returned from vacation, we learned that the Christian kids pretty much tied us because even on just one day of Christmas, they’d managed to amass enough toys to open their own branches of F.A.O. Schwartz. 

Edgy Cartoon

Seasonal Balancing Act

We each envied the other their take but, to the best of my knowledge, no spate of religious conversions broke out among us. After all, we were still little kids who, over the past couple of years, had just mastered going to the school bathroom unescorted.

But when I started third grade in Southern California, I was the sole Jewish kid in my class at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in the city of Lakewood.

This made me a standout at an age I really didn’t wish to be. Things weren’t helped when my teacher, Mrs. Ford, a Mormon who’d been raised in Utah, asked as the holidays approached if I could explain to the class all about “the Jewish Christmas, Chan-OO-kah.” 

While older Jews still tend to call Hanukkah “Chanukkah”—with the “ch” at the beginning taking on the sound of a “k” followed by your clearing your throat (what’s often described as “guttural”)—most non-Jews I knew then, and most everyone now, start the word with the “h” and omit the death rasp.

Mrs. Ford probably thought she was striving for authenticity. But rather than clear her throat, she gave the first syllable of the word the surname of the popular Chinese-Hawaiian detective created by author Earl Derr Biggers, Charlie Chan.

“Regardless, there apparently hadn’t been any pronunciation guides in Utah. Nor a class called There Really Are Religions Other Than Ours. Nor even a mimeographed pamphlet for teachers entitled, “What To Do If One Of Your Students Isn’t Mormon.”

Anyway, to answer her, I stood beside my desk—doing so was a custom at P.S. 106—and said, as quickly as I could so I could sit back down again, “It’s Hanukkah, not Chan-OO-kah, and it’s nothing like Christmas except for the presents.”

Mrs. Ford thought I was sassing her. I still had a pretty thick Bronx accent, which I came to realize can make even the recitation of a love poem sound like the issuance of a physical threat. She sent me to the office of the vice principal, Miss DeLeon, which I didn’t mind because she was almost as pretty as the school’s librarian, Miss Madden, on whom I had a crush ever since she introduced me to an addictive series of books starring the heroic Freddy the Pig and his animal pals in upstate New York. Those books are what started my voracious reading habit and led to my becoming a writer. So, yes, you can read this column and blame its existence on a fictional pig.


Miss DeLeon called my mom, who had just learned to drive a few months ago at the age of 42 (her exam turned out to be the last time she made a left turn). She drove to the school to meet with Miss DeLeon and Mrs. Ford, who’d been brought into the square-off, and said some surprisingly nice things to the latter about some guy named Brigham Young—who I assumed was a mutual friend of theirs, not the second person to lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then my mom took me home, on a route my dad had outlined for her several weeks back that included only right and U-turns.

The next day, Mrs. Ford sweetly asked if I could tell the class about “Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.” I did my best. I cleared my throat but in the interest of world understanding, decided to not deploy the “ch” when I pronounced the holiday’s name. My only disappointment was that nobody had invited Miss DeLeon or Miss Madden to the class.

Dear Readers:

In the spirit of the holidays and our collective wish for better times, I offer the following song, with apologies to Irving Berlin and his immortal “White Christmas.”

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
As long as Black Lives Matter, too
And all religions
Stop all collisions—
And learn that love’s long overdue.

I’m dreaming of a bright isthmus—
A strip of land we all can share.
May your days be sparkled with health
And may all embrace our common wealth.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw

Counting sheep may work for some people. But if you really want to get a good night’s sleep in these crazy times, try counting on your local banker.

Local bankers “have your back” because they know all the sides of you and the small businesses that are the backbone of our community.  They know how and where and why you want your business to grow, whether that consists in new working capital or a larger building to work from.  They can help you and your business reach your dreams.

Local bankers also invest in your local community because it’s also our local community. This is why our staff and I devote our “off-hours” to activities as far-ranging as helping to feed the homeless to helping to feed the soul, by serving on volunteer nonprofit boards, such as the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera, among others.

Unlike international and national banks, a local one can pivot when necessary – like when the rules for PPP and other government programs change or are delivered to us with as many questions as the solutions they offer.

Oh, one more thing: Banking is about more than numbers. Which is why you may not find us on Top 25 lists until the criteria include the region’s safest, most personal and friendliest banks.

In short, if you shop local, bank local. And get some well-earned sleep!

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