Solution for a Secular Holiday

Commentator Annie Korzen was raised in a secular household, and has never been comfortable celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas. This year, she's found a solution to her dilemma, in an unexpected place.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Commentator Annie Korzen performs the show "Yenta Unplugged," and on this morning before the night before Christmas and Hanukkah, she still has no idea of what kind of vision should be dancing in her head.

ANNIE KORZEN:

Holidays are hard times for people like me, who are not religious. My parents totally rejected the old traditions, which made me feel I was missing out on something, but I didn't quite know what it was. I feel even more alienated around the gentile holidays. My best friends do a fabulous Christmas party every year. The highlight of the evening is carol singing, and I am always asked to accompany on the piano. Now I love my friends, but I hate Christmas carols and always suffer Jewish guilt about participating. I atone by bringing a big platter of potato latkes and throwing in a few Hanukkah songs, but I still feel like a hypocrite because Hanukkah, based on a three-year military uprising, is really not a holiday that I find particularly heartwarming. War's just not my thing. Oy, I hate December.

Last Passover, I was invited to some seders and again had that uncomfortable feeling that I didn't belong. I sadly decided that there was just no hope for me as a Jew. Then I happened to come across a little book by one of my favorite writers, Isaac Bashevis Singer. It was called "A Day of Pleasure," a collection of autobiographical stories of Poland before the war. This passage is about his family's new home in Warsaw.

`I opened my eyes and the room was flooded with sunlight. I walked out on the balcony. The same street that yesterday had been wrapped in night was now radiant in the sun. Customers pushed about in the stores. Men went off to pray with prayer shawl bags under their arms. Sidewalk peddlers sold loaves of bread, baskets of bagels and rolls, smoked herring, apples, pears, plums. A boy drove a bevy of turkeys down the middle of the street. My father was already sitting at his table, bent over a volume of the Talmud. He noticed me and made me recite the prayer "I Thank Thee."'

It had a clear message, this book. It was a celebration of love, tolerance and humanity. Reading it was an act of purification. It was cleansing. It was cathartic. It was everything I'd always imagined a deeply religious experience must be.

So now it's holiday time again. I still don't own a menorah or a dreidel. I don't put up Christmas lights. As a non-believer looking for spiritual enlightenment, I've made some very special holiday plans. I'm just going to stay home and read a good book.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Annie Korzen's new one-woman show opens here in Los Angeles next month. It's called "Straight From the Mouth."

This is NPR News.

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