Christmas and the Jewish People
The Jews and Jesus… Christmas concerns
Jews and Jesus seem to live in two different worlds. They appear to be representing two different religions. Melbourne’s Darren Levin wrote in the Australian Jewish News: “Jews don’t believe in Jesus. How do I know this? I am one – and I can’t recall any glow-in-the-dark crucifixes or fibre-optic Mother Marys in my parents’ home…Being a Jew who doesn’t believe in Jesus – I find it difficult to believe in Christmas.”
Separation of religions makes sense to Levin and to most people. Levin wants Jews who believe in Jesus to be ‘over there’ and Jews who don’t believe to be ‘over here.’ Some aver that it’s better to separate all religion from us. Keep religion over there and secular information over here. But with Christmas shopping, parties and carols all over our radios and shopping malls, it’s increasingly difficult. The news media highlight this often.
In one mall there’s a generous ground-floor display with Santa, sleigh and everyone’s digital Kodak opportunity (for $50 a shot). The glitter and silver decorations remind shoppers of the lithographs by Currier and Ives (depicting winter in the northern hemisphere, of course) and of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Far away on the 6th floor, tucked between a restaurant and a travel store is a manger panorama including the three wise men. It might reach 5 foot high. Religion gets a hearing–it’s there, but barely.
Recently Sears changed the names of their Christmas trees. They said, “The reason for our use of ‘holiday tree’ is due to [our being a] very diverse company; we do not want to offend any of our associates, but also our valued customers. We decided to call them ‘holiday trees’ because even if Christians are the only religion that uses a Christmas tree we still do not want complaints from other customers of different religions complaining about our use of Christmas.”
I’m not sure why anyone would be offended because a store has a display that highlights a holiday of some group in particular. Do unattached people protest displays of Valentine merchandise sold at the local Target? In Indian neighborhoods, do people who are not from India protest the display of Diwali activities? Of course not!
Ben Stein, the Jewish actor/comedian, wrote, “I am a Jew, and it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit-up, be-jeweled trees, Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees.”
“It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it’s just fine with me.”
There are still many Jewish people who want to avoid any mention of the holiday. Some like Levin want to keep things separate. They prefer not knowing that the little boy was in fact a Jewish baby born in the Bethlehem village stable. Maybe they don’t want to know that Yeshua was born in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Maybe they don’t want to know that Yeshua lived his entire life in Israel and gave himself for Jewish people throughout his days. Yet he did. He even died in Jerusalem, and rose from the dead there on the third day. But that’s another story for another season, isn’t it?
So what do we make of the pushing of the manger scene to the side of an escalator? Can’t we let this truly be a multi-cultural country, not a monolith of sameness?
Here, or in your neighborhood, or in your life, maybe the words of the Christmas carol should ring again: “Joy to the world! The Lord has come, let earth receive her King, let every heart prepare Him room.”
And then there are the words of the carol “The First Noel”—“And by the light of that same star three wise men came from country far.” Perhaps even more important is the song’s chorus with the repeated “Born is the King of Israel.” He is our King, oh Jewish people. He is our Messiah. He is our Savior, and we would do well to give him place this year and throughout our years.
But that’s the problem with religion and separation, isn’t it? Some want religion to be “over there” and leave us alone “over here.” God wants us all to know him personally and let “over there” come “over here.” Let your heart prepare him room.
Bob Mendelsohn is the leader of Jews for Jesus' work in Sydney, Australia. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Kansas City, but became a college drop-out when he decided to look for the meaning of life in the counterculture of the '60s. He found meaning and relevance in Jesus which caused him much trouble at home. But he says, It was worth the cost." Bob has worked for Jews for Jesus since 1979, and served as the leader of our work in Washington DC and New York City before moving to Sydney in 1998. Bob and his wife Patty both graduated from the University of Kansas and Fuller Seminary. The Mendelsohns live in Sydney near their son. Their two daughters and one grandson live in the US.