Frieda Zuckerman’s Christmas
I was born in New York City, which you would know from my accent if I were speaking to you, but since this is on paper, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I won’t say how old I am, but I will tell you that I grew up during the Great Depression.
Our neighborhood was made up mostly of Conservative and Orthodox Jews, with a smattering of immigrant gentiles who made their dislike for us very plain. So it may surprise you to know that in my neighborhood, even Jewish children hung stockings at Christmas in hopes that Santa would fill them with gifts. It did not occur to us that Santa Claus was for Christians.” If we believed anything about Santa Claus, we believed he was for children.
The one and only time I hung my stocking became the occasion for my mother to explain some of life’s realities. She told me in no uncertain terms that Santa Claus existed only in her purse, a purse which remained empty on many days, including Christmas. Santa Claus was a myth, she said, and certainly not to be believed in by a “Yiddishe maidele” like me. I discovered my stockings had a limited use—namely, to go between my feet and my shoes! Still, my mother explained that gifts came to us in many other ways, and for such gifts we should be thankful to God.
My mother was a devout woman; my father, a cantor, was likewise a religious man. We kept two sets of dishes, silverware, cooking utensils and so on for daily use—and we used a completely separate set of everything at Passover. I attended Talmud-Torah for several years, and, in short, had a decent Jewish upbringing.
Then my father died, and my mother had to work. In fact, she had to work not only during the week, but on the Sabbath as well, to keep bread on the table. This troubled her at first, but she reasoned that it was a necessity, so God would surely forgive her. This reasoning carried over to non-kosher school lunches which had to be eaten. But we continued to observe the holy days as best as we could.
When Hitler and his maniacal henchmen attempted to destroy everything Jewish, I began to question things which I had always taken for granted. What was so different about us that we should incur the wrath of man? And why did we have religious regulations which were so difficult to maintain? In our home, as in most Jewish homes, we had a mezuzah on our doorpost. I stood before it and asked God, if he really existed, to explain these things to me.
In due time, my prayers were answered. I attended a Bible class at the invitation of a Jewish classmate. Stella wore a pendant which I found shocking to say the least…and provocative. It was a cross. I wanted to know why a Jewish girl would wear such a thing. She told me that she was Jewish and believed in Jesus, and she invited me to a Bible study.
They were studying the Gospel of John. I can still recall, they read from the third chapter, and I heard the name “Moses” mentioned. This was puzzling. What was a Jewish name, much less our foremost prophet, doing in a gentile book? I was told that the “New Testament” was authored by Jews except perhaps for one Dr. Luke. Further, the story told therein was about the one of whom Moses and the prophets had written.
The reading shifted to what I had always considered “the Jewish Bible” as we turned to the Book of Leviticus. We reviewed the Mosaic calendar in the 23rd chapter, and I told the teacher that we observed these holy days in my home, though not in the manner outlined. She gently pointed out that God had set the standards, and people did not have the right to change or adjust them. This teacher believed our feasts pointed beyond themselves to one who would come fully qualified to meet God’s demands. She said that, even as he set forth the rites and observances, God obviously knew that one day our scattered nation would be without a temple, a high priest, and an animal sacrifice.
After Leviticus, the discussion turned to the 53rd chapter of Isaiah. These Christians believed that the Messiah promised to tthe Jewish people would be our Kippur, our atonement, because he would take upon himself the penalty of our sins.
I continued studying the Bible, and began to see that a slain chicken before the Day of Atonement is not God’s ordained sacrifice. It seemed as though the sacrifice made by Jesus was shown to be acceptable to God by the fact of his resurrection. These truths gradually became clear to me. I cannot tell the minute or day when Jesus became central to my life. First, I believed Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel, and then over a period of months I realized what that meant for me, personally.
I had a new life and a new understanding of God and what he expected of me. The confusion over persecution and the anxiety over God’s requirements were replaced by the realization that God chose our people to bring the Messiah into the world—and that in him, God’s righteous standards are met.
Nevertheless, it was difficult to talk to my mother about my decision. She had been through so much pain; not only had she lost her husband, but my two brothers and my sister also died, leaving me as her only comfort.
Christmas came, and I remembered what my mother had said when I hung my stocking years before. Gifts come to us in many ways…we should be thankful to God for each of them. Christmas was a time of gifts after all—oh, not the kind that can be found in a department store, but the kind my mother meant, the kind that are not necessarily material. I tried to explain to my mother what Christmas was really about and why I was so thankful for the gift of the Messiah, and the peace he I brought me. At the time, it only grieved her. As far as she was concerned, the only child she had left had become a meshumad. And this hurt. Yet, years later, she too came to know Jesus as her Messiah.
Many years have passed. I became a nurse. I married. My husband, also a Jewish believer, was named Zuckerman, so I didn’t even have to change my name! He was a dear man, and we had wonderful times together, but he died of cancer. Now I do a great deal of community work, volunteering, you know, to contribute what I can toward helping others. I take blood pressure, help out at the local thrift shop and that sort of thing. One thing I enjoy every Christmas is giving out a little pamphlet called “Christmas is a Jewish Holiday…or at Least it Should Be” to those I meet who have a hard time seeing that Jesus is for Jewish people, too. Santa Claus may have existed only in my mother’s purse, but Jesus, unlike Santa, is a reality in my life.