Christmas is such an all-consuming event in the United States that it almost seems like an American institution. Christians who truly stand in awe of the Incarnation are saddened by the cheap commercialization of this holiday. It seems there is very little of Christ left in Christmas. But for many Jewish people who don’t yet believe Jesus, it matters little whether trappings of the holiday are deeply spiritual or not. Any public trappings at all are reminders that the larger society” is making Christmas an unavoidable issue. Feelings of alienation are rife at this time. Some resent any public display which uses their tax dollars to celebrate what they see as someone else’s religion. Still other Jewish people are drawn to Christmas and, while they may not embrace the true meaning of it, they dislike the pressure to reject all the trappings.
Very often these issues are addressed with a sense of humor, but it doesn’t hurt to know that that some of your Jewish friends may be feeling especially sensitive around this time.
Here are two very different examples of how some Jewish people view the “December Dilemma,” from “December Dilemma Watch: The controversial (and humorous) debates over how families and communities handle the holidays” Compiled by Holly Lebowitz Rossi.
December 9, 2004—5:15 p.m. In Fair Lawn, New Jersey, a local Hasidic rabbi has been trying for years to get permission to light a menorah on Borough Hall grounds, next to the town’s Christmas tree. This year, instead of going through the usual process of applying and being turned down for a permit, he lit an eight-foot “defiant” menorah of protest on private property that is just across the street from the Borough Hall. The menorah bore a sign that read, “There will be liberty and justice for all when I am across the street.”
The town declared that the tree is not a Christmas tree, but rather a “holiday tree.” This added insult to injury for the rabbi, who felt that the tree, which has no association with Hanukkah, does not represent any faith other than Christianity. “There’s a double standard,” said Rabbi Levi Neubort, “one that pays for a Christmas tree with tax dollars and won’t allow us to put up a menorah. They can call it [the menorah] a ‘holiday candlestick’ if they wish.”
Can Jews Have a Merry Christmas?
December 8, 2004—11:15 a.m.
Members of Aish would not be likely to agree with his answer, but columnist and “Being Jewish” magazine publisher Gil Mann confronts a common question in a new column about the extent to which Jews can “like” Christmas—specifically its social and charitable aspects. He divulges that he personally rates Christmas an 8 or 9 out of 10 on the likeability scale, despite incidents of being teased and feeling left out as a child. The best thing about Christmas, according to Mann? Participating in a Christian friend’s celebration is the perfect opening to invite that person to a Shabbat dinner or a Jewish holiday celebration. That, he concludes, is a welcome opportunity for tolerance, not pressure to assimilate.
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