We’re told by our progressive brethren that it’s wrong to appropriate the symbols or behavior or appearance of other cultures. In other words, white people should not be wearing clothing associated with a particular group that is not their own, nor should they be accepting theatrical roles portraying people of another culture. Not sure that I completely agree with the premise that there’s something patronizing or colonialist in pretending to be a member of another culture, but I have to admit that I find myself squirming when I hear prominent Jewish artists singing Christmas music.
Barbra Streisand or Neil Diamond (among others) may have the right to sing anything they want, but isn’t it a form of cultural appropriation to record music that belongs to another identifiable group? More to the point, can’t they celebrate their own religion and leave the Christmas merry-making to Christians? Are these artists so vain that they think the world has been breathlessly waiting for their spin on the Christmas classics? Is anyone out there – Christian or otherwise – really crying out for a 6,427th version of ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Silent Night’?
This bothers me not just because of the cross-cultural ‘impurity’ but also because of the implicit message that Jews are somehow required to participate in the rituals of Christian holidays in order to be good citizens, that being Jewish means you’re not an equal partner in the host culture. Even worse, if those artists are simply recording the music in order to sell downloads, then that is reinforcing one of the worst anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.
I beseech Jewish artists to be proud of the uniqueness and richness of their own culture and not feel compelled to join in Christmas celebrations just because that’s what their neighbors and colleagues are doing. You don’t have to record an album of Hanukkah music to prove your Jewish bonafides (might be tough to find enough songs to fill a CD in any case) but do you really have to demonstrate so publicly and so loudly how little your Jewishness means to you?