It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to be Jewish. But a quick look through your Facebook news feed or Instagram story may show a very different message. Each year around this time, I am struck by the number of Jews who proudly post pictures of themselves in front of Christmas trees. These photos leave me wondering if those same Jews proudly show the world powerful, vibrant, and compelling images and expressions of Judaism on their social media. A tree decorated with lights and ornaments is a beautiful expression of Christmas that belongs to our Christian sisters and brothers.
While I will leave the theological explanation of Christmas to my Christian clergy colleagues, I am not terribly concerned about Jews who like a commercialized version of Christmas — unless it’s to the detriment of Judaism. All too often we lament what we don’t have and we covet what we think we want the most. Who doesn’t like to receive a gift, look at bright lights, and sing festive songs? With all of that said, Christmas trees, lights, and a wreath on the door have no place in a home where children are being raised as Jews and where the primary faith being practiced and observed is Judaism. So let me be clear. I actively participate in multifaith initiatives and I recognize the beauty in a glittering Christmas tree and listening to Christmas music. But as a rabbi and educator, I am deeply troubled by a perceived lack of Jewish Pride perhaps as a result of a weak understanding of the beauty and complexity of Judaism.
There are those who may choose to read this as just another article about the weakening of Jewish continuity and intermarriage, and that is not entirely true. If the Pew Research Center survey is correct, then 94% of U.S. Jews say they are proud to be Jewish. So instead of bemoaning the challenges, I want to address the concept of Jewish Pride as promoted by activist, teacher and lecturer Ben Freeman (@BenMFreeman).
Jewish Pride is the ability to come together to reject hate and shame by celebrating who we are as Jews. Some will show off that Jewish Pride in a very public way, while others will hold their Jewish Pride deep inside. Perhaps the most important way to show off Jewish Pride is for each and every Jew to first acknowledge and then celebrate that spark of Judaism that I believe burns deep within the soul. There is no better time of year to begin to display Jewish Pride than during Chanukkah.
At a time when commercialism and consumerism try to burn a hole in our pockets, may we search for the true meaning of Chanukkah. The miracle today is not just found in the oil that lasted for eight days but in the brave and mighty Maccabees who restored and renewed Judaism. Chanukkah is not just about educating the Jewish community about what was. Chanukkah is about dedicating ourselves to what can be — the potential in Jewish life. Today, like the Maccabees of old, let us rededicate ourselves to transforming Judaism.
Jewish Pride is lighting and proudly displaying a Chanukkah menorah in the window whether or not you choose to say the traditional blessings. Jewish Pride is making sure you have a mezuzah on at least one of the doors of your home and choosing to wear a Star of David necklace. Jewish Pride is crushing on David, ew, David, from Schitt’s Creek and longing to be as funny as Midge Maisel. Ultimately Jewish Pride is learning to live each day as a truly proud member of the tribe.
As we celebrate holidays of light, let us experience Christmas with our Christian friends, neighbors, and family members in their homes and may they be invited to celebrate with us. When we kindle the Chanukkah lights, may we become like the shamash, the helper candle that lights all of the others. Now more than ever, it is our responsibility to be lamplighters by sharing the light of Jewish Pride with our fellow Jews around the world. Christmas comes once a year, but dedication to our Jewish Pride should endure for eternity.