“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” according to the Christmas tune. And the time of Christmas tree envy for Jews. Yes it is “hard to be a Jew on Christmas”, as Kyle Broflofski of South Park sings.
And yet as I struggle to avoid Paul McCartney’s Having a Wonderful Christmas on the radio, I’m really OK with the Merry Christmas greetings of cashiers and salespersons. It’s the price I pay for not making aliya. Once I have chosen to live in the American diaspora though, it is critically important for me to understand my neighbors and to show them respect, in the same fashion that I expect to be respected by them. We taught our children from a young age that it was fine to enjoy the Christmas tree at the home of their babysitter. What resulted were kids who now, as adults, are very comfortable presenting Chanuka to their multi-ethnic, multi-cultural flock of friends at their” holiday” parties.
What concerns me was how poorly the traditionally observant community in which they were raised prepared them to relate to the friends and co-workers in their futures. On more than one occasion, I had the opportunity to call a day school principal to express my outrage that teachers had referred to the Christian God as “Yushke”, a Yiddish name that is totally unrecognizable as Jesus, and that does not carry any degree of respect. I was then pushed over the edge when the synagogue I used to attend would refer to visiting church groups as “Xtians”. Xtians? Really?
Let’s be real: We as Jews are a minority, and traditionally observant Jews are a minority of a minority. Furthermore, our Judaism requires the observance of mitzvot ben adam l’chavero, interpersonal commandments of holy behavior. To honor the majority of our fellow Americans and their beliefs, and to demonstrate the interpersonal sensitivity that our own faith demands of us, requires that we act in a respectful way, even as we affirm our own identity.
Let’s wish our neighbors a Merry Christmas (not Xmas), and show the respect that a strong and secure Jewish person is able to demonstrate towards others.