Oy Christmas tree! Among Jews, season brings mixed feelings
The Great Christmas Tree Debate is a complicated one for Jews. It demands that we confront a sleigh load of difficult questions that we might otherwise avoid: What can we, a tiny minority, rightly ask of American society? Is it safe to be different here? Dare we assimilate? Dare we not? To what extent can we join the celebrations of others without compromising ourselves?
Special to The Seattle Times
A few weeks ago, over coffee and Danish, a group of Jews had a heated discussion, one they'd had many times before.
It began calmly. "Goldberg, what's wrong?" asked Kline. "You seem upset."
"Yeah, I'm upset," said Goldberg. "It's those Christmas trees again! You see 'em all over the place. They're in the stores; they line the streets; they're in the banks; the kids come home with Christmas trees on their school work sheets. And when I open the newspaper, oy, don't get me started."
"And what's wrong with Christmas trees?" asked Fant. "You've never seen a pine before?"
"They're not just pines," Goldberg responded. "They're Christmas trees! Christ-mas. They're religious symbols, Fant. Symbols of their festival. Don't people know that we're not all Christians? Don't they realize that we don't all celebrate their holidays?"
"My, my. A little touchy today, aren't we?" said Pevaroff. "Let's remember that we're a minority here, Goldberg. There are a lot of them, but only a few of us. If you want to ruin their fun, go right ahead, but I, for one, don't think we should be America's Grinches. Could you pass the Danish, please?"
"I actually like the trees," said Weiskopf. "All those twinkling lights and glowing stars. They're pretty. It's not our holiday, of course, but we can still enjoy the decorations. And could we get some more coffee down at this end of the table?"
Apple spoke up. "Actually, I think Goldberg's right. For centuries, they've refused to accept us. They've put us in ghettos, kept us out of their clubs, and turned their backs when we were attacked. Here, it's subtler, of course, — more polite. But those trees are one more reminder that they see America as their home, not ours — theirs to decorate as they'd like. To them, we're guests, or maybe even unwelcome outsiders.
"Christmas trees are fine," cried Metzenbaum. "They just gotta let us put up Hanukkah menorahs too."
"Menorahs?!" everyone howled. "Oh, please!"
"Menorahs should represent miracles, not December-sales-events!"
"Hanukkah's a minor holiday, anyway."
"Separation of church and state!"
"Cardboard branches with electric lights? You call that a menorah?"
"Let's just not rock the boat, OK?" said Lettofsky. "They've found plenty of reasons to hate us in the past. Why give them one more?"
And so the debate continued: "O Christmas tree" on one side, "Oy Christmas tree" on the other, copious amounts of pastry and coffee consumed by both.
The debate, I should add, occurred not at a coffee shop among several Jews but at my own dining-room table among the divergent voices in my own mind.
Goldberg, Kline, Fant and all the rest, they're just names I grabbed off my family tree and arbitrarily assigned to the contradictory arguments crashing around in my cluttered brain.
Although I'm reluctant to speak for all Jews, it's clear to me that similar debates rage in many Jewish minds. For some Jews, one view prevails; for others, others. But there's almost always an argument.
I won't weigh in on behalf of a particular view here. All I want you to know is that the Great Christmas Tree Debate is a complicated one for us Jews. It demands that we confront a sleighload of difficult questions that we might otherwise avoid: What can we, a tiny minority, rightly ask of American society? Is it safe to be different here? Dare we assimilate? Dare we not? To what extent can we join the celebrations of others without compromising ourselves?
How prevalent can a majority culture become without oppressing minorities? America once welcomed Jews with a collective "Make yourselves at home here." Did they really mean it?
The questions are complicated; that's what happens when painful memories meet eager hopes. And as a result, debates such as this are bound to continue raging in Jewish minds everywhere.
And as for the arguing voices in my own mind? Well, each voice, I'm proud to say, got its own Danish and coffee. Each enjoyed the spirited debate, and each hoped for the time when we could all learn to agree with myself.
It will be a great day when we reach such a consensus. Not only will our agreement allow us to move to other questions, but, without all those Danishes, it might help me lose some weight, too.
Rabbi Mark S. Glickman leads Congregation Kol Shalom
on Bainbridge Island
and Congregation Kol Ami
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