Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Jewish Plea for Merry Christmas -An Annual BotB Tradition

I am a Jew. I grew up in an observant Jewish home in which we greeted Christmas with a mixture of fascination, respect and irritation. At some point I became fond of expressing my ambivalence by quoting Jackie Mason, who once said:
“I don’t understand something about Christmas; maybe you can explain this to me? Why is it that this time of year you Christian people bring all of the trees inside the house and take all the lights and put then outside”
. That line captured my general feeling of bemusement about the whole public Christmas celebration. I didn’t get it.

My feelings were mixed for a variety of reasons. My Dad had a retail store so the weeks leading up to Christmas were always a time of tension and brutally long hours of work. The traffic on the roads, crowds in the stores, and the saturation of television (especially in those pre- cable times) and radio airwaves with programs and music left me very glad to have it over on December 26th.

As a kid, I felt excluded by the whole Christian celebration. I didn’t get it. I found the incessant Christmas music on the radio punishing, the goodwill frenzy unsettling and the talk about Jesus (in whose divinity I was not supposed to believe) uncomfortable.

As a result, I was always just a little unsure of how to respond when some well meaning person would wish me a Merry Christmas. I would feel simultaneous but diametrically opposed urges to thank the person and try to summon a convincing Merry Christmas in return or to say,” Thanks Very much but I don’t celebrate Christmas and then deal with the uncomfortable silence or explanations and apologies.

I am ashamed to admit it today but I was, at first, pleased when I saw, over the years, the ACLU and Multi-culti types pushing “Merry Christmas” out of the vocabulary of cultural discourse in favor of the more generic “Happy Holidays”.

I’ve grownup, though, and I’ve grown into a new perspective on this whole matter question and, today, when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, I have a new response. It’s really simple-

I stop what I am doing
I thank them very sincerely
I wish them a Merry Christmas in return.

I would like to encourage all my fellow Jews to join me in this. Here’s why:

I have come to see quite clearly that even if there are politically correct, multi-cultural, morally relativistic, post modern progressive busybodies who would like us to believe that our Christian friends’ and Neighbors’ spontaneous Christmas wishes are somehow injurious to us and our culture, they are nothing of the kind. A sincere “Merry Christmas is better for you than the blandest, most guarded “Happy Holidays”

You see, the U.S. was founded by Christians. Not just any Christians. The early colonists were both devout and independent. They were fervent Protestants whose purpose in coming here was to leave the Kings, Priests, state religions and archaic laws of the old world behind. They came here to build a country where every man could read scripture for himself and be his own priest, where he could be free to elect political leadership that he could follow gladly. Ultimately, that enterprise gave rise to the constitution and form of government we have today. At two hundred years old it is still the one in the entire world that best honors the individual and guarantees his rights.

It was these fiercely independent Protestants who set the tone for the nation in which we now live. It is important to remember that they were deeply religious people. When Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and the rest decided that there would be no Official Religion in this country they were aiming for Freedom of Religion not Freedom from Religion. They meant the freedom to practice your religion after the dictates of your conscience .

This is why America has become the destination of choice for any one wishing to escape repression or lack of opportunity elsewhere in the world. That's why Jews have gravitated here for two hundred years. But we are in danger of forgetting how this all works and I think this whole Merry Christmas thing is a symptom of that amnesia.

Fortunately, though, Jews do have a collective memory of stories if we just listen to them. My grand father told me stories about life in turn-of-the(last)–century Eastern Europe so I know what he escaped by coming here (not to mention that he was not in Zhitomir, his home town, thirty years later when the Waffen SS slaughtered thirty six thousand Jews there in one day!). I also have a friend who came here from Leningrad in the Seventies. He has told me many stories. Just few months ago, I worked with a client named Miriam who told me how she grew up in newly-born Israel after her family was expelled from Morocco in 1948. Each of these stories and so many others just like them have convinced me that The United States of America, as conceived by her Protestant founders, has been a miracle and a blessing to the entire human race. It has been especially important to the Jewish people.

We Jews are barely over one percent of the population here. We (a lot of us anyway) take pride in our contribution and participation to America’s dynamism. We point with satisfaction to the fact that the founding fathers of this country were inspired and informed by our holy book which they called The Old Testament. Many of them read it in the original Hebrew, something few of us modern Jews can do.

But why do I need to explain this? Why don’t we all understand the centrality of the Protestant ethic to the goodness of America? Partly, it’s because of a lack in the educational program. But it’s also because our media, whose responsibility it should be to make us aware of the important events and issues. But the media is often found to be doing just the opposite.

In the media, America is assailed daily for her imperfections; and if not assailed, then damned by the faintest of praise. The media’s emphasizes the imperfections instead of the achievements- the discords not the harmony. Hasn’t America (and her allies) banished the Taliban to isolated caves and mud huts in remotest Waziristan? Didn’t we free Afghan women to live more normal lives without the threat of torture, rape and summary execution for the crime of being female? Can’t, now, Afghans to grow beards to their own liking, listen to music, laugh in public send their daughters to school and have simple human dignity? Oh, well, yes, the press will whine, but there is still poverty, the occasional bombing and we never caught Osama bin Laden. Well then, have we also not saved thousands of Kurds, and non Baathist Muslims in Iraq from the depredations of Saddam and his two evil sons- people who raped and murdered fifteen year-old girls and put their political enemies (alive and feet-first) into industrial shredding machines just to hear them scream? Perhaps, but our press prefers to talk about a few incompetent American soldiers (who were punished for their stupidity) deriding and humiliating their Iraqi captives at Abu Ghraib and equating that with the horrors of Saddam.

I am one Jew who is all for the kind of spirit and strength of character that gets expressed at this time of year by wishing each other “Merry Christmas”. I’ll certainly take it over Allah HuAkbar. Give me Peace on Earth” and “Good Will Toward Men” over “Eternal Jihad” and “Dhimmi Status for Infidels” anytime.

If we do anything this holiday season, we need to loosen up and get a perspective on this “Merry Christmas” thing. It is not the people who say “Merry Christmas” and mean it that we need to be discouraging in America at this time. It is the people who find something wrong and suspect in the energy, enthusiasm and good-will that animates that “Merry Christmas” that we need to discourage.

The secular, morally blind, multi-cultural, Progressive ignoramuses who dare to equate the fully investigated, litigated, redressed and punished mistakes of a few misguided soldiers Abu Grhaib and Haditha with the bloody reign of terror under Saddam Hussein display their ignorance twice- First, because and find no moral difference are the same moral idiots who make excuses for the thousands of rockets a day that are being intentionally fired at the civilian population of Israel, rockets loaded with explosives, ball bearings and nails so as to injure and maim indiscriminately but still insist that any attempt to hunt down and stop the terrorists responsible for these rockets is equivalent or even worse.

The choice is clear. We can side with our fellow Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom are warm-hearted friends with morals and ethics or we can become unwitting dupes to heartless enemies with no moral compass who think they can rationalize almost anything and undermine our great civilization with reasonable sounding, non-judgmental sophistry. Do you need a moment to think about that?

By saying “Merry Christmas” in public we are not agreeing that Jesus was the son of God, we are just acknowledging that some very good people believe it. When we say it, that does not constitute accepting Jesus as our personal savior; it does show his followers that we see them as fellow countrymen, friends and brothers-in-arms in the defense of the highest ideals of our civil society. What is the problem with that?

The first four words of this essay “I am a Jew”, are exactly the words that Daniel Pearl was forced to say on camera just before he was pinned down and his head was sawn off. I'd like you to try a little thought experiment simulating a better world here- Pretend that the next sentence that I write followed that first one and I had no need for the rest of the explanation in between...
"Have a Merry Christmas"


Anonymous said...

This Jew always says Merry Christmas and accepts the greeting even though it is not my celebration. I do this in every shop and with everyone that feels it necessary to tell me Happy Holidays.

Therese Z said...

When I lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, one with an especially big orthodox population, and having a German last name that "sounds Jewish," I enjoyed being commiserated with by neighbors when they were bustling around getting their houses in order for various holidays and holy days. When the storekeepers wished me Gud Shabbos, I wished them one right back, and meant it.

Anonymous said...

I have said Happy חנוכה to my Jewish friends and had a Merry Christmas returned almost always when they knew my faith. And MY FAITH grew out of yours. May all the blessings of this season whether the birth of the Christ Child or the Joyous celebration of the Candles (flames) be yours my friend. Happy חנוכה (Chanukkah) Yaacov

Anonymous said...

so we're to infer that in your houshold there was no anticipation ,preparation for Chanuakha ? and a Happy Holidays ! greeting to you and yours was either provocative or a waste of time ?
gee whiz,how the Jehovah Witnesses,etc. must suffer as well.and they're a form of Christianity too.

lgude said...

Good on ya. That is always the spirit with which I wish someone Jewish Merry Christmas and how I would take a Happy Chanukah. I wished a Jewish friend Merry Christmas in about 1961 and he replied Happy Chanukah. I replied thank you, but he wanted me to say Happy Holidays. We disagreed but came to understand each others point of view and that's fine, but I really like the reasons you give for your position. Yup, the education system is a big part of the problem. Anyone wanting to counter the way history is taught today would find Charles and Mary Beard's 1921 (High School) History of the the US of great value. I listened to it in audiobook form from, but Project Gudeberg would have it in ebook format too. The very first chapter covers the influence of Christianity on the early settlement of America that encourages understanding of its positive influence in forming our institutions and values. So Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah.

Anonymous said...


I have truncated your post on my website and linked the continuation back to your website.


Anonymous said...


Shalom and Merry Christmas

Anonymous said...

This atheist returns whatever greating I am given. It costs me nothing to be polite to a person who is only wishing me happiness in the way they best know how.

They are not hog tying me and draging me into a church to convert to whatever version of Christianity they happen to follow. They are wishing me well.

Anonymous said...


I recently found out that many of the most popular Christmas songs were written by Jews. I wrote a blogpost about it that meandered to and fro and I hope you don't mind if I leave here a link to it. It is somewhat tangential to the gist of your message here, though in a very different mood:

cousinarlo said...

"But why do I need to explain this? Why don’t we all understand the centrality of the Protestant ethic to the goodness of America? Partly, it’s because of a lack in the educational program. But it’s also because our media, whose responsibility it should be to make us aware of the important events and issues. But the media is often found to be doing just the opposite.

In the media, America is assailed daily for her imperfections; and if not assailed, then damned by the faintest of praise. The media’s emphasizes the imperfections instead of the achievements- the discords not the harmony."

What a wonderful post. Thank you very much for your kind words.

Christianity is being attacked from within and without, with the blessing of the media. It is probably the only religion that ANYONE can make fun of, or worse, threaten with hate crime laws.

It is so rare that anyone defends Christians these days. Best wishes to you and a Happy Chanukah!

Unknown said...

I remember, many years go, watching Ayn Rand on the Johnny Carson show explaining why she, despite being a total atheist, loved the expression "God bless you." She appreciated the expression of good will with no strings attached and took no offense at the mention of God. Thanks for the post Jaacov and Merry Christmas.

shoprat said...

And this Christian hopes you have a happy Hanukkah. It is indeed a historic event worthy of holiday.

Anonymous said...

I visited my Reform Rabbi friend today for our weekly schmooze, and I mentioned that the local Chabad house was lighting a Chanukia (the traditional candelabra of Chanukah) at the shopping mall this weekend. There would be music, dancing, latkes (potato pancakes, or "levivot" in Hebrew), and jelly-filled doughnuts (aka "suvganiot"). I thought he might enjoy stopping by, and maybe in the future, he might consider organizing similar events through his congregation. Boy, was I surprised by his angry response. "I don't think Jews should conduct religious ceremonies in public." To this I replied, "But at this time of the year we Jews are constantly exposed to public displays of Christmas rituals. We see it in the malls, airports, and even in front of many city halls." To this he answered, "Then you should lodge complaints with city hall, or the mall operators." I answered, "The ADL has been trying to do this for years. I think they have been tilting at windmills, wasting their time, and my money. If the vast majority of Americans feel a strong desire to publicly express their religion, then instead of fighting the trend, why not join in and express our own religion in the process." "But what about separation of church and state," he asked. I replied, "shopping malls are private property, and are exempt from this restriction. City Halls can hold referendums which define what is an acceptable public display. Local standards may vary, but as long as they are applied fairly and equally to everyone in the community, there shouldn't be a problem." At this point he ran out of responses, so I repeated the invitation to come join us. There's nothing wrong with showing your neighbors you're Jewish. There's also nothing wrong with gently reminding a Reform Rabbi that he's not the only game in town, and that you are happy to join in a Lubavitch celebration (they really do know how to party). The Lubavitch, by the way, are the orthodox rabbis who organized the Chabad movement, a charitable organization that helps Jews and non-Jews alike, around the world. After the Mumbai massacre, I wanted to do something to help out the local Chabad chapter. It would be a mitzvah (a good deed) if we all did the same. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to all!

Anonymous said...

An associate sent me the url to your article Yoche. After reading it plus your initial article on your "Beast" I wrote back the following:

"I’m a bit surprised that you would send me such blatant rubbish. Are you just trying to add to my workload or what? :-)

Filled with the same endless hatred toward the German people and toward the Muslim religion and the usual hypocritical trappings of the disingenuous Jew who hasn’t the decency or the self-awareness to even recognize the obvious nature of his own bigoted commentaries.

I thought a lot about this piece while I was outside shoveling snow this afternoon in the –25C weather we’re having. Obviously I could go through his article and write a 10,000 word essay showing how his “Beast” (the Arabs and their Muslim religion) is all b.s. and that the real beast is the Zionist Jew conspiracy to take over the world via their endless deceptions.

Had the fellow left out all his disinformation on 911 and Hitler and Germany and Iran and all the rest of the lies he spread throughout his article and focused on the real issue of Jesus Christ and the meaning of Christmas and the fact that it was his own little adopted tribe of Jewish misfits who murdered the Savior of the Christians then he might have come across as a genuine human being. As it is he’s just another deluded Zionist Jew spreading the usual hate-filled lies about everyone else while he cries and moans about all the evil committed against the poor, downtrodden, picked-on Jews of the world. More of the endless litany of Zionist propaganda that the west has been spoon fed for the past century and more.

Give me a break. He’s a phony. Have you read his first article? Worse than this piece. More and more brainwashing for the “Christian” Zionists to gobble up in their mistaken belief that the Jews somehow are a positive force in Christianity. Poor suckers. If they would only read the Talmud and find out the Truth about how the Jews feel about Jesus Christ and Mother Mary one wouldn't have to respond to their endless deceptions.

Yaacov Ben Moshe said...

Thanks, Arthur T, for your attention. Its always instructive to have an example of how twisted, gratuitous and angry a little genuine good will and openness makes the anti-Semite.

No need to put yourself out with that 10,000 word response. After seeing how little sense you make in the 361 that you have left here, most people will have the sense not to bother reading it. You really should stick to your snow shoveling because this other stuff you've been shoveling really stinks. Aside from the obvious hyperbole (for example: I never said a word about hating "The German People"- I only said that Hitler told the world what he intended to do before he did it and nobody listened) to the classic blood libels (Jews are Christ killers etc..). It makes me wonder if we should be concerned that you've been out in that -25 degree weather without your hat- you really mustn't let that little brain of yours get so cold.

It is quite wonderful the way you can see the Zionist Conspiracy lurking everywhere. those Elders of Zion are a slippery lot for sure. Since you have such a bead on them, by the way, I wonder if you wouldn't mind letting someone know that I have never received any payment from the Elders for warping the minds of my Christian readers, friends and family members. Must be some mistake in the bookkeeping...

Maggie Thornton said...

Yaacov, this is a beautiful post. Thank you for it. Happy Chanukkah, my friend and may the blessings of Chanukkah and Christmas be in our homes and hearts for these very important celebrations.

Rachel said...

Thanks for the article, Yaacov. I became a much happier (Jewish) person the year I finally figured out that by resenting being asked for weeks in elevators and break rooms at work if I'd "gotten all my Christmas shopping done yet" I was making myself miserable and them uncomfortable. I'll never forget the first time I responded with a smile and genuine good will, "I'm Jewish and so don't have any Christmas shopping. How about you, how are you doing with your Christmas shopping?" To see that look of guilt like "Oh-oh, I said the wrong thing, how embarrassing" replaced by a smile as the other person proceeded to tell me that they were almost done, or had so much more to do, was such a good feeling. I now wish all my Christian friends and neighbors a blessed Christmas. Like you said, it takes nothing away from me and is simple human courtesy. I receive the added benefit of feeling much more comfortable during this yearly holiday season.

What do people think of wishing "Ramadan mubarak" to Muslim coworkers, acquaintances, and friends during Ramadan? I do this in the same spirit and especially when I suspect/know the individual is assimilated and tolerant, e.g., the Palestinian-American who used to alternate Peter, Paul, and Mary with German opera at a friend's musical salon evenings or my Iranian-American exercise instructor. The former would watch the Jewish subset of music buffs observe havdalah, then break his Ramadan fast with some of my friend's plentiful spread, and we'd all enjoy an eclectic musical evening together.

Obi's Sister said...

Happy Chanukkah to you, Yaacov!

Anonymous said...

Arthur Topham, I have a question for you:

Why should anyone care that you were "outside shoveling snow this afternoon in the –25C weather we’re having."?? People who express themselves in writing include facts that they think may enhance their credibility and appeal for the prospective readership. So I guess you had this idea that the inclusion of a detail about yourself as a hardy Canadian doing all the shoveling himself even in -25 weather would somehow inspire admiration in us. Why? Do you think that makes you unique or pure in some way?

I'm curious about this because it seems you talk about yourself as though you were the protagonist of a novel fully formed in your mind. It's kind of funny, being addressed directly by a fixed, fictionalized character, without knowing what the hell he is talking about. Or why.

Anonymous said...

I'm a mixed-heritage Jews, and I do appreciate this post! But to be historically correct, the US was founded by Christians AND Jews! Yes, the Jews were in the minority, but they included some notable persons, and they rounded up a significant portion of the funds needed to finance the American Revolution.

April Gavaza said...

I was raised Baptist (and now find myself in the non-denominational category) and I find the incessant Christmas music punishing as well. My mother used to start the Christmas music on October 31st and keep it going until December 31st.

I hope you and your family had a happy Hanukkah.

Pro-Semite said...

I know a few Jews who would greet each other with a jocular "Gut yontif!" on Christmas day.

Pro-Semite said...

I know a few Jews who would greet each other with a jocular "Gut yontif!" on Christmas day.