Wednesday, November 30, 2016
A Jew Says Merry Christmas- Again!
Here is my (nearly) annual edit of this piece - It needs to keep up with the times even though the message never really changes.
I am a Jew. I find that after many years of conflicted feelings, I have come full circle on being wished (and wishing others) “Merry Christmas”. No, I am not loosing my Jewish identity; on the contrary, I am very sure that it is stronger than ever.
I grew up in an observant Jewish home ( I am observant still) in which we greeted Christmas with a mixture of fascination, respect and a little irritation. At some point I became fond of expressing my ambivalence by quoting Jackie Mason, who once said:
“I don’t understand something about Christians; maybe you can explain this to me? Why is it that this time of year you bring the trees inside and put the lights outside?”
That line, for many years summed up the bemusement that I affected about the whole public Christmas celebration.
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 Christmas programs and music were overwhelming. I found the frenzy mentally punishing, the free-floating goodwill unsettling and the talk about Jesus (in whose divinity I was not supposed to believe) uncomfortable.
It left me very glad to have it over on December 26th.
And I was always more than a little unsure of how to respond when some well-meaning person would wish me a Merry Christmas. I was often caught between wanting to thank him noncommittally, try to summon a convincing Merry Christmas in return or to say,” Thanks Very much but I don’t celebrate Christmas and then have to 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 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 don’t have any hesitation or second thoughts. I wish them a great big “Merry Christmas” in return. I would like to encourage all my fellow Jews, all Christian friends and anyone else who may be listening to join me in this.
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 more American and better for the republic and her people 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. Even if some of them were supersessionists and dogmatic, they were also egalitarian and self-reliant. 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.
By the time of the founders, a century and a half later, much of that initial fundamentalist fervor had evolved into a more complex mix of Mainline Protestantism, Masonic brotherhood and Deist spirituality. Hardened on the forge of a yeoman’s life, annealed by the day-to-day and season-by-season struggle to wrest a living from this still untamed land where God’s will could be imagined alive in the caprices of the weather, soil and the forests. They learned self-reliance and independence by daily practice. Above all, they came to know that it is not enough to expect, that to survive and thrive you must always study, be openminded, learn new things and, above all, be reverent.
It was those fiercely independent Protestants who set the tone for the nation in which we now live. Their adamant spiritual presumption of the liberty of the human soul is, still today, the great central mast that holds the canopy of democracy and aloft. It is the very center of our sanctuary from the extremes of despotism and effete decay that afflict most of the rest of the world.
The devotion of a deeply religious population and spiritually awakened souls like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams are what have made the this country the true standard of self rule, prosperity and freedom in the history of the human race. They codified it and crystallized it all in the constitution that they wrote for us.
At over two hundred years old, that constitution and the government that flows from it is still the one in the entire world that best honors the individual and guarantees most rights to any individual who accepts the constitutional responsibilities of a citizen.
Among all their unique achievements, the decision that there should be no Official Religion in our country, shows that they understood that full human freedom means spiritual freedom too- Freedom of Religion.
To honor their genius fully, we have to understand that Freedom of Religion must never be allowed to be a mandate for Freedom from Religion. As a Jew, I am exquisitely aware that freedom to practice my form of religion exists in this country because of those Christians and their vision of what a Christian country should stand for.
This uniquely Christian openness is one of the reasons why America has become the destination of choice for any one wishing to escape repression or lack of opportunity elsewhere in the world- and it’s why Jews (and everybody else) have gravitated here for two hundred years. But we all (Christians, Jews, Muslims and Atheists) are in danger of forgetting how this all works and I think this whole “anti-Merry Christmas” thing is a symptom of that amnesia.
My grandfather told me stories about life in turn-of-the(last)–century Eastern Europe so I have some idea of what he escaped by coming here in 1915. And its not just that, thirty years after he left for America, he was not trapped with many of his Aunts, uncles, and cousins in Zhitomir, his Ukrainian home town, when the Waffen SS slaughtered thirty six thousand Jews there in one day! That is a gift indeed, but it is in and of the past. No, it is the gift of equality and the opportunity to prosper that still lives on. It is that continuing gift that sustains the American dream and should call upon our constant love and loyalty.
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 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. Thomas Jefferson (among others) others used to read from it every day 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 accept the centrality of the Protestant ethic to the goodness of America? Partly, it’s because of a lack in our educational system. But it’s also because our media, whose responsibility it should be to make us aware of the important ideas, events and issues has other agendas. Our “Mainstream” 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 emphasizes the imperfections instead of the achievements- the discords not the harmony.
Historical revisionism has been used by the joyless progressives, secular humanists and multiculturalists to sap the optimism, goodwill and meaning out of all religious practice including (or especially!) Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It has even come to pass that from 2004 until now our President goes abroad and cannot seem to visit another country without some pathetic apology for America’s past- as if there is any country on earth whose history is so pristine that they are in a position to judge us.
I am only one Jew- not a Rabbi and not a spokesman for a community organization, just a simple Jew. Nevertheless, I would like to call on all Jews, indeed, all Christians, Muslims and whoever else will stand up with me and celebrate the blessing that The United States of America is to us and to the human family- and not just the nation, but all of the good people in it and their predecessors. Let us bow our heads together every Thanksgiving and resolve that instead of fretting about how saying “Merry Christmas” might make us an overly Christian country, we will thank our own, private God that we live in this country where “Happy Thanksgiving” and “Merry Christmas” mean what they mean here.
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 suspicious in the energy, enthusiasm and good-will that animates that “Merry Christmas” that we need to discourage.
We must side with our fellow Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom are warm-hearted friends with morals and ethics or we will have 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.
By saying “Merry Christmas” in public we are not necessarily agreeing that Jesus was the son of God, we are just acknowledging that some very good people believe it. It also shows 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 and Judeo-Christian culture.
What it boils down to is this: every human being needs something to have faith in. I am very much more comfortable with people who are cheerful, sincere and open than with those who are guarded, grudging, censorious and angry. That is precisely the difference between the people who have faith that there is a higher power or guiding force in the universe and those who believe that the greater good requires us to worship cold and arbitrary intellectual concepts. If there is no God or faith in your life you can become confused. You begin to think that freedom of religion leads to freedom from religion and that equality of outcomes is the logical extension of equality of opportunity or that tolerance means that you must accept the intolerable or that you cannot talk about things that are somehow verboten. Those are all deadly errors. So, give me a traditional, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Thanksgiving” any day over a tense “Happy Holidays” any day.