Tag Archives: American Jewry

Happy Holidays

TurkeyWhen is it okay to participate in holidays traditionally reserved for others?

 Most of us are preparing for Thanksgiving. We have embraced Thanksgiving as the quintessential American holiday, and as such, we will be planning travel to visit other relatives, prepare a bountiful table and of course watch the Macy’s parade in the morning and football thereafter. American Jews embrace Thanksgiving, just like all other Americans, but we struggle with other American holidays. Although almost all of us celebrate Thanksgiving, many of us still wrestle with Halloween and most of us would not consider celebrating Christmas.

 These three holidays are iconic parts of living in America. And all three share religious backstories. Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Christ is certainly the most obvious. Halloween is grounded in pagan rituals and Thanksgiving is essentially a Christian Sukkot, rooted in a Christian religious tradition of gratitude for God’s bounty. What makes the secularization of this holiday such that we are able to embrace it and celebrate, stripping it of its original grounding and retelling the story in a way that it can become ours, and why are we unable to do likewise with the others?

 Many of us kept our children from Trick-or-Treating worried that dressing up in a costume and participating was an affirmation of a pagan ritual of witches and warlocks. However, Halloween has been stripped of its religious meaning. I read recently how one rabbi used a creative Jewish lens through which the celebration included sharing excess candy collected by her children with the less fortunate. One of my fonder memories is taking my son by the hand, dressed in a costume that mom created, while I was dressed up as a giant hamburger. The only bad part of Halloween was the stomach-ache and crash after my sugar high from over indulgence.

 Christmas is a more complicated situation. But in this age of acculturation, interfaith couples and of course commercialization, there are places where we can enjoy the holiday. I say that very cautiously and carefully because I do not want to be disrespectful of those that hold this as a sacred holiday. However, the Coca-Cola inspired Santa Claus and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer both pale in comparison when I faithfully listen as Bing Crosby sings White Christmas in the movie of the same name (Bing also sang it in Holiday Inn). Irving Berlin’s classic homage yearns for us to be able to embrace this American holiday as our own. As many of you know, coming from an interfaith background, I am familiar with the beauty of a family gathering, honoring my grandmother, and sharing gifts on a day devoted to love and togetherness. We as modern American Jews need to figure it out.  And in our own unique way, we have already begun.

National Menorah Lighting

National Menorah Lighting on the Mall

 We have substantially ramped up the Chanukah holiday celebration.  This is however a contrived response to a Christmas in which we long to participate. Without reservation I fully support the increase in joy we bring to our “minor” religious holiday including the latkes, Chanukah cards, 8 days of presents, parties and so on.  We go a step further in our “Chinese food and a movie” ritual on December 25. The question is whether we maintain a fictional “Chinese wall” separating holidays, holding steadfast to our modern re-interpretation of Chanukah, or can we consider an American Secular Christmas?  I submit that celebrating one holiday does not preclude the other, nor does such a celebration threaten our core beliefs. Instead, acknowledging Christmas in a modern American Jewish context can bring us in closer alignment with the Jewish dream of acceptance in America and more importantly, serve as a significant learning opportunity to share with our children what these holidays might mean metaphorically and Jewishly.

 Happy Holidays and Chag Sameach!

The Bibi Blunder

 The Prime Minister’s decision to speak before Congress at the invitation of Speaker Boehner is poorly thought out and ultimately does not serve him, Israel or American Jewry.

 Although Mr. Netanyahu is ostensibly coming to speak to the issue of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon capability, everything about this visit undercuts this message and works against him. First, is the matter of propriety. Acceptance of Mr. Boehner’s invitation is also effectively a snub of the President of the United States. This is bad. Neither Israel nor American Jewry wants the Prime Minister creating tensions between these two important allies. This is the time for the two countries to be joined ever more closely. Interests align as never before.

 There exists a political power play in this country. Congress and the Executive branch are engaging in a process.   While this is going on, the Israeli Prime Minister should not want himself or his country to become embroiled in the internal politics of the United States, becoming a pawn of one branch of government only to alienate the other. This would run counter to the interests of Israel, as the State needs to maintain and deepen its relationships at every level to the United States.

 The timing of this reflects badly within the Israeli political system as well. This visit is scheduled in close proximity to the Israeli elections. Therefore the appearance before Congress is cynically seen as a ploy to bolster the Prime Minister’s position at home. This does not serve anyone’s interest either.

 Finally, there is a policy and plan that the President has put forth regarding sanctions against Iran and negotiations with that country. Congress and the Prime Minister may both disagree with that policy and have legitimate reason to do so, but publicly displaying such a disagreement is imprudent. It is divisive at a time when divisiveness precisely the opposite of what you need to achieve. It is more than a bad idea, it is a ham-fisted attempt to voice legitimate concerns and circumvent the President that will cause far more damage to an important relationship than it will do to further Israel’s concerns for its security.

 It is in the best interests of Mr. Netanyahu to pass on this opportunity to appear before congress. He should go home, campaign to win the election to become Prime Minister of the new government and then approach the United States to make his case for a different approach to the Iran nuclear problem.