Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jews Need 'Christ' Put Back in 'Christmas,' Too

Mark Cantora

This Jew thinks that American Christians should put Christ back into Christmas.

It seems as if every year the same pattern happens again over and over, in some solipsistic historical cycle of intellectual lunacy and laziness.

First, some parents -- inevitably ones who put political machinations before modesty -- complain about a child having to sing a Christmas song in school. Alternatively, some whiner with nothing better to do makes waves about the nativity crèche in his or her little town square. Oftentimes it's a Christmas decoration which has been placed there for decades.

The politically correct pols, after breathless apologies and massive mea culpas, respond to these ridiculous complaints by removing any semblance of religious connotation from their respective Christmas traditions. The overreactions are so hyperbolic and so overzealous that the end result is not merely "Christ" being removed from "Christmas."

In response to these complaints, Christmas itself is removed from Christmas

And this is to everybody's detriment -- Christians, Jews, and all Americans alike.

"All right, all right," the skeptic will say. "Of course I understand that putting Christ back in Christmas is good for Christians. But how in the world could this be good for the Jews?"

The answer is clear if only you look.

Since time immemorial, Jews have dealt with two problems -- either one or the other, but almost never simultaneously: anti-Semitism and assimilation.

For countless years in countless places, the major problem was blatant and unapologetic public anti-Semitism. Always of the vicious type and often very violent, institutional and popular anti-Semitism has had a traumatic effect on the collective psyche of the Jews. Until the miraculous (for Jews especially) founding of the American Republic on Terra Nova, Jews existed in countries where at best, they were barely tolerated and at worst, they were persecuted and killed.

And no matter where on the continuum of hate a particular Jewish community fell, the one common denominator of all these experiences was that they took place in countries with institutionally established religions. Whether Christian or Muslim, for thousands of years, Jews barely survived and frequently perished under the direction of the Church or the Mosque.

So when the United States -- the Goldena Medina -- became the first country in the history of the world to accept Jews as citizens like anyone else, no more and no less, the Jews took this opportunity and ran with it. It was a minor miracle. Whereas their cousins in Russia were being herded into the Pale of Settlement, and their kinsmen in Prussia were only a few decades away from the Hep-Hep massacres, the Jews of the new American Republic were feeling something they had never felt before: Freedom.

When President Washington wrote to the Jews of Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island that in the United States, "[i]t is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts," it was nothing short of a minor Second Revelation from the New Mount Sinai. Providence had bestowed upon the Jews a place where they could live as Jews without fearing for their livelihoods or their lives.

In the minds of these Jews, it was the lack of an institutional religion -- the absence of the Church or the Mosque to rule over them -- which was the major factor in their newfound freedom. And who could blame them for thinking so? Before that time, if the rulers were Christian and you were a Jew, there was no other option but to be ruled or to die. Now, for the first time, Jews, being just another part of the People, were the Rulers themselves.

Over time, while anti-Semitism in the rest of the world continued its regular ebb and flow (more flowing than ebbing), it continued its slow march into oblivion here in the U.S. -- until the present day, where there is no institutional anti-Semitism in the U.S. to speak of, and popular Jew-hatred, where it exists at all, is relegated to the fringes of American society.

However, while the nonexistence of anti-Semitism is an obvious moral good, the pendulum, in many cases, has swung too far the other way, to the point where American Jews, more than Jews anywhere else, struggle with their second-biggest problem: Jewish assimilation.

To American Jews, assimilation has a more ominous tone. Assimilation means disappearance. It is sometimes called the "silent Holocaust." Already, some liberal strains of Judaism have, in the name of assimilation into American culture, expanded the concept of Judaism out of existence -- for if to be Jewish is to be everything and everyone, then to be Jewish is to be nothing and no one.

While the impetus behind this assimilation has perplexed scholars for decades, there is one uncontroversial fact about it: when Jews live in a culture which embraces the "melting pot," they, like everyone else, end up with more and more children shedding their identity in favor of the generic "culture" of the moment.

But as intractable as this problem seems at first glance, the solution is simple: reinforce the idea that Jews are, in fact, different.

The history of Jewishness is a history of separation, and not just separation by anti-Semitic fiat. Believing Jews have always lived as a People apart, because being a People apart is the foundation of Jewish identity. Kosher Laws separate Jews from non-Jews at meal times. Sabbath observance separate Jews from non-Jews on weekends. Even yarmulkes act as a physical separation, and as a reminder that Jews are supposed to embrace the brute fact that they are "a little different."

However, today, with the assimilationist impulse so strong, and "progressive" Jews champing at the bit for ever more dilution of what it means to be "Jewish," large segments of the American Jewish population have abandoned those observances and, in the process, have lost much of their understanding of their own culture as a People Apart. One need not observe the Kosher Laws to understand one's Jewishness, but a thrice-daily reminder sure does make it easier.

So, of course, the solution to this problem must be a reinforcement of Jewish identity as a People Apart. But instead of relying on the negativity of anti-Semitism -- which, for all its evils, had the one positive effect of reminding Jews, every day, that they are meant to be different -- the Jews of the United States can help bring themselves back from the brink of destruction by assimilation by supporting one simple concept:

Put "Christ" back in Christmas.

This solution requires only that Christians act as proud Christians and take back their holiday as a Holy Day. Christmas as Coke-Can Santa and Rudolf the Reindeer is a lose-lose for everyone. Christians lose centuries of religiously significant traditions. And the sanitized, commercialized "modern" Christmas has been "Americanized" just enough to make Jewish children feel improperly "American" if they don't celebrate the holiday, and improperly Jewish if they take part.

Christmas as a Christian Holy Day, however, poses no such problem for Jews whatsoever. Every year, "Americanized Christmas" forces Jewish children to navigate the treacherous path between feeling American and feeling Jewish when talking to their friends about Santa, reindeer, and Christmas trees. But no Jewish child has ever had social difficulty or mixed feelings around the time of Ash Wednesday or Palm Sunday. The reason is simple. When Christian holidays are observed by Christians as Christian Holy Days, neither Christians nor Jews (nor anyone else, for that matter) question why Jews are not celebrating. They don't celebrate because it's a Christian religious holiday. Obviously.

On Christian holidays observed religiously, believing Christians feel the power of their ancient religious tradition, and Jews feel distinct. On Christian holidays observed in a modern, secular fashion, believing Christians feel culturally neutered, and Jews feel disadvantaged.

Thus, putting "Christ" back into "Christmas" should be the perfect occasion for Christians to proudly reclaim their religious identity from the generic not-a-culture culture of "winter holiday" materialism. And, just as important, putting "Christ" back into "Christmas" should be a time for Jews to be reminded and to remind themselves that although they are fully and equally citizens of the United States of America, they are also a proud and separate people, with a distinct tradition and history of their own. There is nothing wrong with Jews, young and old, being given a real-life lesson as to their unique place as equal citizens, but a People Apart, in the United States and the whole world over.

Bringing the religious element back into the public observance of Christmas is not insidious discrimination. It's benign differentiation -- a differentiation of the sort that is central to the very concept of Jewishness by Judaism's own traditions.

So please, keep putting up the crèches in town squares, and keep singing the carols in public schools.

Put "Christ" back into "Christmas" -- if not for the Christians, then for the Jews. Do it to help prevent Jews from disappearing, through assimilation, off the face of the Earth as a unique, proud, and distinct People Apart.

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