Happy Holidaze? No Thanks, I'll Take Christmas
By Bonnie Chernin Rogoff
Founder, Jews For Life
December 23, 2000
I am and always will be Jewish. I am committed to my faith, and have no intention of converting to any other. That's why I'm writing this article, to reaffirm my Jewishness, and, at the same time, vow to do everything I can in my lifetime to assure that Christmas remains legal.
Heads are shaking, eyes are questioning. Already, I can hear my rabbi having a conniption. Why would a nice Jewish girl care about Christmas? Aren't there enough Christians in the world, what with all those Protestant denominations and the Pope and the Catholics at two billion strong? Let them worry about it. What about Chanukah? Besides, what does she mean by "keep Christmas legal?" Is there anyone who would actually want to ban America's favorite holiday? Even if they did try, is she silly enough to think such attempts would be successful? Christmas, illegal?
Well...not illegal, exactly. Before a holiday can be declared illegal by a government, it is important to first delegitimize and suppress the associated symbols and practitioners of the faith by presenting them as intolerant, wrong, or posing a threat to everyone else's civil liberties. In this century, I am reminded of how the ritual observances of my own ancestors were banned in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, prior to the mass exterminations. In our modern era, the governments responsible for the annihilation of the European Jews also viewed Christians with disdain, and tried to restrict religious practice within the community. With its huge numbers worldwide, Christianity will never disappear. Via the suppression of its symbols, however, those who devote themselves to the faith will effectively be neutered.
Today, one has to be really brave to say the word "Christmas." We can't even write the word, "X-mas" is the substitute. The symbol 'X' in the Greek Alphabet is 'Chi' which is the first letter of the word 'Christos.' While usage of the 'X' word dates to the 16th century, in our modern lexicon it is just a correct way of writing the holiday without referring to you-know-who. We can't even say Merry You-Know-Who-mas, and Christian believers must settle for the obligatory "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings." Many people don't believe you-know-who ever existed, for he was resurrected and there is no grave, only the New Testament accounts and the Antiquities of Josephus. But we do believe in Santa Claus, who definitely never existed but has been resurrected more times in kids stuff than Jingle Bell Rock. And hey, I have nothing against Santa. In fact, I wrote a song for the guy that will be posted on my website on Christmas Day and all next week (stay tuned). However, December 25 was not created in honor of Santa Claus.
In Eugene, Oregon, a city ordinance is forbidding the display of Christmas trees in public places, because such a display might offend 'certain people.' Certain people, who are also offended by cigarette smoke (illegal in most public places in San Francisco) not to mention pro-life opinions (illegal when uttered in prayer in front of abortion clinics). Certain people, offended by religious ornaments and symbols, depicting crosses or Jewish stars. Certain people, intimidated by prayer in public school, even if it is a religious child quietly reading her Bible at lunch time. Ah, but if that little child were reading a sex education pamphlet during class? They would voice no objection. Censorship only has faith-based boundaries, when you're a certain person.
Certain people, infuriated at public displays of the Ten Commandments. Or by mottos such as "With God, All Things Are Possible." Or at seeing "Choose Life" license plates. Certain people, miffed at concerned parents, who want to know what their children are being taught in public schools. Certain people, who would decimate the rights of Americans to enjoy their holy traditions. Certain people, who abhor the display of religious worship, yet sanction the right to exhibit pagan symbols and unsavory filth that trash pious people's morals and sensibilities. All under the guise of "freedom of expression."
Of one thing I am certain. It is these people, the ones who are in our faces, forcing us to accept their rules of misconduct, that will one day subordinate the rest of us. It is these people who can, in large enough numbers, one day take over our system of government, founded upon principles that allow for private religious observance as well as public expressions of atheism. Just as they do not seek God, these certain people do not seek tolerance, they demand acceptance and promotion of their agenda. At the expense of religious freedom. That is why I am so uncertain of the future of Christmas.
As a Jewish American, I am a minority with significant influence. I'm not proud or ashamed, it is simply a fact. There is much to be thankful for, being a Jew in America. There is no other place where a people so small in number have been able to succeed so greatly, marry within their own faith without forced conversions, study the Torah and the Talmud, eat Kosher food in public, go to public libraries and bookstores that display texts with commentaries of the great sages, and pray in a Synagogue of their choosing. When one considers the history of the persecution of the Jews in Europe, culminating in the Holocaust, what he have here is nothing short of a miracle. That is why I give thanks to our brilliantly conceived Constitution, our Founding Fathers, and our Christian friends and neighbors. Without them, the Jewish religion may not exist, outside of Israel. But then, without the aid of Christians, Israel would not exist, either.
I believe in miracles, especially on Chanukah, for Chanukah is a holiday of miracles. Twenty two centuries ago, when the Jews endured continuous persecution by the Syrian Hellenistic armies during the reign of King Antiochus IV, the Jews were prohibited from practicing their faith. Any display of religious worship or Torah observance was a capital crime. There were massacres as the invading armies sought to destroy every remnant of the Jewish faith; the Temple was desecrated and filled with idols and pagan gods, to which Jews were forced to bow. The miracle occurred when the small army of Maccabees (only 6,000 strong!) retaliated and battled the huge invading armies totaling 47,000 Syrian soldiers. Against this onslaught, the Maccabees triumphed. After claiming victory, The Maccabees then marched on to Jerusalem, cleansed and rededicated the Temple, and with God's help were able to make one small cruse of sacred oil last for eight days.
This Chanukah, I am giving thanks to God for being a Jew living in America, a country that was founded on religious principles that protect everyone. An America that, I pray, will always believe in Christmas.
I would like to wish my fellow Jews a joyful Chanukah. On this holiday, I would like to wish my Christian friends and neighbors a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Copyright 2000 by Bonnie Chernin Rogoff. Not to be reproduced in any fashion, in whole or in part, without written consent from the author. All rights reserved.