Today is December 15, 2019 -

December Dilemma

We held a Jewish/Catholic interfaith event last week at Maria College.  One of our Catholic partners very sensitively apologized to me for the Christmas tree in the hall.   “Maria College is a Catholic school.  I absolutely expect to see a Christmas tree here, and there is no need to apologize for it.”  I replied.

I have to admit that I’ve totally ignored the “December Dilemma” most of my life.  I went to a Jewish day school where everyone was Jewish.  I enjoyed the Christmas tv shows, recognizing that they were fun shows dedicated to someone else’s holiday.  I lived in a Jewish fraternity house, where the non-Jews were the minority.  And my kids are growing up the same way, so I’m equally indifferent as a parent. 

But, as CEO of the Jewish Federation, I now hear stories:

“I’m ok with “Jingle Bells” for the 5th grade choir, but does my daughter really have to sing about Jesus, the newborn king?” 

“My daughter asked, ‘do I have to be Jewish?  Why can’t I have Christmas like everyone else?’”

“Do I need a Christmas tree in my public school?”

ADL has quite a bit on what’s legal and what isn’t, but the gray seems to be much wider than the black or white, and the answers don’t seem satisfactory. 

The Supreme Court says that Christmas trees are ok.  What about Nativity Scenes?  Do we need to sing “Silent Night?”  Do we have a right to expect sensitivity from our public institutions?

One school principal (in NJ) answered a friend who dared to complain, “I’m within my legal rights…” 

When our 10-year-olds ask if they have to be Jewish, we have a very big communal problem that should be concerning all of us: Federations, synagogues, JCCs, families, etc.    

I’m sorry that I’m so late to the game.  I’ve had my head in the sand.  I don’t have any answers yet, because I’m just wrapping my head around the magnitude of the problem. 

This morning a new doctor of mine wished me a merry Christmas.  I’d be ok with it, except that I was clearly wearing a kippah!?!  I hope that my expectations aren’t just too high.

Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York

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