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A Kosher Christmas

A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish

Joshua Eli Plaut
Foreword by Jonathan D. Sarna
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hjfpf
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  • Book Info
    A Kosher Christmas
    Book Description:

    Christmas is not everybody's favorite holiday. Historically, Jews in America, whether participating in or refraining from recognizing Christmas, have devised a multitude of unique strategies to respond to the holiday season. Their response is a mixed one: do we participate, try to ignore the holiday entirely, or create our own traditions and make the season an enjoyable time? This book, the first on the subject of Jews and Christmas in the United States, portrays how Jews are shaping the public and private character of Christmas by transforming December into a joyous holiday season belonging to all Americans.

    Creative and innovative in approaching the holiday season, these responses range from composing America's most beloved Christmas songs, transforming Hanukkah into the Jewish Christmas, creating a national Jewish tradition of patronizing Chinese restaurants and comedy shows on Christmas Eve, volunteering at shelters and soup kitchens on Christmas Day, dressing up as Santa Claus to spread good cheer, campaigning to institute Hanukkah postal stamps, and blending holiday traditions into an interfaith hybrid celebration called "Chrismukkah" or creating a secularized holiday such as Festivus.

    Through these venerated traditions and alternative Christmastime rituals, Jews publicly assert and proudly proclaim their Jewish and American identities to fashion a universally shared message of joy and hope for the holiday season.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5381-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun

    In his 1962 Christmas message to the nation, President John F. Kennedy declared that “Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Christians, pause from their labors on the 25th day of December to celebrate the birthday of the Prince of Peace.” He concluded that “there could be no more striking proof that Christmas is truly the universal holiday of all men.”¹

    Kennedy, who was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, just blocks away from a large synagogue, should certainly have known better. Even in his day, as many as one in five Americans never celebrated Christmas as “the birthday of the Prince of...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xix)
  5. INTRODUCTION COPING WITH CHRISTMAS: A MULTITUDE OF JEWISH RESPONSES
    (pp. 1-9)

    I have always been fascinated with Christmas. As a young boy growing up in Long Island, New York, in the early 1960s, my mother took me to sit on Santa’s lap at Gertz Department Store. Inevitably, Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I then felt compelled to explain that I celebrated Hanukkah. Santa still gave me a candy cane. Visiting Santa at the shopping center might not be unusual for most Americans, but it was out of place and strange for a Jewish child whose father was a well-respected rabbi and civil rights activist in Great Neck, New...

  6. CHAPTER 1 COMING TO THE NEW WORLD: CAN THE AMERICAN JEW KEEP CHRISTMAS?
    (pp. 10-40)

    Every Christmas Eve, Samuel and Joel Rothmann unlock the door of their great-great grandparents’ house at 2007 Franklin Street in San Francisco and feel as though they are coming home. On Christmas Eve the direct fourth- and fifth-generation descendants of William and Bertha Haas gather for their annual family reunion. Even though the family donated the house to the San Francisco Architectural Heritage in 1974, they have retained the right to gather at the house every Christmas Eve, just as they have every year since 1886. Forty family members attended the Haas-Lilienthal gathering in 2010. John Rothmann, Samuel and Joel’s...

  7. CHAPTER 2 HANUKKAH COMES OF AGE: THE NEW JEWISH CHRISTMAS
    (pp. 41-64)

    Beginning in 2009 and during each year of his presidency, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama hosted Hanukkah parties at the White house for more than five hundred guests. For his first Hanukkah party at the White House, President Obama continued the approach of his predecessor, George W. Bush; he served kosher food at the presidential Hanukkah party. The White House kitchen was ritually cleansed and koshered (including ovens, appliances, dishes, and cutlery) by rabbis of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. President Obama started a new presidential tradition, however, by becoming the first president to distribute two versions of a...

  8. CHAPTER 3 WE EAT CHINESE FOOD ON CHRISTMAS
    (pp. 65-86)

    During Elena Kagan’s United States Supreme Court confirmation hearings of 2010, at a particularly contentious moment, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham directed the discussion to the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner. Graham then asked the candidate where she was on Christmas Day. Justice Kagan famously answered, “You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.” Her comment provoked laughter and reduced the level of tension in the room. Recognizing that some in the room might be unfamiliar with the custom, Senator Charles Schumer of New York then explained how Jews had a special...

  9. CHAPTER 4 “’TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE HANUKKAH”: REMAKING CHRISTMAS THROUGH PARODY AND POPULAR CULTURE
    (pp. 87-114)

    The humorous assault on the character of Christmas represented by Kung Pao Kosher Comedy’s biting humor reflects a whimsical and subversive strain in American society. Observers of popular culture capitalize on contrasting religious and secular aspects of Christmas to exaggerate Christmas’s benefits and faults. Christmas lends itself to parody and even caricature because the holiday incorporates elements from many different nationalities and cultures. Christmas is also continually reinterpreted by different generations of Americans to reflect ever-changing social and cultural viewpoints. The more American society becomes amenable to the involvement of members of diverse ethnic and religious groups, the greater the...

  10. CHAPTER 5 THE CHRISTMAS MITZVAH: ’TIS THE SEASON TO BE GIVING
    (pp. 115-136)

    One Christmas morning, Uzzi Raanan rose early from his Los Angeles home and put on his work clothes. Uzzi was not headed to his job. On this particular day, he intended to distribute food to the homeless and gifts to the needy. For Uzzi, a Jew who does not celebrate Christmas and who might otherwise stay at home, this day was an opportunity to contribute charitably to help non-Jews.¹ Under the auspices of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Uzzi linked up with four hundred other Jewish volunteers to help the homeless in area shelters, to distribute food...

  11. CHAPTER 6 CHRISMUKKAH AND FESTIVUS: HOLIDAYS FOR THE REST OF US
    (pp. 137-162)

    When Elise and Phil Okrend began their line of interfaith greeting cards in 1989, they were responding to a significant increase in interfaith relationships between Americans from Jewish and Christian backgrounds. Based upon census reports, the interfaith marriage rate had dramatically increased.¹ Realizing that intermarried couples, families, and friends were looking for an ecumenical way to greet each other beyond the generic “Happy Holidays,” the Okrends created a line of cards that juxtaposed images of Christmas and Hanukkah. In response to critics who immediately accused them of undermining Jewish identity, they cited an increasing demand for greeting cards that combined...

  12. CONCLUSION MENORAHS NEXT TO MADONNAS: SHAPING THE FUTURE OF CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA
    (pp. 163-174)

    In 1993, Myrna Holzman, a retired public school teacher in New York and an avid stamp collector, started a crusade to convince the U.S. Postal Service, a quasi-federal agency, to produce a Hanukkah stamp. Initially rebuffed by the Citizen’s Stamp Committee of the Postal Service on grounds that the U.S. Postal Service does not consider religious themes, Myrna reacted with skepticism. She counted many stamps that featured Christian icons, such as the Madonna and Child. Myrna then suggested that the postal service consider selecting a secular symbol such as the dreidel to commemorate Hanukkah.¹ In the ensuing years, Myrna waged...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 175-200)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 201-208)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-210)