What’s it like to be an American Jew at Christmas? There are as many answers to that as there are American Jews. GQ’s Julia Ioffe, for example, wants you to stop wishing her a merry Christmas. After tweeting that she didn’t want to explain why, she took to The Washington Post to write that it’s “lonely to be reminded a thousand times every winter that the dominant American cultural event occurs without me.”
It’s true that Christmas is the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to American holidays. It’s also true that if you’re Jewish, Christmas is always somebody else’s holiday. But beyond that, I view the season rather differently, because of my own family’s history and because of who I am.
My mother’s parents were German-Jewish immigrants. In their tiny German hometowns, they were among the very few Jews. So, every year, my Jewish ancestors gathered for dinner on Christmas day. They weren’t Christmas dinners as much as they were opportunities for community. This way, Jewish families didn’t feel isolated while the Christian majority observed Christmas. . .
I accept that as a Jew, I am a religious outsider by definition (anywhere other than Israel). However, I don’t feel alone, because I am surrounded by a warm Jewish community and a tolerant larger society. This country’s vibrant tradition of religious liberty means that I can choose to attend synagogue, eat kosher food, and give my children a Jewish education. I also don’t feel excluded as an American. I love celebrating the 4th of July and Thanksgiving, for example, and I’m always happy to attend a good Super Bowl party.
Still, I see the Christmas season — in spite of its clearly Christian core — as remarkably inclusive in this country. When strangers wish me a merry Christmas, I take it as a kindness. Someone, who likely celebrates the holiday themselves, is sharing their joy with me. As a Jew who knows what she believes, I feel happy for my Christian friends and neighbors, as they prepare to celebrate the most special holiday on their religious calendar. (Read more from “I’m a Jew. Feel Free to Wish Me a ‘Merry Christmas,’ America!” HERE)