I want my child to understand Christmas. This isn’t such a remarkable idea except for one fact: I am Jewish, as is my husband, and together we are raising a Jewish son. Along with having a deep-seated desire to make Hanukkah as big of a deal for him as Christmas will be for his gentile friends, I want to be able to respond to his questions with more than a mere brush off, “Oh, we don’t celebrate that holiday.”
Christmas music is unavoidable this time of year. As I dance around my kitchen in an attempt to keep him happily strapped into his high chair, I hear words like Bethlehem, Messiah, Emmanuel and King of Israel. I want him to ask why all these Jewish words and ideas are being sung about this time of year. When he does, I will tell him it is because gentiles are excited that a Jewish boy was born in Israel. This good Jewish boy performed many seemingly impossible acts of tikkun olam like his ancestors. He taught Torah. What’s more, this good Jewish boy was a Zionist to boot.
Generations that are still alive would consider me nearly heretical for proposing such an idea. Discussing the Jewishness of Jesus is something often left to forward-thinking rabbis and scholars. In pedestrian circles the idea remains largely taboo, a subject best left undiscussed, especially in mixed company that includes the awkwardness of a gentile in-law. But, the truth of the matter is that the historical tables have been turned. Those who were once our persecutors have now become persecuted alongside us. Jesus, who used to represent the threat of conversion and assimilation, once again dwells among the oppressed. Even better, among those who celebrate Christmas as the annum of his birth in a true and sincere fashion, philo-Semitism is de rigueur. Jesus, it would seem, has gone from the character that divided us to the man who unites us. In a day and age when we are in sore need of allies, why not be happy that some gentiles are joyfully celebrating a Jewish boy’s birth?
To be sure, this answer will only raise more questions. But I wouldn’t be a good Jewish mother if I didn’t raise my son to ask questions. Surely the unity that comes from investigation is better than the isolation generated by dismissal. My son will inevitably learn about Danny Kaye dancing to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. If he is to know the pop culture Christmas brought to him by contemporary Jews, why shouldn’t he also know the religious Christmas that celebrates historical ones? What better way to teach my son that we are to be a “light unto the nations” than by pointing out the most obvious evidence of our success?
For his ancestors Christmas represented alienation and seclusion. For my son, Christmas will hopefully be a reminder that although we live in a foreign land, we are welcomed and respected for who we are and what we’ve been called to do. And if that’s not a reason to eat Chinese food and watch the new Star Wars movie, I don’t know what is.