Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cultural Dissonance: Christmas Tree or Holiday Tree...Oy Vey Who Cares

So it starts once again the nonsensical fight over words and reality. This is the time when certain politically correct individuals have major issues with words at holiday time and cultural conservatives cry "foul." ..Christmas versus Holiday...oy vey. I call this cultural dissonance. Dissonance, which means supporting one concept yet understanding reality to be something completely different. It really doesn't matter what you call this time of year, with the population of the United States being over 90% Christian, its basically Christmas season.

Being Jewish I understand why many think that it is hurtful to not be inclusive at this time of year. Calling it Christmas instead of holiday means that a small segment of society feels unwelcome. Well yes we do. I did as a child growing up. Guess what? I not only survived, but my Judaism is quite intact. But the reason I felt like an outlier in my own country at this time of year wasn't because society called this season "Christmas Tide," it was how the people around me treated me at this time of year. Ultimately it is not truly about words, its about deeds.

Example: My sister and I were the only two Jewish students in our school in Memphis, Tennessee. We did not participate in the Christmas pageants produced at this time of year. My parents felt it was a violation of the Supreme Court rulings, while teaching us to respect our own traditions. (PS my family could not afford private school. Most of the Jewish students in Memphis attended private schools at the time.) The first year that we were in our public school, my sister and I were placed in the back of the auditorium during pageant performances, not allowed to sit with the other children because we did not participate. The second year we were in that school we were left alone in our respective classrooms and not even allowed to go to the auditorium to watch the performance. Honestly this is only one little example of some of the antisemitism we faced and that the teachers not only refused to prevent but actively participated in themselves.

I personally had/have nothing against Christmas. I do happen to enjoy the colorful and fun atmosphere of the Christmas season even though we don't celebrate the holiday. I had and have nothing against Christians. My issue was with those who purported to be Christian but forgot to ask themselves, "what would Jesus do?" Allowing some form of ignorance and bigotry to get in the way of actually how they treated some vulnerable children doesn't seem very Christian to me, but then again I am speaking as the target of the antisemitism. To me, I see the attempt to marginalize me because I am Jewish in the same way some have treated my children in our community over the years due to their autism and how so much of society is not ready to accept my boys for who they truly happen to be as aspergeans.

So you see, I, as  a Jew, find it truly inane that there is this so-called "war on Christmas" here in the United States. No one can take from you the meaning of the holiday no matter what words you use. That is if you are wise enough to remember what it is you are supposed to be celebrating. In the end it's not about words, its about choices and teaching compassion, understanding and respecting the other.

The same can be said for how society views those with special needs and invisible disabilities. You can always use the "right" word but in the end it is how you treat someone that truly counts. It's what you do on a daily basis to make this world a better place for the most vulnerable that is the only true measure of righteousness.

So as you go about your shopping and preparations for the holiday think about those that are outside of your purview. No I do not mean Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Sikhs or atheists. I mean the forgotten in our society; the defenseless, the disabled, the homeless and the needy. Think about what truly counts in this world.

We need to remember even for one day a year that we are charged with making this place a better world for all those in society. From my understanding of Jesus, I think he really wouldn't care what you call the holiday. Not certain he truly had an ego. He might have even seen a self-proclaimed holiday as hubris and rather venal in some way. Something tells me too, he would prefer that society find a way to help their fellow man rather than fight about some marketing strategy.

By the way, just so everyone also knows, calling it a Holiday Tree instead of a Christmas tree is rather nonsensical. Jews don't have "trees' at this time of year. No there is no such thing as a Hanukkah Bush. We have menorahs that celebrate the miracle of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, Israel. We have dreidels, spinning tops, that remind us how the Assyrian-Greeks tried to prevent us from teaching our children about Judaism. We give "pretend coins" to our children, to remind ourselves how our ancient freedom-fighters, the Maccabees, had to meltdown every bit of metal in the Land of Israel turning it into swords so as to battle a stronger and greater enemy. We remind ourselves that over 2,000 years ago our people fought and won the first war for religious freedom. But no, we do not have a tree and honestly we don't need one either.

Well anyway, to my Christian friends at this time of year, Merry Christmas. To my Jewish friends, Happy Hanukkah. To my geeky friends Happy Saturnalia or Happy Birthday Sir Isaac Newton. And to those who have no holiday at this time of year and simply act upon the concepts of charity, happiness and community....Welcome to the United States of America.

Until next time,