This week I walked into the lobby at work to see a two-story glistening Christmas tree with flowing red ribbon and lights. Presents are wrapped perfectly under the tree. The back office is tastefully decorated with lights and snowy scenes and garland. It’s really a stunning display. And yet, after the initial pleasantness of the decorations started to wane, I was hit but a familiar question: Why didn’t someone think to add a menorah to the holiday display?
Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Among other groups, Jewish people don’t. When we moved from New York to California it surprised our kids a bit to learn that almost every friend celebrates Christmas. When they tell their buddies, “We are Jewish,” the harmless questions begin.
Ok you’re Jewish, but you still celebrate Christmas, right?
No, we don’t.
But you still have a tree, right?
No Santa? No presents on Christmas morning?
No to it all.
What do you do on Christmas?
Chinese food and movies.
These are all reasonable questions. Kids should ask questions. But what underlies the questions I think is what was bothering me about the Christmas tree decoration at work. I couldn’t shake the discomfort about it. But I also couldn’t put my finger on what was really upsetting me. So, while I shuttled my son Emmett to trampoline practice, I explained the situation at work. Then I asked him, “What do you think about when you see Christmas decorations in public without any support for Chanukah? Do you think businesses should put up a menorah?” I waited to see if he understood my question.
Thankfully, kids sometimes cut through lots of baggage and find the real issue quicker than their parents. Emmett summed it up perfectly. He said, “There’s nothing wrong with just having a Christmas tree. It’s just extra nice when someone puts up a menorah.” That’s it. Nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas and sharing your love for the holiday with copious amounts of decoration. I love the lights and the trees and the songs. I don’t care if someone puts their lights and tree up before Halloween or if they keep it up until Valentine’s day. I don’t mind Christmas music at Target on the first day of November. I actually enjoy it. Last year at work I participated in my first Christmas cookie exchange, and it was so much fun. And I just bought stupidly expensive tickets so that my entire family can go see Emmet Otter’s Jig Band Christmas in the theater. I’m down with Christmas, and I don’t have sour grapes about not getting to celebrate it. I guess I was missing was a tiny acknowledgement that in public spaces it’s ok to go the extra mile and support the Jews.
There has been antisemitism for as long as there have been Jews. But with the 24-hour news cycle and social media I’m bombarded with it more regularly now than years ago. I admit it stings a little more with each new episode. A few days after people were gunned down in a synagogue in Pittsburgh someone painted swastikas on a temple a few miles from my own. This week a professor at Columbia University was treated to the same vile display in her campus office. In response to these incidents my synagogue decided to hire armed guards so now I have to pass guns and sometimes cop cars just to walk my kids into Hebrew School. If you haven’t experienced this let me tell you, it’s unspeakably horrendous.
So, when the Jews are feeling down because lots and lots of people hate us and some of those people feel emboldened to publicly display their disgust and gun us down, it feels like it would be an extra special step to add a menorah to holiday displays. It’s not required. It’s just extra nice.