Being Jewish at Christmastime

Writer, actor and political /social commentator Ben Stein wrote a commentary back in December of 2005 which he read on the CBS Sunday Morning show. His commentary has been repeated and sent worldwide on the internet ever since. He said the following:

“Herewith at this happy time of year, a few confessions from my beating heart: I have no freaking clue who Nick [Lachey] and Jessica [Simpson] are. I see them on the cover of People and Us constantly when I am buying my dog biscuits and kitty litter. I often ask the checkers at the grocery stores. They never know who Nick and Jessica are either. Who are they? Will it change my life if I know who they are and why they have broken up? Why are they so important? I don’t know who Lindsay Lohan is either, and I do not care at all about Tom Cruise’s wife. Am I going to be called before a Senate committee and asked if I am a subversive? Maybe, but I just have no clue who Nick and Jessica are. Is this what it means to be no longer young. It’s not so bad.

“Next confession: I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish.

“And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees Christmas trees. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are: Christmas trees. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it’s just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

“I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat. Or maybe I can put it another way: where did the idea come from that we should worship Nick and Jessica and we aren’t allowed to worship God as we understand Him?

“I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old, too. But there are a lot of us who are wondering where Nick and Jessica came from and where the America we knew went to.”

That’s what Ben Stein said, and I agree with him.

Throughout the 20th Century American Jewish writers, artists, and song writers have contributed to a lot of what we’ve come to think of as the American Christmas culture, along with American Jewish movie moguls, advertising men, retailers and toy manufacturers. It may sound laughable, but many claim that the best Christmas movies and Christmas songs of the last century were written by Jewish guys.

I think it is altogether possible to be Jewish and to enjoy the American Christmas season with our fellow Americans. As a Jew, I’m not for “Jews for Jesus” or participating in the Christian religion in any way, shape, or form. We need to be true to our own religion. But one doesn’t have to be a Christian to embrace the spirit of Christmas, to participate in the virtues of charity, faith, goodwill, love, and kindness. Those values are as much Jewish as they are Christian. All of us Americans, Jews and gentiles, can and should come together as a nation at this happy, warm time of year. How could it hurt?

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