“Dear Rabbi, Merry Christmas” – An Excerpt

Posted on December 21, 2006

Whoever would have thought that Christmas cards were such a loaded issue? I certainly didn’t, five years ago when I innocently responded to a forum poll on Christmas versus holiday cards. Not only was I flamed for writing that it bothered me – a religious Jew – to receive religiously-oriented Christmas cards from people who know that I’m Jewish, but I wound up feeling so unwelcome as a result, I never went back.

The next year, on another completely unrelated forum, the subject came up again. This time, I knew enough not to express my own opinion, but I did ask people why they felt the way they did. An interesting pattern emerged: there were those who sent cards based on what the recipient celebrated, and then there were those who sent cards based on their own celebrations, as a way of sharing the joy of their holiday. And, they said, if someone was offended by that, it was the recipient’s fault for 1) being too sensitive, or 2) not accepting the card in the “spirit” in which it was intended.

If I receive a religious Christmas card from someone who knows I’m Jewish, in what “spirit” is it, exactly, that I’m supposed to accept it?

What many of these well-meaning folks don’t seem to realize is that while there is no particular religious implication of a Christian receiving a Chanukah card, there is a huge religious implication of a Jew receiving a religious Christmas card – and even some secular Christmas cards. What they don’t seem to understand is that the very celebration of Christmas is antithetical to religious Judaism, and no matter what “spirit” they’re sent in, they sometimes come across as veiled conversion attempts, or at least reminders of the common (but not exclusive) Christian belief that the only way to G-d is through the Christian messiah.

It has become an issue that both bothered and intrigued me, and as any good writer would do with an intriguing, controversial issue, I brought it into my next novel.

So here, for your pleasure, is an excerpt from As in Days of Old. Anonymous rebbetzins may find this excerpt particularly amusing.

(General disclaimer – this is uncorrected, unedited, may go through some revisions before it reaches publication, etc.)

Enjoy!

8 Comments

  1. Sheyna

    “If you were secular on the other hand someone might.”

    I had to laugh at this; Arik, one of the major characters in my current novel-in-progress (nearly finished!), is secular and Israeli-born. Sort of a “you can take the man out of Israel but…” situation. When he winds up in his wife’s synagogue (solely for protective detail), the general assumption is that he must have lost a bet.

    😉

    Yeah, the whole “separation of church and state” thing is questionable at times here in the States. Especially, it seems to me, in December.

    I’m glad you’re back! I do have an unusual spelling of my first name, and my (married) last name isn’t exactly common, either. I like to think it makes me unique.

  2. Anonymous

    There isn’t separation of church and state here the way it is supposed to be there, and Israelis don’t impose their beliefs and celebrations on non=Jews. Okay, it’s possible to be asked where you went for the seder but if you weren’t Jewish no one would try to convince you to go to one. If you were secular on the other hand someone might.

    I had lost your blog for a while and just found it again. I had searched your name with the wrong spelling!

  3. Shira Salamone

    Shayna, way cool! You’ve really whet my appetite with that excerpt. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

  4. Sheyna

    Jack – I look forward to reading them!

    Pattie – thanks! I’m glad you liked the excerpt, and I’m really glad that Sara’s perspective resonated with you. I’ve interviewed a number of women who are married to clergy for this, and it’s always nice to know that I got it right. 🙂 On greetings, I have no problem wishing the Christians I know a “Merry Christmas.” Even though Jews and Christians will disagree theologically on a number of points, I believe G-d is quite capable of honoring more than one covenant. And along those lines, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

  5. Anonymous

    Sheyna, your excerpt is FABULOUS!!! I will also say that while I’m a Christian, I’m **not offended** by someone in a store saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” And if I had a Jewish friend I would absolutely get her a card consistent with her faith.

    As an aside, regarding your novel excerpt: I’ve been a pastor’s wife for most of our fifteen-year marriage, and the feelings Sara has about being the rabbi’s wife are EXACTLY what I have wrestled with and dealt with during the whole time of being “the preacher’s wife.” The question of “how much will I be a part of my husband’s ministry” is universal for wives of those in the ministry, be they rabbi or pastor or lay leader. You’ve hit it spot on. Well done!

  6. Jack Steiner

    I might have to blog about some of my experiences in this area.

  7. Sheyna

    Mother in Israel: Good point. I have run across a few American Christians who are so defensive about their right(?) to deck the entire country in Christmas that I wonder if maybe they are threatened by Chanukah or other holidays.

    Are Christians in Israel threatened by Chanukah? How is their behavior different, knowing they are not the majority culture?

  8. Anonymous

    What American Christians don’t seem to get is that the reason they don’t feel threatened by Chanukah is because they are part of the majority culture.

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