Celebrating our Diversity


Levitt Home in Naperville

It seemed to come earlier this year. The weekend before Thanksgiving my neighbors began to put up their Christmas decorations. “Just taking advantage of the warm weather,” my next-door neighbor Steve said to me when I complimented the lights he and his son were stringing on the eaves of their roof. It was as if he felt he had to apologize for decking out his home so early! I thought to myself that possibly putting up the decorations early had  more to with the bleakness of the year and the desire to have something to celebrate than with the weather. No doubt about it. We are all eager to bring some light into this dark period  in  our lives, a tough and bruising year which has caused unimaginable pain and desolation in our country and all over the world.   

 As we all know Chanukah comes during the time of year when many of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues, are celebrating Christmas. It is a time when we American Jews most feel our sense of “otherness” from the majority culture. Everybody is doing one thing, and we are doing something else. Many of us have family members who celebrate Christmas as well.  We cannot avoid it, nor should we want to. Rather, we should see the celebrations of Christmas and Chanukah as expressions of the diversity that is one of our country’s greatest strengths. And we should take some pride in the knowledge that, without the Jewish people, there WOULD be no Christmas. At the same time, we should keep in mind that for us, Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday on our liturgical calendar despite being celebrated around Christmas, a major holiday for Christians.

Still, living as a Jew in a society that is flooded with the Christmas spirit can be challenging at times. Rabbi Reuven Taff tells about the time he and his wife Judy took their three-year-old son, Avi, to the mall one Friday afternoon in December. As they were sitting on a bench in the mall eating ice cream, Rabbi Taff noticed that Avi was fascinated by the group of children lined up to sit on Santa’s lap.

Rabbi Taff and his wife wondered whether their son would say something about wanting to speak to Santa. They pictured themselves dragging Avi out of the mall as he protested that he, too, wanted to visit with Santa. But, when it was time to go, Avi left with them quietly. As they were exiting the mall, Avi turned to his mother and said, “Ima, I’ll be right back.” He took off toward Santa, and as his mother ran after him, she heard him yell at the top of his lungs, “Santa, Santa”. Everyone in the line stopped to look. Then Avi yelled, “Shabbat Shalom, Santa”.

Shabbat Shalom and Chanukah Sameach!