Merry Christmas

By Susan Estrich

December 24, 2020 5 min read

To all of my Christian friends and family members, I wish you a day of joy as you celebrate the birth of Jesus, who you believe is the son of G-d.

I am not wishing a merry Christmas to my Jewish friends, whose determination to celebrate this holy day is diametrically opposed to the fundamental beliefs of Judaism. We do not believe in the trinity. We believe in one G-d, not G-d and His son.

Our forefathers and foremothers faced persecution for thousands of years because of our beliefs, because we were different. And many of them, sadly, in their desperation not to be different, are teaching their children that what we believe doesn't matter because Christmas is just a big holiday, like Thanksgiving, that everyone celebrates.

Thanksgiving celebrates the momentary peace between the colonists and the Native Americans, whose land the colonists were taking. It is a story about immigrants, which everyone needs to hear. When I was in school, no one ever suggested that the Second Americans had all but destroyed the Native Americans, who rightly viewed them as conquerors, not freedom fighters. It's a bigger, and more troubling, story than the tradition of high school football, where the big games against the oldest rivalries are played.

When Marblehead would play Swampscott, I would sit on the sidelines admiring the cheerleaders and, even more, the girls in the smart uniforms who twirled batons. With my determination (usually applied to the task of learning) to twirl a very thick, weighted baton, I broke a few fixtures when my throws were off balance, but I didn't give up. I dressed not like I did when we took the subway to Cambridge to demonstrate, or to the Boston Tea Party (a club near Fenway Park) where we smoked pot and listened to Santana, but in my mother's favorite outfit: yellow checkered shorts and a yellow turtleneck, my hair pulled in a side pony. I made it. I was as happy doing splits in the mud than I had ever been as a girl, followed by turkey and togetherness, at least for an afternoon.

On Christmas, we had Chinese food. When I got older and my mother and I were the only members of our small family still living nearby, I picked her up on Christmas to go to a big movie and then join the other Jewish families at Dave Wong's China Sails. No Hanukkah bush, no presents. Not easy in a town where Jews were already second-class citizens, reflected on the colored real estate maps that agents used to use. If you didn't know you were Jewish or didn't want others to know, your address would give you away.

There were aunts and uncles who celebrated Christmas, but not us, and not my father's parents, who lived nearby. I learned early — when the teacher said I couldn't play Mary, even though I had the longest hair in the class (the usual standard), because I was Jewish. My father couldn't help but laugh a little, because Mary was a Jewish girl just like me. When I was taught that the Jews killed Jesus, the rabbi went to the Hadley School in Swampscott. I made my mother promise me that he would not mention my name.

I remember an Orthodox rabbi telling me many years later that if a Jew celebrates Christmas, it's very likely her grandchildren will not be bar or bat mitzvahed; that those who think it's fine to join in the celebration will eventually find themselves alone at shul on Yom Kippur, when those children have had children of their own who think shul is entirely foreign to them.

Don't worry. I don't sit in judgment of anyone but myself. Religion is personal. But it was with great joy that I watched my sister at the new synagogue on Yom Kippur. She had cancer at 32 and is now suffering heart failure as a result of the Adriamycin she was treated with, but there she was looking as beautiful as ever, telling the story of our family and the temple we grew up with. Although that temple is now a town building, the Ne'er Tamid (the "Eternal Light") was moved to the new synagogue.

Which is where I belong.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: EvgeniT at Pixabay

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