By Barry Farber
In 1968 the New York Times published an op-ed piece I wrote recalling the feelings of a Jewish boy in North Carolina loving absolutely everything about the full-dress, throttle-out celebration of not holidays, not the winter festival, not any season that called for greetings, but Christmas. Do you hear me? CHRISTMAS! And I mean Christmas in the public schools.
The point of the piece was how much I loved the music and the trees and the ornaments and the shepherds and the wise men and the candy canes and how that annual long-awaited Yule immersion neither humiliated me nor isolated me nor deflected me one spiritual inch from my own beautiful Jewish religion.
When an American chief of state is invited to another country on the other side of the world and treated to a native folk dance he genuinely enjoys, that doesnt necessarily make him less a fan of his own American culture. Likewise, a no-mistletoe-barred Christmas celebration in the public school delighted me tremendously.
The headlines tell us now of a current counter-rampage in favor of celebrating Christmas without shame, without apology, and without proceeding as gingerly as a nudist crossing a barbed-wire fence. This new pro-Christmas outburst is said to be triggered by the emergence of so many religious faithfuls in the last election who hadnt really been heard from before.
Welcome back, all you Christmas lovers of all religions! I was on that front line 40 years ago begging organizations and individuals who were trying to stifle Christmas in the public schools to cut it out! Who are they hurting? Id shout. There are a lot of Christians around. They like to celebrate Christmas. Theyre not forcing US to take part! Lay off! Leave them be! Whats the big deal?
The assault on Christmas did not start with shock-and-awe. It began with a kind of quiet courtesy. Christians themselves began to consider the sensitivities of non-Christian children. (Where was I when those sensitivities were handed out?) Happy Holidays and the like became a way for Christians to say, We dont wish to impose our Christmas upon others.
Like much that starts out politely, it turned into a society-splitting brawl. Protests against a nativity scene on the lawn of City Hall morphed into the obliteration of the Christmas Pageant at the public school, which led to the tilting askew of any two sticks or bars that might otherwise be viewed as a cross, the outlawing of the colors red and green together, and finally even as the F word gained warmer and warmer welcome in our media the designation of Merry Christmas as the new profanity.
(When communism took over Yugoslavia in 1945, it gave wry satisfaction to those anti-communists who saw the dilemma of communist political correctness. As an officially atheistic state, no mention of God was to be uttered. Yet the most common Serbo-Croatian word for Goodbye was Zbogom literally, With God. It took the communists years to popularize the alternative Do Vidjenia See you later to replace the forbidden mention of the Deity!)
So, as Christmas was undergoing its Kristallnacht even before the current intensified pogrom of no carols, no gifts, no Salvation Army bell ringers at Target stores, and not even the utterance of the name of this toweringly vital Christian holiday, there I was lonely if not all alone wishing they had contests to see which Jew knew the most verses of the most Christmas carols.
I have a dream Jews For Christmas, a vigorous movement of American Jews rising up to make sure nobody pushes around those Christians whose ancestors decided, for the first time in history, to make a unique wonderland like America, where nobody gets pushed around because of his God-loving ways. Before you other Jews rush to join me, let me warn you: This movement will be EXTREMIST.
Im including public schools, federal property and the lawn at City Hall!
Why do I so insist? No longer as a small child enthralled with all the joy, beauty and fragrance of Christmas as I knew it. This time as a grownup driven by history.
Never in history, not until America, did a people overwhelmingly of one religion ever conquer a continent and then turn around and invite the world to Come on over and help us make this place great! And while they were at it, they made sure every newcomer was free to worship God in his chosen way.
If the emcee at a brotherhood banquet said that and then said, Lets hear it for those Christians who started this particular America! would you fail to applaud?
I feel like a draft-dodger merely voting for those whod like to see the restoration of the American Christmas and then merely hoping they prevail. I want to say to the American Christians:
Hey, fellows. You all relax. We non-Christians owe you one. From the birth of this American republic youve made sure WE have every right to religious freedom. You Christians deserve to sit this one out.
WE who have been the beneficiaries of your enlightened governance now want to go out and fight and win this one for you.
Theres a good tactical reason for those of every religion other than Christianity to get behind the Christians. The target of the assailants isnt just Christmas. Study their intensity. Study their persistence. Theyre, in too many cases, downright anti-Christian and anti-faith itself.
The Church-State mantra is merely their non-holy smokescreen and anti-Christmas carol. If we let them succeed in humbling the dominant religion in America, how much longer do you think the rest of us will be able to be ourselves out loud?
Large numbers of my fellow Jews recoil from my Jewish bow toward the Christians. OK, goes the refrain, they got here before we did and they outnumber us. So what. Its OUR country, too.
I say to them: Damn right, its our country, too. But American Christians dont need you to tell them that. The reason its our country, too, is because their Christian forefathers demanded that it be so. They were telling YOU its your country, too, while your great-grandfather was hiding your grandmother in the hayloft while her sisters were being raped by drunken Cossacks in Minsk.
Look around at the America the Christians gave us. And look around at the America were giving them. The Rev. Jesse Lee Petersons newsletter offers a one-liner that clears out clogged passages in the brain: It is a country in which plastic likenesses of Jesus are banned, but pedophile public school teachers are not.
The absolute best friend the Jew has had anywhere on earth is the American Christian. If it werent for the American Christian, thered be no state of Israel and no Jew left alive except for those able to fake another religious identity.
Does that remark puzzle you? Youve heard of World War II. (Once at a Hollywood party a starlet heard somebody mention World War II and piped up quizzically, World War TWO? There was an embarrassed hush, broken by comic Henny Youngman, who said: Yes, dear. You remember World War II. It was in all the papers!)
During World War II, young Americans not themselves directly threatened went off uncomplainingly to give the British and the Russians much-needed help to destroy Nazi Germany. The American Army at that time was 97 percent non-Jewish because the American population was 97 percent non-Jewish. No poet, no philosopher and certainly no historian can name a better friend of the Jewish people than the American Christian.
The long overdue pro-Christmas backlash is now loose in the land. Bans on Silent Night are suddenly lifted. School Christmas pageants are suddenly re-permitted. Children in public schools are suddenly able to give each other gifts even if theyre wrapped in red and green. Lets hope The Christmas Revolution is too out-of-control to stop.
Its already too extensive for me to comment upon.
Except to say to our Christian founders, protectors, rescuers, neighbors and brothers: MAZEL TOV!
Which means Congratulations! in Hebrew.