December 23, 2004

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
A Christmas Quarrel

My latest column for the for the NJ Jewish News is on the over-hyped "Who killed Christmas?" story:

...[A]s someone who has personally saved Christmas, I feel more than qualified to comment.

Back in the sixth grade I starred in the Waltoffer Avenue Elementary School production of The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. I played Sam Whipple, a small-town lawyer who is hired by Santa Claus to frustrate the evil designs of Phineas T. Prune, a landlord who has raised the rent on Santa’s workshop and is threatening to evict the elves....

There may not be a public school in the country today that would mount a production like ours, and not just because it tried to ring holiday joy out of a landlord-tenant dispute.

I mention Charles Krauthammer's wrong-headed WashPost column in my column, but it really deserves to be scrutinized at length.

He begins with a quote by Mark Brownstein, parent, Maplewood, N.J., supporting the school board's ban on religious music in holiday concerts. Says Brownstein:

"Holiday celebrations where Christmas music is being sung make people feel different, and because it is such a majority, it makes the minority feel uncomfortable."

Krauthammer follows this up with a nice little quote from Casablanca: "You want my advice? Go back to Bulgaria." Very mature -- telling a fellow Jew to go back to Europe.

The fact that he picks on Brownstein is a mistake, however, because part of Krauthammer's thesis is that:

"It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.."

The problem is Brownstein is a highly affiliated and educated Jew and a day school parent. I know this because his wife works at my newspaper as a reporter; I also know that Krauthammer's people called Brownstein to give him a head's up on the column, and he explained his background, but CK clearly ignored this.

Krauthammer also writes:

"I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it."

He might also have mentioned that Orthodox Jews do not as a rule send their children to public schools. The Orthodox example also undercuts his central assertion that Christians' need for carols in the schools is more important than another's request not to be made uncomfortable: If Orthodoxy, a relatively tiny movement, is thriving despite the near total absence of validation from the outside world or popular culture, then why does he feel Christianity, representing "80 percent" of Americans, needs this very public celebration of Christmas in order to act on its "religious impulses." If anything, Orthodoxy proves that religious authenticity is nurtured by an embrace of private, counter-cultural values, not widespread popular expression.

Finally, CK says the "pettifoggers" display a

" profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions."
So that's the American idea --toleration of minorities at the indulgence of a Christian majority? TrackBack

I really am disgusted with the smug, self-righteous attitude some our fellow MOTs have displayed in their opinion pieces about christmas and what they think Jews should be doing.

Unsubstantiated opinions substituted for fact, poorly constructed arguments and a tone that comes across as both pandering and condescending.

Posted by: Jack at December 24, 2004 1:22 AM
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