Bill Bonvie's Dec. 24 commentary, "Christmas: The whole schmear," about being Jewish and celebrating Christmas, brought strong reactions from readers. Here is what four people had to say:
Bill Bonvie wrote that choosing to view Christmas as a holy day should be purely a matter of individual choice, and thus, celebrating Christmas is an option for Jews. I suggest that most Christian clergy would disagree.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, who is viewed by Christians as the Son of God and the Messiah. Therein lies one of the fundamental differences between Christian and Jewish beliefs. Jews do not believe the Messiah has come yet.
While I understand Bonvie's lament that a Christmas tree is more fun than a menorah, I believe that borrowing another's holiday without regard for its religious significance is disrespectful to those who fully observe that holiday. Furthermore, it is our job as Jewish parents to instill delight in our children for our customs, and build rituals and memories around them.
For many families of mixed heritage, celebrating both holidays makes sense, but for those of us where both parents are Jewish, I fear that doing so brings us one step closer to losing our own religious identity to the diaspora.
"Oy vey" is what I say to Bill Bonvie. What a shame that he hasn't found the beauty in his own religion. I think he has lost himself in the glitter and glitz of what is a religious holiday to Christians around the world, the birth of Jesus Christ.
When was the last time he had a really wonderful Shabbat experience? When was the last time he traveled to Israel, if he's been there at all?
The beauty of the Jewish religion is overwhelming. The menorah, as he calls it - I prefer the Hanukkiah - brings forth a beauty from within. I have a suggestion for him: Try lighting one Hanukkiah for each member of your family, shut the lights, chant the Hanukkah blessings with your arms around your family and friends, and think about the long history of the Jewish people.
Let Bill Bonvie enjoy his tree, cards, caroling, and the rest. But when he says that most Jews would secretly love to celebrate Christmas, he is not speaking for me. Mike Huckabee was absolutely right when he said that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ. Let Jews leave it to be observed by Christians, in their homes and in their churches.
Americans have invented "the Holidays," a modern version of the ancient midwinter festivals with which Druids, Romans and others attempted to offset snow and cold with heat, light and feasting. The period from Thanksgiving through the New Year happens to include Christmas, Hanukkah, and other religious and ethnic holidays. But it is really about gifts, eating, drinking and - one hopes - being charitable.
"The Holidays" are not an attempt to supplant Christmas. They are a way of extending the nonreligious aspects of the season to the general public, and boosting the retail economy. I attended a public elementary school in the 1930s in which a totally non-Jewish faculty led a totally Jewish student body in decorating trees and singing carols, undoubtedly thinking it was an expression of toleration and brotherhood. I'll take "the Holidays" any time.
Bill Bonvie does not speak for the majority of Jews when he says "Yes, Virginia, there is indeed such a thing as a Jewish Christmas." Any intelligent person, Christian or Jewish, knows that these holidays can never be equated or the same, since the basic premise is totally opposite.
While it is true that many Jewish refugees changed their names to reflect traditional "American" names, so did a majority of all other European refugees in order to avoid the prejudices of existing institutions here in America at that time. Does Bonvie also feel that Muslims, Buddhists and others also feel they would secretly really want to celebrate Christmas because this holiday is so much better than their own?
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ and the belief of Christians that Jesus is the Son of God. Wake up, Mr. Bonvie. Everyone does not believe this! Speak for yourself, not the rest of us.
Lynn B. Saluck