By Mark Kleiman
Some 25 years ago I attended an amazing Jewish Learning and Leadership Program at the Wexner Heritage Foundation. Dennis Prager was one of the faculty members there. From time to time I still receive mail or email from his office. A few weeks ago I have received his video where he spoke about his views about the Christmas vs Happy New Year controversy.
It was the first time I have heard from a respected person the thoughts coinciding with my understanding of wishing “Merry Christmas” to people I deal with on daily basis. Though in my opinion, he had expressed his views rather diplomatically and not sufficiently strong.
Let me explain. Back in the old country (USSR) our ethnicity was always written in our IDs. Imagine if your driver’s license or traveling passport specified whether you were Jewish, Russian, Tatar, Korean, African American and so on. Imagine also if your job application had a line where you were required to specify the cultural and religious background of your family.
Here, in the USA, Jewish is considered a religion, but in the USSR, Jews were considered a separate ethnic group of foreign origin. Furthermore in the same way as in the USA one can determine whether if you are an African American, Asian American or Caucasian, in the USSR many people could unmistakably determine that you are Jewish just by looking at you.
We (the Jews) were treated as second class people and were supposed to fit into a certain place determined by others. This resulted in the condition of “us and them”, to which we were forced to adapt. One of our strongest motivations to leave our mother country and go to the USA was so that we could become Americans and break the barrier of “us and them”. Our dream was for “them” to consider “us” as one of them and vice versa. We were looking forward to becoming a part of the American Melting Pot.
At my first job in America almost 30 years ago, people always asked me whether I had finished my shopping trips to the stores to buy the Christmas presents or how was I planning to spend my Christmas.
Our first year in the USA, my co-worker invited me and my family to spend the entire Christmas day with his family because I happened to mention that we did not have a place to go. We drank Bloody Marys as thick as Ukrainian borscht, cooked meat, and ate a delicious dinner.
Presently I work with a group of very kind and caring people at my dream job. I happen to be the only non-Christian person among them. Interestingly, each and every of them has bothered to find out my ethnicity/religion and then treat me as such.
Absolutely nobody asks me about Christmas presents, though they actively discuss that among themselves. They tell me “Happy Holiday”, but they tell each other “Merry Christmas”. They are surprised and even perplexed when I wish them “Merry Christmas”. “What kind of a provocation is that” – I read in their eyes.
Such actions bear features of segregation and excommunication that I have experienced in the old country.
It gives me chills to think that my very good friends and kind people are either brainwashed or squashed by external pressure to the point where they do not feel comfortable in including me in their major holiday.
The matter is not in how these people treat me, but that they are too scared and terrorized to include me. What’s worse is that I don’t think they even realize that they are inadvertently ostracizing me for being different from them.
I am back to point zero.
The saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” exists in many cultures, but again and again the wisdom of it is widely disregarded. I have been told many times: “Not using the word Christmas is being done for good reasons, it is in care of you and other people who might be offended by this word”.
In reality it has a completely different effect on me. This is what I understand when I hear the politically correct “Happy Holiday”:
“It is because of you and people like who made a choice to come to the USA that our country’s Christmas holiday is not Christmas anymore. Would it not be better if you stayed where you used to belong? “
And I do feel guilty. Indeed, it was my conscious decision to immigrate to a mostly Christian country whose system was based on Christian values.
In addition, pretending that the word Christmas does not exist is as idiotic as claiming that the word “a$$hole does not exist, though every living creature has… you know what.
So I say: Have a wonderful time Christmas shopping, enjoy the smell of your Christmas tree, have a delicious Christmas dinner. Merry Christmas to all my country folk. And do feel free to wish me a Merry Christmas because USA is our home.
P.S. Big THANK YOU to my Dad for taking the time to write this article and share his views. I am very grateful to be born into this amazing family that takes time to speak with me, to hear me and to teach me.