Among of the many Jewish laws, one says that you should never remind the Convert of his status lest he be made to feel like an outsider. For me, as a convert to Judaism, the December holiday season is filled with reminders that I am different. I see Christmas decorations as a reminder of my childhood experiences growing up Christian. And when I see Jewish decorations in public spaces and in my workplace, it appears to be nothing more than a token gesture put in place for my “benefit” as one of the small number of Jewish employees
All of these decorations are part of the much larger American Jewish experience that I am part of, but is come to make me feel like a minority within a minority. I know I am not alone, but it can feel very lonely.
A few years ago – before we joined Temple Aliyah – a family scheduled their son’s Bar Mitzvah to occur on Christmas day. Without realizing what it sounded like to my ears, they said “What else do a bunch of Jews have to do on Christmas other than go out for Chinese food and a movie?” While I agreed with this for the Jewish community in general, I felt quite different – we spend Christmas day with my family exchanging gifts and celebrating family time. The scheduling of this Bar Mitzvah forced us, or so it felt, to choose between being Jewish and being a part of my family.
While this family had only the best intentions, their viewpoint did not consider the impact of their word on families, like mine, who are not completely Jewish. You see, while we have a fully Jewish household following my conversion, we are still a multi-faceted interfaith family. And in today’s American Jewish experience, we are approaching the point where interfaith families will equal number of completely Jewish families. And in communities like ours, we may have already crossed that threshold.
Our words have the ability to make others feel wonderful and they can hurt those around us. I recall hearing about a child in Religious school who was told by his teacher “Jews don’t have Christmas trees”. The child was devastated to hear this and I completely understand his/her feeling. My family had a Christmas tree for many years, even when my children were attending Religious school, before conversion felt right for me. And, my wife’s Jewish grandparents decorated their house with a white-flocked tree with blue ornaments as their expressions of their assimilated Jewish identity.
My prayer for this holiday season is that we all consider the people who will hear our words before they leave our lips. And that we brace ourselves for the well-meaning words that may come our way, that are not intended to hurt. I have come to accept wishes of “Merry Christmas” from my co-workers as readily as “Happy Hanukkah” or even just “Happy Holidays” as an attempt to wish that my holiday celebration, whatever that may be, should be wonderful. I wish the same to you.
Temple Aliyah Men’s Club President