What are your plans for this coming Tuesday evening and Wednesday? You can be sure that whatever you have in mind to do, it’ll be different than what you would have done in, say, Poland in the 18th century on that same date, or in Venice in the 16th century.
The term “December dilemma” has come to mean something entirely new in our experience in open, free America. Once upon a time, Christmas was a frightening time for Jews living as a vulnerable minority among people who held us accountable for the death of the one whose birth they celebrate on that day. Today, we’re safe but bored, and looking for something to do. The dilemma is no longer about self-preservation in a physical sense; it’s about the preservation of our identity through what we do on a day when the majority of Americans are celebrating a day that isn’t ours.
To the rabbis, though, the question of Jews preserving our unique identity predates the birth of Christianity. As we begin reading Sefer Shemot, the Book of Exodus, we see a nation growing up in a foreign land. The rabbis imagined the Israelites in Egypt struggling to retain their cultural norms against the tide of Egyptian pressures. How successful were the Israelites in remaining Israelites? How did they deal with being a minority? And what can we learn from them as we encounter the day when our country shuts down to celebrate Christmas?
American Jews have developed a series of responses to this question, as explained by Joshua Eli Plaut in his entertaining and well-researched book, A Kosher Christmas. We’ll explore some of his findings together on Shabbat morning.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise