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December 24, 2004     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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December 24, 2004

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PAGE 4 David Bornstein Musings II A column of ramblings and scattered thoughts as I ~gather myself for next year As many spellings as there are for Chanukah, there must be an equal number (or more) ways to celebrate the Festival of Lights, in particu- lar the gift-giving. Now that we're in recovery mode, convincing our four-year-old that the gift cycle has ended, here's what we may do next year: a) give one big gift the first night and last night; b) do a "give and get" (idea courtesy of Lisa Sholk) where one night the kids get gifts, and the next night they pick a toy out of their closet to give to a needy child; c) the one-night-only gift orgy; d) one night of gifts and then the rest of the nights we select charities to contribute to; e) the heck with all that--when do I get mine? I received more comments on the series By Carl Alpert New holiday in the Jewish calendar HAIFA--Last year, Chanukah and Christ- Many of the religious aspects of the holi- mas overlapped, and it was relatively easy to day are obvious in Bethlehem, where special justifythemerryholidayspiritthatpermeated church services are openly held. Since the Israel. This year, however, the two holidays beginning of the intifada, however, overseas are separated bya two-week interval, and the Christian participation has been reduced. observance of the Christian fete is more con- Christian officials are also disturbed by the spicuous than ever.With the passage of years Muslim attempts to commercialize on the it has become more and more obvious that holiday. not only local Christians observe the holiday Haifa has found its own solution by here. Christmas is finding a fixed place in the transforming conflict into co-existence. schedules of many Jewish Israelis as well. Thousands of Israelis, of all faiths, this The point is made that the celebration has year attended the mid-December "Holiday nothing to do with Christianity or any other of Holidays" festival centered around Cha- religion. Rather, the day is seen as an interna- nukah, Christmas and Ramadan. Held in tionalholiday, secularinnature, asThanksgiv- the Arab section of the city, Wadi Nisnas, ing is regarded in America. If Buddhists can and stretched out over several weeks, the mark it in Hong Kong, and Hindus wherever program, as reported in the press, consisted they are located, why not Jews in Israel? Im- of concerts, street performances, exhibits by petus to this characterization is given by the dozens of Jewish and Arab artists, children's Russian immigrants who brought the tradition workshops, poetry and literature events, and. withthemfromtheformerSovietUnion, where not least, public meetings atwhich co-exis- Christmas was a purely secular holiday, tence was openly discussed. Holiday symbols like Santa Claus and The Jewish National Fund has found a way decorations for trees have accompanied the to enter into the spirit of the season.At this observance here. Appropriate greeting cards time of year it trims its forests and makes areavailablealmosteverywhere.Wehaveseena the young trees available free to members of cardshowingangelshoveringoveraChristmas the diplomatic corps, foreign journalists and tree and bearingthe traditional Sephardigood others who take them home and dress them luck symbol, the Hamsa, fingers of a hand. up in traditional style. In almost every major town in Israel, plastic The December 25 date is observed by the trees and Santa figures are openly offered for Roman Catholics and the various Protestant sale and are used to decorate some stores and denominations.The GreekOrthodox, ofwhom restaurants. The spirit cannot be missed. In there are large numbers in the Middle East, cities like Jerusalem there are about 14,000 mark their Christmas early in January resident Christians, most of them Arabs. To Prolonging the holiday spirit is the fact this figure should be added church personali- that New Year's eve, known here as Sylvester ties representing the various denominations (as in many European countries), is widely as well as members of the international press recognizedand marked without any religious and the many foreign workers who openly connotations.Asidefromthefactthatitmarks celebrate the day. the beginning of a new civil year, are many In Tel Aviv, where most of the foreign dip- Christians aware that it also marks the day lomatic missions are located, the commercial of the circumcision of Jesus? appeal of the holiday is obvious. Restaurants Lastyear, JerusalemmayorUriLupolianski, advertise special Christmas dinners, and often himself strictly Orthodox, was criticized in add "Happy Chanukah" as a footnote. Israel Jewish religious circles when he sponsored a radio and television playoccasional carols. One municipal reception for all citizens onthe first streetsalesman, clearlywearingablackkippah dayofthe civilyear. (yarmulke),justifiedhissellingoftreedecora- But back to the day Matt Nesvisky has tions on the grounds that there was nothing suggested that Jewish observance of Decem- religious about them. Besides, he.added, his bet 25 by Jews can be made kosher by taking customers could save the items to decorate the Christ out of Christmas and spelling it their succahs next year Krissmiss. THE VIEWS EXPRESSED ON THIS PAGE ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF HERITAGE MANAGEMENT. O O O CENTRAL FLORIDA'SINDEPENDENTJEWISHVOICE O O O ISSN 0199-0721 Winner of 36 Press Awards NEWS HERITAGE Florida Jewish News (ISN 0199-0721) is published weekly for $34.95 per year to Florida ad- dresses ($41.95 for the rest of the U.S.) by HERITAGE Central Florida Jewish News, Inc 207 O'Brien Road, Suite 101, Fern Park, FL 32730. Periodicals postage paid at Fern Park and additional mailing offices~ POSTMASTER: Send address changes and other correspondence to: HERITAGE, P.O. Box 300742, Fern Park. FL 32730. MAILING ADDRESS PHONE NUMBER P.O. Box 300742 (407) 834-8787 Fern Park, FL 32730 FAX (407) 831-0507 email: Editor/Publisher Jeffrey Gaeser Editor Emeritus Assistant Editor Gene Starn Lyn Payne Society Editor Bookkeeping Gloria Yousha Elaine Schooping Account Ext~-utives Barbara do Carmo Marci Gaeser Contributing Columnists Jim Shiptey Carl Alpert Michael Gamson Tim Boxer David Bornstein Gall Simons Production Department David Lehman Teri Marks Korina Miller HERITAGE of columns on leadership than any others in recent memory. That speaks to our hunger for aggressive, independent, change-oriented vision and begs the question: What will make the biggest difference to Jewish Orlando? With new Federation and Hebrew Day School execs on the horizon, let's embrace the desire for change and move forward, It's now or maybe not for another decade. A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales. The teacher said it was physically im- possible for a whale to swallow a human be- cause even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small. The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible. The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah." The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?" The little girl replied, "Then you ask him." Expect a different kind of family story next year, maybe on animal husbandry. We now consist of husband, wife, three children, a dog, a cat, a hermit crab, a tank of fish, and an Arabian horse. When my wife told me she was consummating the deal to buy the horse I realized the song playing on my iPod at that moment was "It's the End of the World As I Know It" by REM. We went to the Seeds of Peace gala recently and the burning question the event left me with was if all the Seeds of Peace graduates are called seeds, what happens when they sprout? On a more serious note, one of the evening's speakers quoted a Seed who said, "In order to make peace with your enemies, you have to go to war with yourself." Food for thought. There's more to life than volunteering for the Jewish community. Hard to believe, but true. And the greatest error staff and leadership , but it By Rabbi Michael Lerner Flush from their electoral victories in November, some leaders of the Christian Right have decided to make an issue of the secularization of Christmas. Objecting to the move by Macy's and some other retailers to wish their shoppers "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" instead of the traditional "Merry Christmas," they have begun to accuse secularists in general, and, on some of the right-wing talk shows, Jews in particular, of undermining Christmas. It's easy to dismiss these right-wingers as sore winners. They are well on their way to packing the judiciary with judges who may erode the division between church and state, make abortion more difficult or illegal, and support the pro-torture position of Bush's choice for Attorney General. Yet the 25 per- cent of Jews who voted for Bush in this past election may not have imagined that along with his vigorous support for Sharon and for the war in Iraq, Bush's electoral victory could spur a public assault on the legitimacy of Jew- ish identity in the United States. The assault has been led by Bill O'Reilly, the most popular cable newscaster, who told millions of viewers that there was a system- atic assault on Christmas by secularists. When challenged by a Jewish caller who said he felt uncomfortable being subject to frequent at- tempts to convert him by Christians at his college, O'Reilly responded: "All right. Well, what I'm tellin' you, is I think you're takin' it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on--if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo--and that's your guys'--Christian, that's my guys', philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible. And that is an affront to the majority. You know, the major- ity can be insulted, too. And that's what this anti-Christmas thing is all about." Meanwhile, Richard Viguerie, the master of right-wing direct mail campaigns, interviewed by Terry Gross .on National Public Radio's 'Tresh Air" on Dec. 13, repeated the charge that Christians were the victims of a system- atic secularist assault against Christmas. On MSNBC last week, William Donahue of the Catholic League insisted, "Hollywood is con- trolled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 24, 2004 HERITI make is ever forgetting that the best excuse someone has for not volunteering is time with family. The second best is volunteering in the general community. The more of a presence we have on the outside, the stronger we'll be internally. We're going to visit my wife's family during Christmas. It should be interesting to see how my children react. Her parents are non-reli- gious, so the celebration is sans Jesus, sans church, and easy on that basis. Still, I 'm curious about whether discussions come up regarding Jewish identity, and what my two oldest feel about a different sort of holiday fest. Construction will be complete soon at the Maitland campus. When it is, and the build- ings are painted, make sure you step in to the new lobby. It's an impressive focal point for our com- munity, and yes, Dorothy, there's going to be a food court there in the not-too-distant future. Kudos to Ken Essig and the many other volunteers working hard to make a Jewish campus in south Orlando a reality. May 2005 be the year it all comes together. It's time to start thinking about what we want out of next year. I know I'm looking forward to a different sort of year, in which I contribute my time in new ways. Hopefully, some of the ideas that get batted around in these columns, in the parking lot at the Maitland campus, and at board meetings will galvanize and we'll start actualizing, not just imagining. Onward! The opinions expressed in this column are the writer's, and not those of the Heritage or any other Jewish organization. That's the good worduntilnextweek. Write the Heritage, ore mail your comments, critiques, and concerns to did not steal not a secret, OK? They like to see tile public square without nativity scenes." Liberals and civil libertarians would be making a huge mistake to see this as merely the rantings of a few overt anti- Semites and anti-civil-liberties extremists. They articulate a legitimate concern that many Christians say privately: Their children have learned that Christmas is about buying--and the person with the most expensive gifts wins! There is a beautiful spiritual message under- lying Christmas that has universal appeal:The hope that gets reborn in moments of despair, the light that gets re-lit in the darkest moments of the year, is beautifully symbolized by the story of a child born of a teenage homeless mother who had to give birth in a manger because no one would give her shelter, and escaping the cruelty of Roman imperial rule and its local surrogate Herod, who already knew that such a child would grow up to challenge the entire imperialist system. To celebrate that vulnerable child as a symbol of hope that eventually the weak would triumph over the rule of the arrogant and powerful is a spiritual celebration with strong analogies to our Jewish Chanukah celebration, which also celebrates the victory of the weak over the powerful. And many other spiritual traditions around the world have similar celebrations at this time of year. The loss of this message, its subversion into a frenetic orgy of consumption, rightly disturbs Christians and other people of faith. Yet this transformation is not a resultofJew- ish parents wanting to protect their children from being forced to sing Christfilas carols in public school, or secularists sending "Season'S Greeting" cards. It derives, instead, from the power of the capitalist marketplace, operating through television, movies and marketers, to drum into everyone's mind the notion that the onlyway to be a decent human being at this time of year is to buy and buy more. Thus the altruistic instinct to give, which could take the form of giving of our time, our skills, and our loving energies to people we care about, gets transformed and subverted into a competitive frenzy of consumption. Not surprisingly, the Christian Right is unwilling to challenge the capitalist market- place--because their uncritical support for corporate power is precisely what they had to offer the Right to become part of the conser- vative coalition. Their loyalty to conservative capitalist economics trumps for them their commitment to serving God. But for those of See Lerner on page 5