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December 24, 2004
 

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2004 t .HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 24, 2004 ! By Jonathan S. Tobin The latest utterly ridicu- lous "December dilemma" kerfuffle began, of course, with a phone call to a talk radio show. From there, as they say in the world of situ- ation comedy, complications ensued. A purportedly Jewish caller to Fox TV News talker Bill O'Reilly's radio program on Dec. 3 named "Joel" said that he grew up resenting Christmas, and felt that the underlying purpose of Christmas carols sung in public schools and accompa- nying gift exchanges was"to set the [non-Christian] kids up to being converted." O'Reilly responded by more or less telling the caller to get a life. "What I'm tellin' you is I think you're takin' it too seriously," O'Reilly said. "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." That prompted an official letter from Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, taking the master bof the "no-spin zone" to the proverbial woodshed for inciting, so he supposed, for the ethnic cleansing of America. "We were deeply offended, as were many of your listen- ers who have contacted us, at your remark to a Jewish caller on the Dec. 3 'Radio Factor' that, 'if you are really offended,' about attempts to convert Jews to Christianity, then "you gotta go to Israel, then," wrote Foxman. O'Reilly, who along with some other conservatives has been railing at those who have replaced "Merry Christmas" signs with those that merely say "Happy Holi- days," predictably responded by wrongly calling the ADL "an extremist group that finds offense in pretty much everything." He also foolishly labeled Foxman "a nut." All of which gave O'Reilly's critics something more to scream about. If all that wasn't enough, some even see this dialogue of the deaf as a serious continuation of election-year arguments about the role of faith in American life. Is everybody happy? I, for one, am fed up with the pointless genre of "December dilemma" complaints. But despite the impulse to ignore the entire thing, here are a few points that need to be stated clearly: American Jews have every right to be tired of Christmas without being accused of be- ing disrespectful to Christi- anity. It is, after all, the one time of year when religious minorities in our country can feel as if they are strangers in their own land. But contrary to the ravings of some Jewish paranoids, the purpose of the American pop-culture version of Christmas, as practiced by most of the 90 percent of our fellow citizens who observe it (and the not inconsiderable number of non-Christians who also celebrate the holiday) is not to annoy Jews or even to convert us. It is about them, not us. O'Reilly's position notwithstanding, saying "Happy Holidays" is not the Grinch's latest effort to"steal Christmas." It is just a polite way of saying "Have a nice day" to the maximum number of people. The efforts by some to create greetings that give non-Christmas observers the illusion that we are not excluded is a courtesy -- and nothing more. If some stores adopt this slogan, maybe it is because they think it is good for business and what's more American than that? And anyone who seriously thinks that even the most militant spirit of political correctness has a chance to rid the land of "Merry Christmas" needs to get back on their medication. We're literally drowning in a sea of holiday spirit this month, and it cannot be avoided except by locking yourself in a closet. Separation of religion and state notwithstanding, there is no constitutional right to avoid Christmas. Like it or not, the celebra- tion of Christmas is one aspect of Christianity that has been "established" by the federal government. The same liberal courts that out- lawed sectarian prayer in the public schools have told us there's nothing wrong with Christmas trees or Santa Claus, because they are considered secular holiday symbols and not religious ones, like creches. But the fact that the U.S. government and many oth- ers want to wish us a "Merry Christmas" is not an insult any more than the annual Chanukah message sent out in the name of the president (who, as is the current cus- tom, lit a menorah in the White House last week) should offend the more than 98 percent of Americans who aren't Jewish. This may not be a "Chris- tian nation" as a matter of law, but culturally, it is. Asking neighbors or store owners to shut off their colored lights, put away their reindeer or even their manger scenes to avoid dam- aging our sensitive psyches is offensive. Insisting on equal time for Chanukah is one strat- egy that might make some of us feel better, but that, too, is misleading because Chanukah and Christmas are two separate and very different holidays. Those Jews who cannot abide the general Christmas festivities should spend the last weeks of the year in Israel. For anyone who grew up in a non-Jewish neighborhood or was the only Jewish kid in his elementary-school class (as I was), there is absolutely nothing like seeing a whole country go about its busi- ness as if Dec. 25 were just another work day. Of course, a trip to Israel is a great idea for anyone, any time of the year, but the Is- raeli Christmas experience is highly recommended for those who can't stand the Yuletide spirit. And, as anyone who read the quote in context knew, O'Reilly wasn't actually calling for the expulsion of the Jews. A blowhard he may be, but in this case, he was merely stating the obvious, albeit in his usual bombastic manner. The irony about those Jews who worry most about Christmas is that they are often the ones who are the least involved with their own Jewish identity. Jews who are grounded in their faith and knowledge, and proud of PAGE 5 WOLF WAsl I aY ]I ABLE TO WALK THE IM4OC, tT g4HP I O.OTH OE;" WAY THAT AJ4JTI- I $E rr E RS OUR www.drybomprojaet.aom Rabbinical Thoughts What is the Zohar (Shining Light)? By Rabbi R.J. Adler In the thirteenth century, Moses de Leon published the most famous book of Kab- their heritage, cannot be- balah, based on the mysti- cal writings of the second century Rabbi Simeon bar Yochai. Written in Aramaic, the language of the Talmud, but with a difficult mystical vocabulary, it was studied mostly by a small group of Kabbalists. Its content can be summarized into five major categories: Comments on the Aggadah of the Talmud (non-legal mat- ters); Mystical exegesis of Gen- esis, commandments and halachic practices; Liturgical pieces, new po- etic prayers, called piyyutim, especially for holidays; Speculations about the Throne of God--Merkavah mysticism--the Chariot. The divine palaces--Hecha- iot--describingthe neighbor- hood of God; Magical, speculative items based on Sefer Yezirah, regarding the Creation and God's enormous size and measurements, compared to humans. The Zohar emphasizes the radical departure from previ- ously-known versions of Juda- ism, by attempting to describe the secrets of the inner lifd of God and the complexities of the divine realm. It asks for special concentration during prayer (Kavanot) and a new interpretation of the Mitzvot (Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot). The Zo- Lerner threatened by the practice of another religion, no matter how ubiquitous it may be. I long for the day when the majority of American Jews are secure enough in their identity that we will no longer see December as a "dilemma." But until then, we'll just have to keep listening to idiotic arguments like those among O'Reilly, his caller and the ADL. Happy holidays, every- bodyl Jonathan S. Tobin is ex- ecutive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. He can be reached via e-mail at: jtobin@jewish exponent.com. Read the Jewish Exponent on-line at www.jewishexponent.com. who say it is OK to embrace groups. As Jews, we do not the Christian Right because need to fall prey to another Bus 19--A Ticket to Hell attendant, a member of Christians for Israel (the group that brought the bus to the United States), said that usually they hand out the literature, but since the bus was on a Jewish site, they were not distributing it as usual, but that I was wel- come to have a copy. Reading the magazine and getting on their website (www.christiansforisrael.ne t and www.c4israei.org) was eye-opening. The message of this group is that they believe in a strict and literal master plan. With friends like the Christian Right, we don't need enemies. Whether others want to eliminate Jews by the Holocaust, by bombings or ultimately want to eliminate Jews by a master plan of conversion, the end result is the same. I, for one, do not want my children or my children's children to be rounded up. Bus 19 once was enough for Jews to get on board to be murdered by fanatics. Let's not get on the bus a second time. JERRY JACOBS Longwood Dear Editor: This is in response to the Bus 19 headline article Dec. I0 in the "Heritage." As I boarded Bus 19 at the JCC, the horror of the hatred toward Jews by fanatics was as vivid as the horror and sor- row that I experienced when in Israel at Yad Vashem and at the Holocaust Memorial Mu- seum in Washington, D.C. After I viewed the bus, I noticed some literature that was left out of sight and asked if I could take one of the magazines. The Continued from page 4 they are supporting Israel. I, for one, do not want to em- brace a group that teaches if one does not accept Jesus, you shall burn in Hell. My child has heard this numer- ous times in the public high school that he attends. Fanaticism in any reli- gion causes hatred. To the prominent Jewish leaders in this community who think it is OK to get in bed with the Christian Right, I say to these Jewish leaders, I am disheartened by your accep- tance of such groups who certainly don't accept you on equal levels. All people should have a right to their us who want to prevent a new surge of anti-Semitism and assaults on the First Amend- ment, our most effective path is to acknowledge what is legitimate in the Christians' concern--and lead it into a powerful spiritual critique of the ethos of selfishness and materialism fostered by our economic arrangements. It's har created the idea of the Ten Sefirot, divine emanations, connecting the heavenly and earthly domains and by add- ing the twenty-two sacred let- ters of the Hebrew alphabet, making up the thirty-two paths of wisdom, describing the inner life of the Godhead. In the Zohar, God and Torah are described as a groom and a bride, Israel the Torah-bride trying to unite with God like a loving couple. This eros of love is based on the symbolism of the Song of Songs of the Bible, and studying at midnight was especially recommended. After the expulsion from Spain in the fifteenth cen- tury, the study of Kabbalah increased in intensity all over the Jewish world, seeking the end of Jewish suffering and the expectation of the coming of the Messiah. Moses Cordo- veto, Isaac Luria and the Ari ha-Kadosh became leaders at that time. But there were also emerging false Messianic pretenders, such as Sabbatai Zevi and Nathan of Gaza in the seventeenth century, who made life religiously and so- cially difficult. In Eastern Eu- rope, it created a sect called Chassidim with the kabbalist Pinchas of Korzek as leader and still later with Israel Ba'al Shem Toy at the head. The opponents of the movement were called Mitnagdim, with Elijah of Vilna their leader. In Israel at Safed, Lurian Kab- balah became popular and a revival of mystical studies in the yeshivot there is taking place in our own days. time for our liberal and pro- gressive Christian leaders and neighbors to stand up again on behalf of Jews and on behalf of their own highest spiritual vi- sion-and challenge the real Christmas thievesl Rabbi Michael Lerner is the editor of 'kkun Magazine, on thelnternetatwuav.Tikkun.org, and the author of "Spirit Mat- ters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul."