The ISJL is closed December 25. So, you must be wondering… what does the staff of a Southern Jewish office do for Christmas?
You might be surprised.
With staff members from a variety of backgrounds, Jewish, Christian, multiple faiths within a family, people who chose Judaism, native Southerners, transplanted Southerners, and so on… Well, when we posed the question “What are you doing December 25?” to our staff, we figured we would get an interesting assortment of answers.
And so we did.
Here are some of them – enjoy!
“Chinese food and movies are always enjoyed in my family, but never more than on Christmas. Months in advance we keep our eyes open for previews of what movies will be out during the holidays.”
- Missy Goldstein, Education Fellow
“Like many Jewish children, I had always wanted a Christmas tree. When my husband Chris admitted that he had always had an artificial tree, I insisted that we go to the farm to chop down a real one! Just like in the movies! We also made that menorah out of plumbing pipe together. After our big Hannukah party in town, Chris and I spend Christmas Eve in Batesville, MS with this family. I did have a shocking moment my first Christmas in North Mississippi. After opening all the presents and sharing a family meal, I managed to convince his family to practice the ‘Jewish tradition’ of going to the movies on Christmas. Much to my surprise, the theater was packed, and not full of Jewish people! I had honestly believed it was only a Jewish thing.” - Rachel Myers, Museum / Special Projects Coordinator
“In my first job out of college, I worked for a glass studio in New Orleans. My boss liked that I was Jewish because I would keep the shop open until late on Christmas Eve. He then commanded me to go to the casino with him. So now, I go get an awesome meal (either sushi or Chinese food) and then hit up the closest casino. Vicksburg, anyone?” - Rabbi Matt Dreffin, Assistant Director of Education
“My Jewish family isn’t Southern, and my Southern family isn’t Jewish – I’m the crossover artist. Growing up, my family and I volunteered at a soup kitchen, then observed the ‘Chinese & A Movie’ ritual. Now, my fiance Danny and I have developed our own tradition: We have a Chanukah celebration at home (or this year, with my family in Michigan – thanks, Thanksgivukkah!); do some volunteering; then, on Dec. 23 we drive to Mobile, Alabama, for my grandfather’s birthday, and continue on to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, for Christmas with Danny’s parents. It’s a multi-city, multi-stop celebration.” - Beth Kander, Communications & Development Coordinator
“Every year, my family’s tradition has been to Milwaukee’s P.F. Chang’s and to a movie with a few other Jewish family friends. Rituals of our observance include ordering the famous “Great Wall of Chocolate” and arguing intensely over the quality of the movie after it’s over (last year, Silver Linings Playbook was especially controversial)!” - Lex Rofes, Education Fellow
So… how do YOU spend December 25? Tell us in the comments below!
While recently driving through one of those long rural stretches that blur the lines between Midwest and South, I saw a large billboard that said in cheery letters: “Happy Holidays!”
But the billboard featured an angry red cross-out, replacing the inclusive message with the strident proclamation: “ONLY MERRY CHRISTMAS HERE!” Let’s be clear: It wasn’t graffiti; it was part of the design.
The image included herein is a recreation. (Thanks, computer-magic.) I couldn’t take a picture of the actual billboard, because it was stationed beside the highway on which I was driving. Since I was driving, obviously, I couldn’t capture the image; normally, I might have stopped, but it was also nighttime, and raining with near-freezing temperatures, with snow and ice also threatened.
In other words, it was exactly the sort of December night where one might appreciate a nice, warm-and-fuzzy holiday wish, rather than a small town’s declaration that only one holiday was welcome there.
The sign bothered me.
The funny thing is, I am not bothered by religious Christmas signs in general. I actually understand the inclination to emphasize “the reason for the season.” Practicing, faith-driven Christians who want to spread the reminder of Christmas as a religious holiday make sense to me. After all, don’t Jewish people emphasize the messages and meanings behind Jewish holidays, too? Don’t rabbis and educators lament when Chanukah becomes “just about the presents”?
What bothers me is the aggressive exclusion of others. I wouldn’t have blinked at a sign that said “Keep Christ in Christmas.” That sign simply isn’t aimed at me. But a sign that slams other holidays does feel aimed at me. One that essentially shouts out down with happy holidays, Christmas is the only celebration allowed in these parts, seems hurtful and mean-spirited to me. (To say nothing of what the menorah in my trunk must have been feeling…)
What bothers me is the fear conveyed therein, and the notion of a “War on Christmas.” As one rabbi-friend commented when I posted a Facebook status about this billboard: “Isn’t the War on Christmas, like, SO last decade?” Apparently not.
What bothers me is the whole idea that it’s a seasonal zero sum game; the absurd notion that if all holidays are welcome, one in particular is threatened. Doesn’t that go against the love-thy-neighbor spirit associates with this season?
So I added something to my holiday wish list. I’m hoping for a deeper understanding that including everyone does not mean diminishing anyone. Saying “Happy Holidays” is a way of wishing someone whose practices you may not know a joyful time of year regardless of whichever holiday they will or won’t be celebrating. It is not said to replace Christmas, or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa – but to make room for them all.
So whatever holiday(s) you’re celebrating this season, may they be full of peace, and joy, and light, and with that I’ll say – to ALL - a good night.
Does this billboard bother you, too? Share your thoughts!
November 9, 2013, marks the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “The Night of Broken Glass.” It is the night many point to as the beginning of the Holocaust.
I remember observing Kristallnacht in the small Jewish community I grew up in – Flint, Michigan. In Michigan, by November, it’s usually pretty cold after dark. My memories of Kristallnacht services, held outdoors, consist mostly of people huddled together for warmth; solemn readings of prayers and poems; candles lit, blown out, and lit again. The dark, cold night lent itself well to an imaginative child putting herself in her ancestor’s shoes, feeling the cold grip of fear they must have felt as windows shattered and screams sounded and evil went from local to government-sanctioned.
Recalling these events, the eve of the Holocaust, people from all walks of life came together over a brokenness in the world.
Shortly after I moved to Mississippi in 2003, I was invited to attend another sort of memorial service. Several of us drove from Jackson up to Neshoba County, Mississippi, for the 39th anniversary of Freedom Summer, and in particular to commemorate the brutal murders of three Civil Rights workers – James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.
One black man from Mississippi, two Jewish men from up North, all working for freedom – all killed on a dark, terror-filled night. The memorial service for them took place in a small Baptist church. In Mississippi. In June. There was no central air conditioning, just people crammed together, waving church fans, sweating, crying, singing gospel hymns. The sweltering, singing church lent itself well to an imaginative young woman putting herself in the civil rights fighters’ shoes, feeling the echoes of the evil they faced and the losses their families endured. Though this was my first time at that church, there was something so familiar about where we were and what we weredoing.
Recalling the events, the casualties of Freedom Summer, people from all walks of life had come together over a brokenness in the world.
This November, we mark 75 years since Kristallnacht. This coming June, we will mark 50 years since Freedom Summer.
We are always hesitant to connect tragedies, to link one loss to another, fearing diminishing the pain or significance of either. Facing these two milestones of memory, I find that I cannot – I dare not – compare the Holocaust to the Civil Rights movement. However, I do find that I absolutely can, and will, and must compare the way that both of these events are remembered. Years later, people of different faiths and backgrounds come together, demonstrating by their very presence that they understand this truth about brokenness: Bad things happen when good people do nothing, and what impacts one group impacts us all.
We do not always learn this the first time, but when we come together and remember, our understanding is strengthened. We acknowledge past wrongs and pledge to build something better in the future.
The histories may be different. The weather, the setting, the stories are not the same. But whether we are standing outside and shivering in the cold, or fanning ourselves in an oppressive heat, we come together over brokenness. We remember. And together we say, amen.