The Dybbuk of December

‘Tis the season.

Get ready for the ubiquitous talking points and media outrage (read: Fox News) expressing solidarity with all Americans that no one should have the right to substitute their season’s greeting with…well, “Season’s Greetings.” Or “Happy Holidays.” Or anything other than “Merry Christmas.”

Each year, we hear that we are one further step away from the total degradation of traditional American (read: White Christian) values at the hands of the woke and politically correct. And I can’t help but see a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle dig at the Jews for trying to ruin Christmas by making everyone acknowledge their holiday as well. We may well have progressed beyond the once-common belief of deicide by the hands of the Jews, but there is the implication that if the Jews didn’t actually kill Christ, they are trying to kill Christmas.

But here’s the reality, and I will be happy to appoint myself the official spokesperson for every Jewish person. The term “Merry Christmas” does not and has not ever bothered us. We use it all the time. We like to hear it. We gladly respond “You too!” to the distracted salesperson who says it to us after ringing up our order. It’s a made up problem. No one–no one–has ever taken offense at being wished a Merry Christmas.

I’m reminded of this because I think we Jews are guilty of the same fear-mongering this time of year. I’m referring to the annual dybbuk that rears its seasonal head as soon as the Jewish calendar flips the page to Kislev. Of course, I’m talking about the December Dilemma.

The so-called December Dilemma is a reflection of Judaism of a past generation when Jews were insecure and felt that they were tolerated by the non-Jewish majority around them. In such an environment, it made perfect sense to think that any normal kid would look around and wonder, “Why can’t I be like everyone else? Why do I have to walk around feeling nervous and like an outsider? Oh, why can’t I just celebrate Christmas like my friends?

But in my time, I’ve never actually come across this type of person. I suspect that they are an invention of sociologists and authors of Pew reports who have been sounding the alarm that Judaism is on the decline—that we’re at most two or three generations away from religious, cultural, and ethnic elimination. (The December Dilemma is a seasonal problem of course. The rest of the year it’s back to the scourge of interfaith marriage.)

There is much to love about Christmas—and I’d submit even more so if you’re Jewish. You get to enjoy the beautiful lights, the excitement in the air, and of course the week-plus off from school and work—and all without the hassle of buying and setting up a tree or having to have a “yontov” dinner. I’m sure non-Jews look at Passover and think that it’s a wonderful occasion—but that’s because they don’t have scrub down the entire house and lug up and down a whole set of dishes.

When you next hear or read that people across the country are taking a stand for the right to say “Merry Christmas,” take a moment and consider the source and where that statement is coming from. And similarly, do the same thing when you next come across any mention of the December Dilemma. Having our kids see their friends and their families celebrate and find meaning in a holiday and then think that it all looks like a lot of fun doesn’t mean that they hate their own customs and just wish they could be Christian. Rather, they’re developing a mature understanding of and empathy for a complex multicultural society.

Chanukah—among all the borrowed customs and tortured interpretations that it has endured over the years—is at its heart a holiday of Jewish nationalism and identity. There’s a reason that it has lasted this many years.

We’re doing just fine.

Happy Holidays.

Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

2 comments on “The Dybbuk of December

  1. Thank you for this! I always thought the whole December Dilemma concept was such an invention. Christmas doesn’t bother me at all!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant! Thank you!


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