A Chanukah Message from Rabbi Shalom Lewis

A Chanukah Message from Rabbi Shalom Lewis

Read community insights, advice and perspectives during Chanukah.

Rabbi Shalom Lewis
Rabbi Shalom Lewis

Sometimes the Grinch Wears a Kippa

Recently, a shul member asked to meet, wishing to share some good news. The next day he was in my office beaming.

‘Rabbi’, he declared enthusiastically, ‘You are going to be so proud of me’.

I smiled and asked that he continue.

‘Well. You know its December, and, in my subdivision, they put up wreathes and a Merry Christmas sign on our entrance with twinkle lights and candy canes on all the lamp posts.’

I nodded, suspecting the worst. I was not disappointed.

‘Rabbi. When I saw what they had done I exploded. I called the president of our homeowner’s association and told him that lots of Jews live in the neighborhood and that Christmas is not our holiday. I warned him, that if the sign and decorations were not removed within twenty-four hours, I personally would pull them all down.’

With a smile he concluded, ‘Aren’t you proud of me?’

I cringed. I looked him straight in the eye and sternly replied, ‘Not only am I not proud of you but I am embarrassed by you’.

He was stunned. Expecting a ‘Well done’ he was instead harshly reprimanded.

‘Moishe’, I asked (not his real name) ‘Why didn’t you simply ask them to put up some Chanukah decorations? A dreidel? A menorah? A Happy Chanukah sign?  Why did you antagonize and tear down instead of being neighborly and respectful?’

‘Uhh…’ he stammered ‘I didn’t think of that’ was his sadly honest answer.

I was deeply disturbed by this gentleman’s misguided crusade wondering how much damage he and other Jewish Grinches  have inflicted on our Christian friends.

We are treated with enormous respect in America though we are but a tiny sliver of the population. Our traditions are admired. Our heritage acclaimed.  And our festivals honored. And yet, many of us display boorish insensitivity to our Christian neighbors. Are we so insecure that we are incapable of humming ‘Silent Night’? Sipping eggnog? Glowing in the tinseled shine of the season? Are we to chase Santa and his elves out of the mall? Are we to chop down Christmas trees on the town square? Are we to chastise a shop clerk for wishing us Merry Christmas?

Personally, I enjoy this season of red and green. Holly and mistletoe. Glug and carolers. Though it does not belong to us we can still appreciate its sentiment and its beauty.

To deprive others of decorating and singing and enjoying their holy days is selfish and bigoted. In this great land of ours there is plenty of room for Christmas. There is plenty of room for Chanukah. There is plenty of room for all religious celebrations. I hope that come April this foolish congregant doesn’t return to tell me with triumphant glee. ‘Rabbi. You should be proud of me. I had the Easter Bunny arrested for littering’.

Rabbi Shalom Lewis is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Etz Chaim.

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