December Without Drama

Happy Challadays cardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.”  More »

The Nose Plays

I have never really been a fan of Catholic League president Bill Donohue. Arguably you could call him a conservative agitator. As a liberal Jew, conservative Catholics really aren’t my political cup of tea. He targets those who do not present a perfectly conservative Catholic point of view on the social contract for protest and boycott. He uses the First Amendment to the best of his ability.

However it appears he doesn’t like it when others do the same.

In recent week’s, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of The Shalom Center and left-wing causes everywhere, wrote an op-ed that was published on The Huffington Post and else where, criticizing the crack down against US Nuns for disagreeing with the Bishops.

Bill didn’t like this.

BuzzFeed, better known for hard-nosed lists of funny pictures than for hard-nosed breaking news, broke this piece today and if you have yet to read the fact that Billy Boy told Arthur not to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong, well I suggest you read it.

Bill Donohue is blow hard and while his anti-Semetic rant in the emails that were provided to BuzzFeed by “someone close to the Rabbi” are not surprising they piss me off. You could say his comments make me one Pissed Off Liberal Jew.

Brother, Can You Buy Me a Beer?

This is the final post from our guestposters, Rae Abileah and Ariel Vegosen, Jewish Voice for Peace volunteer youth activist members on the ground at the United Methodist general conference leading up to the divestment vote.-ed.

When it comes to the nonviolent tactic of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, the United Methodist Church now has B and S covered. But without the D, is it just BS? No, not entirely.

Yesterday, May 2, the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) failed to pass a measure to divest from three companies – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and HP – profiting from Israeli occupation and human rights abuses of Palestinians, but succeeded in resolving to boycott Israeli settlement products. We were in Tampa at the UMC conference this past week as part of a Jewish advocacy team for boycott and divestment, and returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area just a day before the vote took place. Yesterday we watched the UMC livestream, twitter and twitter feed on the edge of our seats. The outcome was a deeply divided church that takes a firm stand against Occupation but isn’t yet willing to put its money where its values are. And “yet” is the operative word here, because the church is clearly now one step closer to a day when this will happen.
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Shabbtai Tzvi Lives!

Eddie Long, a Georgia based mega-church preacher, has been crowned king… Yup, you read right. Crowned king. King of what? Damned if I know. He was crowned king by “Rabbi” Ralph Messer, a self-indulged so-called Messianic Jew (but even the Messianic Jews have disavowed him, now that takes talent) led this obscene ritual at New Birth Missionary Baptist in Lithonia, GA. Videos abound on the web, I didn’t want to give one another view.

Long has claimed ignorance and that he meant no offense. Eddie Long was in the news a couple years ago accused of sexual abuse.

The “rabbi” who conducted this grandiose show claimed that the Torah scroll used to enwrap Long in during the ceremony was saved from Aushwitz-Birkenau; an unlikely factoid considering how difficult it would have been to hide a Torah scroll in those circumstances, but that does not prevent him from abusing the memory of those who perished in the Shoah, claiming that “the dust” may still be on the scroll. The whole thing just reeks of showmanship, grandiosity and the worst forms of appropriation.

Bill Nigut of the Anti-Defamation League took Messer, Long and the whole affair to task calling it a “fake Jewish ritual.” That is generous, IMHO. Others have chimed in with their own condemnations.

One cannot help but be reminded of Shabbtai Tzvi and other false messiahs.

On the one hand, it’s hard not to laugh at this kind of nonsense; on the other hand it’s hard not to vomit.

Jacob Kurtzberg wins May 21

Hat tip Mobius for this genius comic by Ty Templeton:


On the End of Days, and how we’re still here and all…

For at least two millennia (maybe more?) people have felt as though the end of the world is upon them. Apocalyptic literature appeared on the scene around the 2nd century BCE and continued in the Jewish world until the middle of the Middle Ages and continues to this day in the Christian communities. Certain streams of contemporary Christianity are so immersed in eschatology that the Left Behind series are still the best selling novels in the United States.

It is no wonder then that radio host and self-styled biblical scholar, Harold Camping, has made so many headlines in the last few days. Starting a year ago or more, Camping, who runs a number of Christian radio stations and two television stations, spent millions of dollars advertising May 21, 2011 as the beginning of the End of Days–needless to say, May 21 came and has almost gone. No word has yet been heard from Camping, who had previously predicted the apocalypse would commence in 1994.

Many have called him a false prophet, and I think that is too generous. There are two possibilities, in my opinion, as to what’s going on with this man. 1) He is an utter fool and a moron; 2) he is a brilliant marketer who has set himself up to increase his personal wealth from over $17 million to God only knows how much he might make. There is a difference between a false prophet and someone who is just plain wrong or an idiot. Unfortunately, there are far too many idiots out there. More »

Shabbat morning @ Romemu… a month late

A picture I did not take–rather, I stole it from Romemu’s website–of some kid and Rabbi David Ingber.

Crossposted to The Reform Shuckle

A month ago, I wrote about my experience with a Renwal-style service led by some of the leaders of Romemu–NYC’s premiere Renewal shul and one of the most prominent Renewal outposts there is. It was a Friday night service being led, not actually at Romemu, but at Limmud NY.

I gave the service three and a half ballpoint pens (|||-), and said that I’d be going to Romemu the following week for Shabbat morning. To me, one of the true tests of a shul with a reputation for spirited davening is the morning after. A reputation for spirited davening usually comes from a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat, so it’s always interesting to see if a community can maintain a good morning service as well.

This can be harder to do because people have to drag themselves out of bed–and when it comes to liturgy, it’s harder to make me happy because there’s more to do on Shabbat morning than on erev Shabbat.

So I went. As I said, it was about a month ago, so my memory is a tad rusty. But I took a lot of notes while I was there and I started drafting this the day after, so I think I’ve got most of my thoughts in order. This is the first review I’ve written since I refined the Five-Ballpoint Pen Rating System. What I’m going to try to do is go through the copious notes I took first, as bullet points. Then I’ll do a more concise write-up at the end using the new rating categories. In the service notes, the section on the Torah service may be the most interesting and insightful about Romemu as a community.

Shir Yaakov, Romemu’s [musical director/insert correct title here] provided me with a copy of the song list he was using that week, so I’ll be able to provide correct [read: coherent] descriptions of the music this time.

Getting Started

  • Began with “Hareini Mekabel Alai” by Gabriel Meyer Halevi, which I think I’ve identified as being by Kirtan Rabbi once before. That was wrong, although Kirtan Rabbi does a cover of it.

The Setup

  • There is a guy playing a cajon, Shir Yaakov is playing a djembe–though he also played guitar throughout–and a guy playing some very lovely classical guitar-type stuff.
  • Rabbi David Ingber, of course, is leading. He’s using a mic, which it doesn’t seem to me that he needs. He’s a loud-voiced fellow. I asked him about it later and he said he does need to keep his voice from getting destroyed every week. However, does he really need a flesh-tone pop star mic? And does he need to be so loud? And do we need a full-on sound guy in the back sitting at a control panel and everything? The whole things engenders and odd atmosphere, in my opinion.
  • There are, as we begin, about 20 people. They don’t fill the space at all. It feels quite empty. Ingber later told me that the previous night’s service had been one of the most packed they’d ever had. (This, mind you, was not the one I was at, which had been the previous week.)
  • The set-up is quite similar to B’nai Jeshurun, in that there is a rabbi leading from a podium, plenty of open space between the rows pews and the rabbi, and a semicircle of musicians behind and to the left of the rabbi.
  • Architecturally, the space is more similar in style to Anshei Chesed. I figure that they were probably built around the same time. Major difference: Romemu is in a church. It’s a wonderful space. If Romemu bought it from the church, they could turn it into a fantastic sanctuary for their purposes, but for now, I’m quite unsettled by the imagery around me. I’m actually a big believer in the notion that Jews ought now pray in churches. After services, I chatted with Ingber about this. He said that many in their community actually like that it’s a church. It’s a sign to many of the radical atmosphere of welcoming they want to engender at Romemu. I think you’ll all get my drift if I respond to that with an unenthusiastic “Whatever.” More »

In case you thought Kentucky couldn’t get any crazier…

They brought you the Answers in Genesis ministry. They brought you the Creation Museum, showing that humans and dinosaurs coexisted on God’s 6-day creation 6000 years ago. Now, they are bringing you Ark Encounter–an 800 acre Noah’s Ark theme park complete with life-size replica of the ark and a model of the Tower of Babel. Crazy? Perhaps. But also lucrative!

According to a report in the NYT

The developers of Ark Encounter, who have incorporated as a profit-making company, say they expect to spend $150 million, employ 900 people and attract 1.6 million visitors from around the world in the first year. With the Creation Museum only 45 miles away, they envision a Christian tourism corridor that would draw busloads from churches and Christian schools for two- and three-day visits.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article:

“It’s our opportunity to present accurate, factual biblical information to people about a subject that they’re really interested in,” said Mike Zovath, a senior vice president of Answers in Genesis.

this one makes me laugh because if it’s accurate and factual to the Bible, it’s not accurate or factual to those pesky things called history or reality! If it’s accurate and factual to history and reality, well, then it will likely not be so much in line with the Bible…

“We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet, so there would be plenty of room,” said Mr. Zovath, a retired Army lieutenant colonel heading the ark project. “We want to show how Noah would have taken care of them, taken care of waste management, taken care of water needs and food needs.”

that God, always thinking about practical matters! sounds like someone needs to do a little reading of some midrash! healthy juvenile-sized animals. hilarious.

Where’s my Jewish athlete’s bible?

Aside from the occasional women’s Torah commentary, Jews mostly just have commentaries with no special emphasis or purpose other than to commentate.

But I was in a bookstore today and was struck by the incredible proliferation of weird Christian bible commentaries, or study bibles, as most were labeled. I wrote down some of my favorites:

  • The Urban Devotional Bible
  • James Earl Jones Reads the Bible (audio book, appropriately reading from the King James Version)
  • The Bible in Varsity Colors (I’m in Austin, TX, so I assume the bright orange of the cover was intended to be burnt orange, though it clearly was not )
  • God’s Game Plan: The Athlete’s Bible
  • AXIS: A Study Bible for Teens
  • The Teen Study Bible (is AXIS the evil version of this one?)
  • The Word of Promise Next Generation New Testament Dramatic Audio Bible (this one was read by an “all-star cast” including the likes of Sean Astin, the black kid from High School Musical and an old American Idol winner)
  • The Rhyming Bible
  • The Adventure Bible
  • The Maxwell Leadership Bible (is this like the hagadah?)
  • God’s Word for Students with Stylish Prism Cover
  • Etc.

On the one hand, I found most of these rather laughable. On the other hand, I found myself wondering seriously if we Jews are missing out on something here. Is the fact that we don’t have all of these specialized biblical commentaries just a function of our relative market share?

Bishop Blames Jews For Child Molestation Scandal

From today’s Nutjob Anti-Semites With Scary Amounts of Power files, Salon reports,

Last week, retired Bishop Giacomo Babini of the Italian town of Grosseto told the Catholic Pontifex website that the Catholic pedophile scandal is being orchestrated by the “eternal enemies of Catholicism, namely the freemasons and the Jews, whose mutual entanglements are not always easy to see through… I think that it is primarily a Zionist attack, in view of its power and refinement. They do not want the church, they are its natural enemies. Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are God-killers.”

You might think that the 81-year-old Babini had already said more than enough for one day, but once some people “pop,” they just can’t stop. “The Holocaust was a shame for all of humanity,” the good bishop told the world, “but now we have to look at it without rhetoric and with open eyes. Don’t believe that Hitler was merely crazy. The truth is that the Nazis’ criminal fury was provoked by the Jews’ economic embezzlement, by which they choked the German economy.” He concluded that the Jews’ “guilt is graver than what Christ predicted would happen to them, saying ‘do not cry for me, but for your own children.’”

Full story here.

Question of the First Amendment and Traffic Patterns

It isn’t often that a World Net Daily article doesn’t lead to high blood pressure and audible disgust about the regressive mentality of the authors and the vast majority of the readers of the radically right wing news organization. So, I was surprised that I was reading this story today and was in agreement with the authors and those victimized, rich, white people for which the article was advocating.

The city of Gilbert, Ariz., has ordered a group of seven adults to stop gathering for Bible studies in a private home because such meetings are forbidden by the city’s zoning codes.

The issue was brought to a head when city officials wrote a letter to a pastor and his wife informing them they had 10 days to quit having the meetings in their private home.

The ban, however, prompted a response from the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed an appeal with the city as the first step in its campaign to overturn a provision it describes as illegal. (Read More Here)  h/t HolyWeblog

I can’t really get my head around this kind of city government activism. What does it achieve and really could it be this big of a problem that people get together and study the bible?

This as a clear violation of the First Amendment and the church will win the court case. But I also see this as a selective application of rules. What would stop this city from going after any group of people, organized or not, from getting together to say, organize a campaign to elect someone else to the city planning board?

The application of the law needs to be both equal and blind but also fit into the Constitutional framework that makes our judicial system work. Getting people together to talk about divergent ideas is SO clearly protected by the First Amendment, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Left, right and center can get behind the benefits this protection provides to our free society.

The liberal elite should jump on this bandwagon and say this isn’t right. Because you know we won’t get together on the Second Amendment with these people, so we can at least come together and fight for the First one.

Quote of the hour

From an interview with Sarah Miles, author of Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead, by Lisa Webster over at Religion Dispatches.

There are so many problems with church as it is. Do you think the institution is redeemable?

Well, I don’t think the answer is: let’s have a church with groovy music that the kids like. That’s just endless marketing.

The whole interview is here, and it’s worth reading.

Are Those Immodest Catholics, Muslims, and Jews?

This weekend, Pope Benedict XVI voiced concern over the use of those creepy full body scanners at airports. He’s against them, saying “the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity.” body scanThe Pope continued:

Respect for the principles he enunciated “might seem particularly complex and difficult in the present context”, he told his audience, which included airport managers, airline executives, security workers, pilots, cabin and ground staff.

They had to contend with problems arising “from the economic crisis, which is bringing about problematic effects in the civil aviation sector, and the threat of international terrorism, which is targeting airports and aircraft”. But, he warned: “It is essential never to lose sight of respect for the primacy of the person.”

The pope’s words will delight civil liberties campaigners opposed to a device that strips passengers virtually naked.

He’s only a few weeks behind various Islamic authorities, who have come out against the scanners. Fiqh Council of North America issued a fatwah statement as passing through the scanners would violate Islamic rules of modesty.

And the Jews? There seems to be (shocking, I know), differing opinions. The Rabbinical Center of Europe (an umbrella organisation for Orthodox communities) has declared the scanners to be immodest, but allowed. Part of their issue is that men should review images of men, women those of women. They were assured that images are reviewed by computer software, and humans are only involved if something is found. But this isn’t accurate. We know from many reports that the images aren’t written over or erased, that security staff are looking at images. So will rabbis in Europe reconsider? What about in North America?

Joining Traditions

This article was originally published on Interfaith Family is “the online resource for interfaith families exploring Jewish life and the grass-roots advocate for a welcoming Jewish community.” I don’t think I’ve written about my family on Jewschool before, but I thought I’d give it a try by cross-posting.

My brother and I were raised by two Jewish parents. Ours was a liberal Jewish home: mezuzahs on the doorways, Shabbat dinner every Friday, holidays observed and celebrated. I grew up believing that my parents were both equally committed to our family’s level of observance. In recent years, long after my parents’ divorce, and as my father has formed a new family, I’ve learned that my outlook was perhaps naive.

My father believed that raising the kids with Judaism was the right thing to do. He went along with it. But while our family observed Passover, eschewed bread and other leavened products for the eight days, he would go to the deli by his office for lunch and privately enjoy a sandwich. Once I was old enough to go to synagogue on my own, he no longer went to Shabbat services. And when I wanted to start laying tefillin, he was more than happy to give me his set, which had been stashed in the back of his closet since before I was born.

As an observant Jew, I was taken aback by his deception. In hindsight, I understand, and appreciate, the decisions he made for our family. I was left wondering what type of religious life he would have, especially as he ages and talks about his will and funeral plans. But while I was wondering what his funeral might look like, balancing my future mourning needs with his probable want for a not overtly religious burial, another life-cycle event brought his religious views to the forefront.

My father started dating, moved in with, and became engaged to the woman who is now my stepmother. This raised a whole other round of questions for me. As far as I knew, he had only ever dated Jewish women. My stepmother is not Jewish. I didn’t have much opportunity to spend time with her before they were married; we lived on opposite coasts. My questions went mostly unanswered, and mostly unasked.
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Elie Wiesel Can’t Have it Both Ways

Elie Wiesel has long walked the tightrope between pious pronouncements of universal Jewish conscience and unabashed political advocacy. He’s been trying to have it both ways for years, but it seems to me that his balancing act is becoming more and more transparent.

Last week, as Wiesel unveiled an anti-Ahmadinejad ad with other Nobel Prize laureates, he blasted the Goldstone report, calling it “a crime against the Jewish people.” Leaving aside the issue that he took this opportunity once again to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish people, I’m still somewhat staggered that Wiesel, of all people, would use such charged Holocaust rhetoric in such a patently political manner. (I think Richard Silverstein at Tikun Olam hit it right on the head when he asked, “What was the last event in world history you can recall being a ‘crime against the Jewish people?’”)

If this wasn’t enough, now I read on Max Blumenthal’s blog that Wiesel’s foundation received $500,000.00 for one speech he delivered at the church of fundamentalist Christian Zionist John Hagee (whom he referred to as “my dear pastor”). Yes, this is the same John Hagee who publicly sermonized that Hitler was sent by God to create the Holocaust so that Jews would emigrate to Israel. It’s simply astonishing to me that so many Jewish leaders are perfectly willing to cozy up to the likes of Hagee, even after it has become so patently clear that his views are way off the rails. (That’s Wiesel, above, with Hagee, right, and Israeli minister Uzi Landau, left).

As far as I’m concerned, Justice Richard Goldstone is precisely the kind of courageous Jewish moral hero that Wiesel himself purports to be: someone committed to advocating for universal human rights even when doing so might mean holding our own community painfully to account. As for Wiesel, I’m finding his words and actions increasingly craven. No one begrudges him his opinions – but it’s time he dropped the pretense that he’s somehow beyond the political fray.

Chirstmas: Close the churches, a day of drinking and sex for all!

The Boston Globe reports:

The Puritans who ran the Massachusetts colony were so deeply opposed to Christmas that they actually banned the holiday for a generation. When the holiday was celebrated in old New England – in the teeth of concerted opposition from both church and state – it was apt to take the form of an irreligious and increasingly violent public celebration that left citizens worried for their safety. As for the commercialism that sullies today’s holiday – the constant advertising, the frenzied buying of Christmas presents – that tradition, at least in Boston, is older and more deeply rooted than going to church that day.

On December 25, 1685, Boston Magistrate Samuel Sewall proudly wrote in his journal that “the Body of the People profane the Day” – that is, the town’s residents went about their work as usual – “and blessed be God no Authority yet compel them to keep it.”

As Mather saw it, Christmas was a holiday of pagan origins, all too often an occasion for “dancing and drunkenness, chambering and wantonness.” (Chambering was a common euphemism for fornication.) Mather summed up his analysis by quoting an eminent English bishop: “Men dishonour Christ more in the twelve days of Christmas, than in all the twelve months besides.”

Let’s chamber it up, people – it’s cold out there! Who knew so many of us were already observing such a traditional December Christmas.

(h/t to my Dad)

The News From Lake Jewbegon

Two sharply contrasting views of the secularization of Christmas are presented by Garrison Keillor, writer and stand-up poet (that’s the only way I can think of to really describe the News from Lake Woebegon) extraordinaire, and Michael Feinstein, a Jewish musician who got involved in a tangle about what constitutes a “Jewish” celebration of Christmas.

It’s been a tumultuous Egg Foo Yung season thus far. Between the House of Representatives taking time from its busy schedule (and, as Steve Benen points out, thus facilitating a gigantic Boehner contradiction [say that one out loud!]) to pass a resolution in support of Christmas (proper political response: WTF?), and the Daily Show’s brilliant exposé of a dastardly attempt by the Obama White House to encourage religious pluralism and (gasp) découpage, the pro-Santa coalition has certainly put up quite a fuss about the War on Christmas. For G()d’s sake, they don’t put up this much fuss about the War on Terror, or the War on Drugs, or the War on Allowing The Senate to Function Normally, all of which claim far more casualties, but nonetheless, some interesting content has come out of the Christmas-battles from both sides.

Keillor’s commentary is a notch above the usual xenophobic rants that accompany the defense of Christmas (a phrase almost as vague as Family Values). Calling upon his extraordinary ability to take a complex, subtle, and not-easily-reconciled situation, and reduce all involved to hysterics and/or tears with the sheer power of his snarkiness (“Did one of our guys write ‘Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah’? No, we didn’t.”), he also makes some very good points from an intellectual standpoint: that the obsession with the Perfect Christmas (largely, but not entirely, a commercial phenomenon) has had several unexpected and bad results:

  • that Christmas has become secularized, losing its religious meaning
  • that non-Christians now diminish from the observance of “legitimate” Christians
  • that Silent Night has been rewritten so it doesn’t talk about G=d as much (this one’s a real shame, because that’s a beautiful song).

The secularization of Christmas is not new. From a practical standpoint, tt’s hard for me as a Jew to completely empathize, because there really isn’t an equivalent situation for me. Yes, I went through the “Why does everyone make such a big deal of Hannukah? It’s not even important!” phase, but it’s really not the same. Maybe if Simchat Torah got the Christmas treatment, we’d have a comparable situation.

Another thing that might help would be living in Israel. I’ve never been in the majority as a Jew (although I have no illusions about my majority in racial terms [I'm an upper-middle class white guy from the Northeast, just about as elite as it gets], and, okay, okay, I’ll say it; PRIVILEGE [dlevy is applauding in the wings]), and until recently, Jews hadn’t been in the majority at all anywhere for thousands of years. Christianity has been mainstream in the West for so long that something like this was bound to evolve, and I’d predict that if the State of Israel is still around in five hundred years, something similar will be happening to Judaism.

But to the question of whether the secularization of Christmas is “okay”, Feinstein makes the perfect argument: that “…the spirit of the holiday is universal”. Saying that Christians, or, as some of the more crazy defenders-of-Christmas-as-a-purely-right-wing-religious-experience would say, only “real” Christians (read: not pro-choicers, Obama-Socialists, or anyone who favors any kind of government spending [read: red scum]), should be allowed to celebrate the Christmas spirit that those same people are so desperate to define and keep pure, is like saying that only men can wear a tallit. We live in a constitutionally-enforced religiously free society, and that means that we’re also free to do what, by someone else’s definition, constitutes bastardizing religion as much as we want, whether it’s “their” religion we’re “bastardizing” or “our own”.

And that’s important. Yes, this country was founded by Christians. White male landowning Christians (PRIVILEGE PRIVILEGE PRIVILEGE.  I said it again!). But in my opinion, the Bill of Rights is designed to keep religious groups from becoming so insular that they weaken society’s ability to function cohesively. If all we had were distinct and warring religious factions, we’d have to abandon representative democracy, dismantle the federal government, and let the South secede again (and if they try, this time I say let ‘em go). Which, realistically, is what a lot of the Christmas-defenders would like.  We shouldn’t give it to them. Feinstein offers an eloquent argument for what is really deserving of celebration: the commonalities between us.

So yes, let’s maintain a healthy respect for others’ traditions. I’m not about to affirm that Christ is my lord and savior any more than I expected the a cappella groups performing at Brown Hillel’s Hannukah Bash to daven with us on Friday night; we need to give people their religious space, and take our own when necessary.  At the same time, though, I have for many years gone caroling with Christian friends, and attended the Candlelight service at the West Cummington Congregational Church, one of my favorite religious events year-round. One year, I approached the minister there after the service, and told him that as an observant Jew, his sermons were deeply moving.  And you know what he did? He bowed, and thanked me for coming.

Take Keillor’s biting wit with a couple grains of salt (and some challah), and listen to Feinstein when he says that it’s time to stop enforcing differences, and start celebrating commonalities. Then, Jesus willing, we’ll have a new year with a few less of the former, and a few more of the latter.

Merry Christmas.

Keeping Christmas Shopping Safe for Christians


Oh, Focus on the Family, if you weren’t so scary and powerful, I’d call you the gift that keeps on giving, since truly, there is always something new with you.

This year, for example, you bring us Stand For Christmas to help us figure out how “Christmas-Friendly” various chain retailers are. By “Christmas,” you of course mean “Christian,” and by “friendly,” you mean, “explicitly excluding Muslims, atheists, Jews, Wiccans, or anyone else horrible like that.” (And by “Christian,” you mean, “crazy fundamentalist who makes everyone else who identifies as a Christian look bad,” natch.)

Wonkette helpfully went through a bunch of the reviews, though I found some good ones on my own as well. A few nuggets:

Eddie Bauer:

  • “I was made to feel very uncomfortable by their employees who would only respond to my ‘Merry Christmas’ with a ‘Happy Holidays’. If they know I believe in Jesus, why can’t they just wish me a Merry Christmas???”

American Eagle Outfitters:

  • “Was wished a Happy Hanukkah as I left the store. When I stopped and explained I was Christian, the lady at the counter told me ‘Happy Holidays!’ This was very offensive!”
  • “They gave me a King James Bible after I wished them Merry Christmas. I’m going back again tomorrow.”
  • “On black Friday the store in Lithonia Ga was playing Christmas music throughout the store. I noticed because it was actually an overtly Christian song that said Jesus Christ over and over! The sales ladies were very nice and it was a wonderful experience.”

Best Buy:

  • “Just bought an ipod from Best Buy, but then learned of their anti-Christmas/pro -Eid al Adha actions. I so regret having purchased from them. Best Buy, give glory to the one who has allowed and attributed to your success…Jesus Christ, not Mohammed!”
  • “It’s so rude that Best Buy has a Muslim Wish on the front of their WebFlyer. This is America! Wish us a Merry Christmas! I will not be shopping at Best Buy ever again!”
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