What “Jew York Times”?

Crossposted at WWPD.

The NYT Weddings pages are filled with page after page of couples getting married by rabbis. The paper’s most-emailed articles are often on Jewish-related subjects. And the city in which the paper is based has maybe some Jews, not to mention non-Christians of other sects, and many of all atheistic bents. The Times is by no means a local paper, but its spiritual center is no more than a bagel’s throw away from Zabars.

So answer me this: What’s the point of today’s leading editorial? Cited in full to reveal full ridiculousness:

When Christmas Morning Comes

This is a simple holiday. Ask any child, or, better yet, ask yourself what you recall from your own childhood Christmases. Presents, yes, and shopping and decorations and the return of familiar songs and the smells of baking and perhaps the cadence of a few verses from the early chapters of Matthew and Luke. What persists above all is the feeling of finally going to bed on a dark winter’s night full of hope for what the morning will bring. Even jaded adults can remember how that felt, and they remember it as viscerally as they remember anything. The emotional truth in that transition lies at the heart of Christmas. It captures the most basic rhythm of our lives — going to bed at night and getting up in the morning — and makes us keenly, happily aware of it. That rhythm is all the more stirring because the season is so penetrating, the winter darkness so long. Both of the basic stories we tell about Christmas, the shepherds in their fields by night and the peregrinations of Santa Claus, fill the darkness with life and possibility. A stranger, an extragalactic visitor wise enough to look past all the shopping, might be forgiven for thinking that this is the festival in which we celebrate the magic of sleep. After all, what other holiday do we attend in robes and pajamas? The optimism, the generosity, the charitable warmth of Christmas do stem, of course, from the pattern and the meaning of the biblical story. They have their source, too, in the sense of regeneration now that we’ve turned this darkest corner of the solar year. Christmas is imbued with a more everyday hope as well, a recognition that the transition from sleep to waking always carries with it the immeasurable gift of a new day. The very premise is hopeful. No one expects to wake every day as joyfully as a child at Christmas, or to sleep as badly the night before. The gift of possibility is there every morning.

For those who share my fascination with French-Jewish history, “regeneration” obviously jumps out, although the use–if not the context–here is quite different. But, um… “Ask any child” about “the cadence of a few verses from the early chapters of Matthew and Luke”? In New York City? Really?

The language of universality, of how “No one expects to wake every day as joyfully as a child at Christmas,” and how Christmas “captures the most basic rhythm of our lives,” is poetic but bizarre, along with the persistent use of the first person plural. What kind of horrible person’s heart doesn’t soften upon hearing the word “Christmas”?

Admittedly a good number of non-Christian New Yorkers go in for the tree-and-gifts celebration, and still more enjoy a day off from work whenever one’s offered, but what this editorial evokes is something between a New England WASP fantasy and an Old Navy commercial, not Christmas as it is nondenominationally understood. This editorial is a story that takes place in a house, not an apartment, but quite possibly in an L.L. Bean catalog. The characters are a multigenerational family of Christmas adherents and, presumably, a golden retriever.

So why is any of this a problem? It’s simple, just like Christmas: For Jews who are truly bothered by Christmas, and who want to live in a country where the inconvenient days when everything shuts down are at least our own holidays, there’s Israel. For Jews who’ve fallen head-over-heels for the Ralph Lauren lifestyle of let’s-overshoot-the-mark assimilation, there’s nearly all of America. For those who can deal with the Christmas music and decorations for a couple months but would prefer to rest assured that they are not the only non-participants, there’s New York City. What this editorial does is place the Times, a representative of the city, on the same side as Huckabee in the “War on Christmas.” What I want to know is, why?

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39 Comments

  1. themiddle

    12/25/2007 at 2:33 am

    Because, dear Phoebe, there really is a Santa.

  2. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 3:17 am

    20% of Manhattan’s population is Jewish, the Greater NY area has got a higher Jewish population than Israel, nowhere in Europe will you find as many non-Jews that – through the media’s influence – know to some degree what Jewish holidays are about, nowhere in Europe will you find the ready availability of kosher food, shuls of any denomination, social organizations for Jewish peer groups etc. 🙂

    Huckabee’s theology is lacking as theologically, the celebration isn’t about the “birth of Christ” (or just Jesus of Nazareth for those that don’t belief him to be Christ) but the possibility of divine revelation to (and salvation of) mankind in flesh-and-blood, which is a concept of Jewish origin (Moshiach anybody?).

  3. Posken

    12/25/2007 at 3:52 am

    “the Greater NY area has got a higher Jewish population than Israel”

    The entire United States has a smaller Jewish population than Israel. Israel has more than 6,000,000 Jews and the U.S.A has less than 6,000,000 (assimilation does that to Jews).

  4. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 6:35 am

    Posken, there are other sources that say that the US has got a Jewish population of 16 million people, yet other sources say the US has got a Jewish population of 3% (which, at a population of about 320 million, equals to about 9.6 million people). According to the World Factbook, Israel’s got a population of about 6 million people, about 80% of which are Jewish (= 4.8 million), and the US has got a Jewish population of about 2%, which would equal to 6.5 million people. With all due respect, based on my frequent travels to NY, I dare say that NY’s got a Jewish microcosm that does by no way compare to a diaspora situation where keeping kosher would mean eating vegan and pronouncing “Hanukkah” makes people offer you cough sweets. Don’t get me wrong, I find that Jewish microcosm in NY to be enjoyable, but in comparison to other spots in this world, it’s a privileged situation.

  5. Shy Guy

    12/25/2007 at 7:08 am

    themiddle Says:
    December 25th, 2007 at 2:33 am

    Because, dear Phoebe, there really is a Santa.

    Here in Jerusalem, there’s no such thing as chimneys. That explains a lot.

  6. phoebe

    12/25/2007 at 11:59 am

    The New York Times is read across the country, but is based, physically and content-wise, in New York. The paper makes no attempt to represent the lifestyle of America in its entirety in, say, the Styles section, or anywhere else where the paper strays from news stories of global significance. I find the editorial baffling, and statistics on how many Jews live in NYC vs America vs Israel don’t make it any more or less so.

  7. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 12:07 pm

    It’s the NYT, not the Forverts 🙂

  8. phoebe

    12/25/2007 at 12:15 pm

    My point is not that the paper should overrepresent things Jewish relative to America’s Jewish population. It’s that the paper does tend to do this, because of its history, its NYC center, etc. Thus the strangeness of the embrace of a Christmas as experienced by the most authentic American Christians possible… although there’s something about the editorial that sounds like a Jewish fantasy of what Christians experience, when the reality is probably more like our own holidays, that is, a mix of fun and obligation.

  9. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 12:28 pm

    It’s also something many Western European Jews experienced prior to WW2. The last thing my grandfather said on his deathbed was “Once more I’ve seen a Christmas tree” – in Yiddish. The editorial is kitschy, but each “religious” kitsch in its own right IMHO.

  10. Posken

    12/25/2007 at 12:32 pm

    The 2007 State Department report (state.gov/g/dr...) has Israel, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with 5.83 million Jews.

    The Forward has a US population ranging from 5.2 to 6.4 million (forward.com/ar...).

    I don’t understand this post. The New York Times is called the Jew York Times by people who despise Jews. Any emphasis at the paper on Jews is the result of the large Jewish population of New York city and state. The suggestion that their editorial policy is “Jewish” or emphasizes Jewish topics is mistaken. This editorial is strange because of its religious tone, but not strange for a leading newspaper in a country where 8 out of ten people are Christian or in a state where 6-7 out of every ten people are Christian.

  11. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 12:57 pm

    Posken, as far as I have read, the problem with the census figures is that they cannot quite reflect that there are different takes on Jewish identity (geneaology vs affiliation vs association), so numbers can vary widely.

  12. Shy Guy

    12/25/2007 at 1:37 pm

    What’s Jewish about the NYT, which is full of retail ads from Saks, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdales?

  13. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 2:19 pm

    True, Shy Guy, they should offer wholesale 😉

  14. Jon C.

    12/25/2007 at 3:25 pm

    yeah, what is the point of this post?

  15. ramon marcos

    12/25/2007 at 8:23 pm

    I’m a little confused myself. As to point, that is. And the NYT=Huckabee comparison.

    Must be all those Tom and Jerry’s I had last night.

    And trust me, I don’t Heart Huckabee.

  16. phoebe

    12/25/2007 at 9:09 pm

    There’s really no need for confusion. The point is that rather than offering up generic prose about “the holidays” or even about Christmas in the ecumenical sense, the paper decided to go all-out Christian Christmas. Given that the paper does not represent America generally, but has a distinct emphasis on NYC, the editorial seemed out of place, more National Review than NYT.

    For the Huckabee reference, watch the linked-to video.

  17. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 9:55 pm

    The editorial’s far from interpreting Christmas the “Christian way” (which, depending on the denomination, can rank anywhere between “pacem in terris” and a total denial of Christmas altogether), but in a subjective, sentimental way. There’s a large percentage of Jews in NYC, but there also is a large(r) percentage of Christians.

  18. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 9:56 pm

    BTW, Ramon, good to see you around. Still waiting for that topless picture of you 😉

  19. phoebe

    12/25/2007 at 10:17 pm

    Then why the mention of Matthew and Luke? Why so much resistance to admitting that the editorial is, well, odd? Not anti-Semitic, tragic, mindblowing, just odd.

  20. Sarah

    12/25/2007 at 10:32 pm

    Why odd? Jewish brides wear X-tian style wedding gowns – does anybody call that odd? “See, the conquering hero comes” from the oratorium “Judas Maccabaeus” by Händel is known as the Christmas song “Tochter Zion” in Germany. Is that odd? American Jews celebrate Thanksgiving – yet the Pilgrim Fathers did not consider anybody who was not “white” and Protestant human enough to qualify for civil rights. Is that odd? The thing Ashkenazim call “challah” originally was the Sunday bread of poor Central European Christians. Is that odd? I think they’re all just steps to a long-desired normality, where Jews do not only define themselves by their Jewishness but as part of certain cultural hemispheres and citizens of certain states. The mentioning of Luke’s inevitable if you want to provide reference, so to speak. It still is sentimental and kitschy, but reflecting on the Hanukkah posts not too long ago, we’re also jolly good at being sentimental and kitschy.

  21. Shy Guy

    12/26/2007 at 1:42 am

    I find it odd that anyone would find it odd that the NYT referenced the NT in a Christmas spirit editorial.

    Having grown up from childhood with my parent’s subscription of the NYT hitting the front doormat at 6:30AM, it’s never been otherwise nor should it be.

    Besides, I seem to recall it says in the Protocols (Ch. XXXVII – How to fenegal dem goyim) that we’re supposed lay low like this. Keep up the good work, Sulzbergers!

  22. ramon marcos

    12/26/2007 at 2:30 am

    Sarah – no topless pictures during the holiday season…

    Phoebe – I don’t agree with the all-out Christian/Christmas angle, especially the fact that it was the NYT. I don’t find it odd at all. I even tried hard to find it odd and still couldn’t. And please, i don’t want to reference Mikey Lerner’s stuff but here I go…

    ekklesia.co.uk...

    Maybe this is the new world, the new cross-denominational monotheism/Abrahamic religions world. Where the latest influx of Persian Jews was financed by a joint Jewish/Evangelical group (and all cool with me). A word that doesn’t bode as well for my Hindu/B’hai/other Eastern practices friends.

    Can I take this moment to point out Y-Love’s interesting post:

    thisisbabylon....

    For some reason this strikes me more than the NYT editorial.

  23. Sarah

    12/26/2007 at 6:10 am

    Ramon, I can hold out till 8th January.

  24. Shy Guy

    12/26/2007 at 6:12 am

    Let’s start cleaning up what there once was a concensus about being in our own back yard: the Jerusalem Post.

    The JPost has a separate Christian edition. Very profit making, you know. Oh well. Nevertheless, the JPost saw fit 2 days ago to then make the following their top op-ed piece of the day in their standard local and international edition:

    Big gifts in small packages, by Elwood McQuaid.

    Some things you should know about McQuaid:

    Elwood Mcquaid, Chief Missionary

    and:

    Insult at Auschwitz

    Incidentally, yesterday’s JPost cartoon of the day in their standard edition was of Santa and his sleigh flying behind a sky-high crucifix. This cartoon seems to be nowehere to be found today.

    ramon marcos Says:
    December 26th, 2007 at 2:30 am

    Where the latest influx of Persian Jews was financed by a joint Jewish/Evangelical group (and all cool with me).

    It shouldn’t be cool with you. These ministries have a despicable sub-motive and they’re doing terribly damaging work here in Israel. We ain’t seen nothing yet.

  25. Jon C.

    12/26/2007 at 6:17 am

    Matthew and Luke what Christmas is based on. you know, Bethlehem? the manger. I really don’t understand what is ridiculous about having an xmas post on xmas. were you pointing out the obvious to us? is it odd when they talk about the book of Exodus during Pesach?

  26. ramon marcos

    12/26/2007 at 10:57 am

    On my way to the gym.

  27. Shy Guy

    12/26/2007 at 11:34 am

    Is that like those old cryptic spy messages printed in the Cold War era Herald Tribune?

  28. Sarah

    12/26/2007 at 12:36 pm

    Shy Guy, sort of 🙂

  29. Shy Guy

    12/26/2007 at 12:49 pm

    Ah! The picture!

  30. ramon marcos

    12/26/2007 at 7:20 pm

    All racy fotos aside, I thought Phoebe would be interested in my local paper’s (Jon C – still yours?) Christmas editorial. Written by staff writer Gail Rosenblum:

    startribune.co...

  31. Jon C.

    12/27/2007 at 4:41 pm

    yes it is, Ramon, and I wouldn’t expect any less of an article from the JewStar Tribune

  32. Jewish Mother

    12/27/2007 at 5:01 pm

    Christmas is wonderful. It is utterly healthy and positive. When you are a Torah-observant Jew, meaning engaged Orthodox of whatever stripe, you know you have your own thing, and you wish other people well with their thing.

    Christmas is a very big American holiday and the Times is a very big American newspaper, so what’s the problem? If only this were the worst thing the Times ever printed! It is not, by a long shot.

  33. ramon marcos

    12/29/2007 at 4:20 pm

    I agree JM. The worst things the Times prints are written by Kalefa Sanneh.

  34. Will

    3/16/2009 at 1:24 pm

    same goes over here in London, I remember reading an article in the London Lite (handed out free everyday) a certain jewish lady gushing at how sexy the arms Israeli men were (She attributed to military service) on her recent holiday there to see her family…..:(

    I understand jews are heavily invested in media but you guys may want to avoid “having your cake and eating it” in too forceful a manner.

  35. Mark

    7/23/2009 at 8:23 pm

    See this is where we have a problem. Everyone believes in multiculturalism but what it amounts to is a neutral zone where no one is allowed to do anything because everyone else might be offended by it. Theoretically, every single holiday, from the 4th of July to New Years to Bastille Day, is potentially offensive to some, and geared toward a specific group.

    THIS is really what you want to kick up your heels about?

    What the Christ is “Christmas as a nondenominational holiday”?

    I shop at a Jewish grocery store, do you think I care if they put their Hannukah shit up? No. They are celebrating their holiday. GOOD FOR THEM.

    If you are so committed to cultural neutrality, then let Israel open up to Arab immigration. What is the difference, anyway? Right…. silence.

  36. gary

    8/23/2009 at 10:11 am

    Sarah – it’s so sad to read such blatant anti-Christian rantings. It would seem that tolerance in America is seen as a very one way street. No, I’m not a Christian. But, I know simple bigotry when I see it

  37. froylein

    8/23/2009 at 10:54 am

    Anti-Christian rantings? I think you don’t even get one line of what was written above (unless you didn’t mean me, but it appears you do), and that is not bigotry.

  38. SexToy Maniac

    3/4/2012 at 3:32 pm

    Its the new york times for goodness sakes…

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