Now that Hanukkah’s over, I guess the next wave of Jewish videos will be those that directly correlate the Jews and Christmas. There’s a long tradition of this sort of thing, from the ubiquitous MatzoBall parties to a sub genre of music videos like Saturday Night Live’s claymation Christmastime for the Jews to the fact that many of the beloved Christmas songs enjoyed around the world were written by Jews (Irving Berlin’s White Christmas etc.).
The first kooky Jewish/Christmas piece of media this year is an article in the Forward and an accompanying video about a Jewish Santa. The video focuses on one Santa from New York, but the article interviews a number of these Jewish Santas. It’s not a new phenomenon by any means, but what other time of the year are you going to write about this sort of thing? What’s interesting is that many of these Santas are traditional Jews who see nothing wrong with spreading joy as Santa on the job while being good Jews in real life. Dana Friedman, a lawyer from Brooklyn and the Santa featured in the video began his career after 9-11, entertaining the families of victims.
Friedman, who works several days a week at the Sky View Center mall in the Flushing section of Queens and then spends his earnings on toys for hospitalized children, said, “There are positive and negative responses.” A few Jewish acquaintances have told him that he is committing a sin. “Some non-Jews are highly offended that I am playing Santa,” he added. “They say: ‘You can’t be Santa! You’re Jewish.’ I say: ‘Jesus Christ was Jewish. Go argue with him.’”
You can’t really argue with that. Rick Rosenthal, another Jewish Santa, is Modern Orthodox. He sought and received his Rabbi’s permission to work as a mall Santa because Santa Clause has become an essentially secular character with little or no actual connection to the religious practice of Christianity.
That’s why many Russian Jews put up a Christmas tree. This tradition survived amidst fiercely anti-religious Communist regimes and in that context, it’s a completely secular holiday ornament. Some of the Santas interviewed however were adamant that they would never have a Christmas tree – as if Chritmas trees were the penultimate celebration of the holiday. For the record, they’re not. They are pagan in origin but I guess it’s just a matter of context, right?
Let us know if you have any thoughts on the notion of a Jewish Santa.