Santa Claus is a Roly Poly Jewish Lawyer

santa


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.

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ck

Publisher at Jewlicious
Founder of Jewlicious? Publisher? Man I hate titles. I coined the name Jewlicious and I slave over the site. I live in Jerusalem and I need to get some breakfast.
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4 Comments

  1. themiddle

    12/16/2012 at 2:04 pm

    My thoughts are that Jewish santas are the least of our problems.

    It’s those beautiful, intelligent, perfect-toothed blonde and Asian babes who identify with other religions and those manly, beefy hunks who identify with other religions who raise the biggest problem to our continuity because we, as a community, have accepted that we’re simply another religion among many.

    Of course, for the lovely babe and the beefcake there is no problem with a dual-religion household because 80% of the broader society is Christian and 98% is non-Jewish, not to mention their respective religion’s numbers globally probably dwarf Jewish totals, so they’re not very concerned about the loss of their culture or tradition, especially over the course of a generation or two.

    The Jewish spouse, however, will have to accept that since we’re just 2% of the population and a speck of the global population (13 million among 7 billion), chances are that over a generation or two, the Jewish element in their child will become entirely non-Jewish with their offspring because of the challenge to maintain Judaism as a core component of one’s identity when one has both Jewish and non-Jewish elements. After all, they have the option of either religion of the parents and they probably identify or at the very least acknowledge and completely “understand” or sympathize with the non-Jewish religion in their household no less than with Judaism. Except, out in the world and outside their home, there are so many more cultural, social and relationship options and opportunities available to them that fall on the non-Jewish side of the ledger that it’s simple math to see how they and almost certainly their kids will not be particularly attached or self-identified as Jews.

    Oh, and along the same lines of important problems which Jewish santas do not constitute is that Jewish organizations have wasted billions and billions of dollars over the past few decades but have made Jewish education for the Conservative and Reform Jews that have provided the bulk of the federations’ funds extremely expensive thus ensuring that the vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews cannot have access or access that is so onerous that most of these Jews won’t attend Jewish day schools or synagogue schools, especially after bar/bat mitzvah.

    This Christmas, I wish that Jewish santa will bring big money to Jewish education and federation officials who understand how important Jewish education can be and more than that, I wish Jewish santa will bring a rabbi or several hundreds of them who have the balls to explain to the pending spouse of their Jewish congregant’s child what a wonderful religion Judaism is and that although their religion is certainly also to be respected, there is a deep and tremendous value in coming to our side and raising their children as Jews so that our culture doesn’t disappear or become the domain of the ultra-Orthodox.

  2. ck

    12/17/2012 at 10:37 am

    There’s also just regular Orthodox too TM – or as I like to call them “Traditional Jews.” Back in the day, say… before emancipation, that’s what the bulk of Jews were – and at that time, intermarriage and its attendant issues, were simply not, well… an issue. Now of course there’s a whole broad range of cultural, political and sociological dynamics behind our current state of being – for instance, Judaism can’t broadly be described as a culture. One can participate in and manifest a Jewish cultural identity without actually being Jewish. Or there is the 64 year old existence of a Jewish State that remains predominantly secular and is now the locus of the largest Jewish population in the world.

    The point is that we don’t have to fear a black planet, so to speak, because the alternatives are not polar. That having been said, I do not experience any schadenfreude at the failings of Conservative and Reform Judaism, None at all. And I second your call for greater funding for Jewish education by the Federations and Philanthropies. Less Holocaust Museums, more classrooms and teachers please. I have no idea why this is not like, THE top priority.

  3. themiddle

    12/18/2012 at 4:28 am

    It’s not THE top priority because federation officials are busy being afraid of challenging their donors and because many federations are so used to the status quo, particularly as it relates to Jewish education, that it wouldn’t even occur to them to make this their priority.

    As for “regular Orthodox,” yes they will be part of the Jewish future, but they and the Ultra Orthodox are small potatoes when it comes to the overall Jewish population. And while it’s true that one may manifest a Jewish cultural identity without being Jewish, we both know that you’re playing semantic games.

    You’re not going to convince people to believe in god in the way you believe in god and you’re not going to convince them that the Torah was written by God either. We are in the 21st Century and across the non-Islamic world you have significant movement away from traditional faith. Jews are losing out because of assimilation but also because of education and the relatively anti-faith environments in which they live.

    And yet, many identify as Jews, culturally. There tends to be some residue of of faith in the existence of god, some identification with Jewish history and traditions and a sense of belonging to a larger community. There is also a desire to raise children within this broader identification as Jews. You can see how this connection comes alive for Birthright participants, by the way, which is why it’s a no-brainer to assume that receiving a Jewish education would also help preserve our communities. Sadly, the community hasn’t figured this out. I recall back when people like Steinhardt tried to push for education funding among the mega-donor set and couldn’t get any traction. Everybody was too busy with their overlapping pet charities, many of them not connected to Jewish life.

    • froylein

      12/18/2012 at 1:55 pm

      Ask CK about the parcel I sent him. :)

      But indeed, it takes something different to convince more than less secular-but-identifying-as people of religious narrative than a person who’s grown up on said narrative. The often harsh rejection of even considering that things were factually not quite what one has learnt they were doesn’t help the cause and will just alienate people.

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