Nothing I have ever written has provoked as huge a response as a piece I wrote some years ago called “The Jewish Grinch That Stole Christmas.”
In the article, which brought me roughly 10 times as much e-mail as I’m accustomed to receiving, I suggested that my fellow secular Jews (aka atheists and agnostics) were at the forefront in waging war on the values and traditions of Christian Americans.
Predictably enough, the response from gentiles was uniformly positive. The feedback from Jews was somewhat less favorable, roughly split between those who admired my courage while questioning the legitimacy of my birth and those who accused me of being a turncoat. What I found most telling was that those who damned me didn’t, as a rule, refute what I had written; they were merely angry that a Jew had written the piece. They accused me of lending aid and comfort to bigots.
Because I make it a rule to write back to anyone who writes me, and because I assume that those who took the time and trouble to write were representative of many more who didn’t, I’d like to share some of my responses.
The term that nearly every Jew used in condemning me was “a self-hating anti-Semite.” A few accused me of not really being a Jew. That didn’t mean they thought I was a Catholic or a Baptist flying under false colors; no, they meant that my sole claim to being Jewish was that my ancestors were Jewish. The fact is they’re right.
As I have written on other occasions, I am not a religious man. I do not keep kosher. I do not help make up the morning minyan at the local synagogue. I do not even attend High Holiday services. So what? I’m Jewish because I say I’m Jewish. And because, quite frankly, with my face, who would believe me if I bothered to deny it? Furthermore, most Jews in America are not orthodox and cannot read Hebrew or even speak Yiddish. For the most part, American Jews are circumcised, have a bar mitzvah, attend a reformed or conservative temple once or twice a year, frequent delis and Chinese restaurants, and vote the straight Democratic ticket.
Also, I say I’m Jewish because I don’t wish to offend the memory of my parents by denying their religion and the religion of their parents.
Finally, I say I’m Jewish because Hitler would have said I was Jewish, and then sent me off to Auschwitz, if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to have been born in America.
That was my whole point. I was lucky to have been born to a Jewish family in a Christian nation. It was, in the main, Christian soldiers who liberated the Nazi death camps. Even if I’m not as Jewish as some of my critics would like, I still believe it behooves us to be openly grateful to our Christian neighbors – not because we fear future pogroms – but because it’s the decent thing to do.
One of the very few points for which I was specifically taken to task was for referring to America as a Christian nation. To those people, I pointed out that I wasn’t claiming this nation is a theocracy, but Christians of one denomination or another compose nearly 90 percent of America’s population. That is 10 percent higher than the percentage of Jews in Israel, but I am willing to wager that none of my critics would deny that Israel is a Jewish state.
As one of my respondents put it, “An anti-Semite used to be someone who hated Jews, but it’s become someone whom Jews hate.” The problem with that truism is that Jews, in the great majority, don’t hate gentiles. Sometimes it just seems that way. In fact, most of us are well aware that Israel has no more devoted allies in the world than America’s most devout Christians. What’s more, the reason that atheists and agnostics are able to wage their anti-religious crusade is because they can safely do so, and the only reason they can is because millions of Christians fought and died to protect this freedom. Unfortunately, as happens, for instance, when freedom of speech leads to obscenity and pornography, this precious freedom has been corrupted and turned into a license to bully Christians.
Sadly, as is so often the case with black Americans, those who are high-profile and get most of the media attention are the knee-jerk radicals and the anything-for-a-buck rabble-rousers.
When my critics accused me of promoting anti-Semitism, I pleaded not guilty. I asked them if they thought that gentiles were so stupid that, until I wrote my piece, they didn’t recognize that there is a secular jihad under way in this country to remove Christ from Christmas, which, by the way, happens to be a national holiday, unlike Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and my birthday.
Finally, the problem is that if Christians complain that a minority is trying to bully the majority, they stand condemned as bigots. If I, a Jew, suggest that Christians should be free to celebrate one of their holier holidays in any fashion they like, and not have to feel guilty about it, I’m accused of being a self-hating anti-Semite. In short, nobody is allowed to be critical of Jews. Well, it so happens that while we Jews may be the Chosen People, that doesn’t make us the perfect people. And, believe me, I’m not just talking about my relatives.
Many of us, Jews and Christians alike, have been annoyed with American Muslims because they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time whining about racial profiling, instead of condemning the worldwide butchery committed by jihadists in the name of their religion. Well, to me, the silence of American Jews when it comes to Christian-bashing has been equally deafening.
Frankly, I’m relieved that Lincoln Chafee, the oafish governor of Rhode Island, a proponent of same-sex marriage, who recently declared that Rhode Island Christmas trees would be called holiday trees, is an Episcopalian. It’s bad enough that we Jews are stuck with the likes of Henry Waxman, Barbara Boxer, Bernie Sanders, Brad Sherman and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
What truly astonishes me is the patience and good grace with which Christians have dealt with this attack on so many things they hold sacred.
It is, I think, a tribute to their religion.