Don’t Tell Me Not to Have a Christmas Tree

Tablet Magazine featured an article by JOI Associate Executive Director Paul Golin in response to a recent trend of non-intermarried Jews telling intermarried Jews that they shouldn’t put up a Christmas tree in their home. He raises the point that each family has a right to decide for themselves how they are going to tackle the December holidays. Even though he does not choose to have a Christmas tree in his own home, despite his wife’s upbringing with one, he respects others’ decisions to include this symbol of the season:

For many Jews looking in from the outside, a Christmas tree might represent the threatening, monolithic assertion: “Christian Household.” But for vast swaths of the intermarried population who put up Christmas trees but still successfully raise strongly identified Jews, that’s just not factually correct. And it’s why Tablet’s Marc Tracy drew the wrong red line when he wrote on the Scroll that the flexibility of identity requires some limits “and celebrating Christmas is beyond that limit.”

Really? Why does anyone get to decide that limit for someone else?

The overwhelming majority of Jews pick and choose which Jewish laws they find meaningful and which they reject. Keeping kosher all the time? Rejected by 85 percent of American Jewry. Believing homosexuality is an abomination? Thankfully, rejected by a growing majority. When we start telling each other that our own individual red lines are the universally accepted “Jewish” red lines—and if you cross them, you’re a bad Jew—our community descends into recriminations. Those of us working to actually grow the Jewish community understand that the message of “our way or the highway” more often than not results in the highway. Rather than telling people what they shouldn’t do, why not provide more ways for them to express their Jewish identity?

We at JOI support intermarried families raising Jewish children, regardless of their decision to have or not have Christmas trees in their homes. As Jews, we should be thankful for the fact that they have chosen to raise their children in the Jewish faith, and be open to the idea that they have a right to decide if and how to incorporate the non-Jewish partner’s traditions. Let’s focus on sharing what we love about being Jewish rather than chastising people for doing it “wrong.”

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