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Los Angeles Journal

At One Jewish Home, Making Room for Santa

Axel Koester for The New York Times

Mary Loomis-Shrier, who is Jewish, has decorated her house with the trappings of Christmas: Santa Claus, snow globes and candy canes.

Published: December 20, 2006

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 19 — It is fair to say that in a neighborhood largely populated with Orthodox Jews, it is rather unconventional to have a life-size Santa perched on the edge of the roof of a house, attached to a microphone and bellowing, “What is this Hanukkah you speak of?”

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Axel Koester for The New York Times

Ms. Loomis-Shrier, with her son, Hunter, said that some people were offended by her holiday display but that it was her right to put it up.

It is particularly noteworthy that the Santa, and the elaborate Christmas display in which he rests, sits outside the home of a Jewish family, sparking the curiosity, and occasional ire, of neighbors.

“Some people are so offended, you have no idea,” said Mary Loomis-Shrier, who has long erected the giant display on a lovely street south of Hollywood. “But some of my neighbors think it is great. Some of their kids drop their list of toys in my mailbox. I don’t care because I love it, and it is my right.”

This is not a story about a neighborhood where Jews and Christians got together and decided that the town airport needed a Christmas tree and a menorah, and then lived happily ever after in religiously tolerant bliss.

It is also not a story about how the greeter at a big chain store started greeting people with “Happy Holidays” until the town regrouped to get its Merry Christmas back.

This is a the tale of a dozen or so Orthodox Jews, a survivor of the Bataan Death March, a cranky Israeli father, a professor of English, and Ms. Loomis-Shrier, the Jewish heiress to an exotic-lingerie fortune, all living together on a single Los Angeles block of 1920s Tudor and Spanish-style homes.

There is no happy or sad ending to their tale, just the normal trials of getting through each day, tricky questions about identity, and, presumably, a very large electric bill.

Ms. Loomis-Shrier, who with her husband runs the famous Hollywood undergarments outpost Trashy Lingerie, said the tradition stemmed from her childhood, lived in the very home she now shares with her husband and son. Although her family is Jewish, holiday displays were always part of their season, she said.

There is fake snow, two giant snow globes anchored to the roof, and a couple of big Santas. There are illuminated angels and candy canes, all of it glowing in the quiet of the night.

The residents of this border neighborhood between Miracle Mile and old-money Hancock Park (or, in Los Angeles real-estate speak, “Hancock Park Adjacent”) are largely Jewish, and have regarded the spectacle with a mixture of confusion, delight and occasional derision.

“I wouldn’t say the Jewish people around here are that thrilled with it,” said Sharon Saltiel, who lives next door. “It is a little unusual for someone Jewish to put up a display for Christmas. They are just, very, well, enthusiastic people.”

Little girls in long skirts stand across the street and stare at the glittering Santas, some mothers pull their children away, others allow their children to climb about the Santas and compliment Ms. Loomis-Shrier on her creativity.

A neighbor in a duplex across the street, Oren Atias, an Israeli, has been less than supportive, Ms. Loomis-Shrier said. He has come across the street and yelled at her, and said, “ ‘What kind of Jewish girl puts a Santa in the yard?’ ” said Ms. Loomis-Shrier and several neighbors who saw the arguments.

“I told him, ‘I don’t think candy canes have anything to do with religion,’ ” Ms. Loomis-Shrier said.

Mr. Atias’s upstairs neighbor, Robert Faggen, an author and English professor who is also Jewish, said Mr. Atias tore down his Halloween decorations and pulled up the pumpkins in his yard this year, also in the name of Jewish law, and that he called the police to adjudicate the dispute.

Mr. Atias denied arguing with Ms. Loomis-Shrier about her Christmas decor — “It’s not bad,” he said — and said his fight with Mr. Faggen was longstanding and centered on his neighbor’s decorations being hazardous to his three children.

“Everyone can do what they want,” Mr. Atias said with a shrug. “It’s not a Muslim country.”

From a purely religious context, many Jewish scholars would contest Ms. Loomis-Shrier’s view that her lawn is seasonal and secular.

“Santa Claus is inherently Christian,” said Michael J. Broyde, the director of the Law and Religion Program at Emory University and an expert on Jewish law and ethics, pointing out that the character is derived from a third-century saint, Nicolas. He added, “I have never thought about candy canes.”

Pulling up pumpkins or defacing a wrought-iron angel is another matter, Professor Broyde said.

“We live in a society where fundamentally secular law governs our interpersonal relations,” he said. “When it comes to property rights, you are not allowed to violate them. That is a foregone conclusion from a Jewish perspective.”

Another resident, Marilyn Corre, a British Jew who is married to a former prisoner of war of the Japanese in World War II — both were raised in Orthodox homes — said she was happy to see the display on her block.

“I think it is just wonderful,” she said. “I don’t know why the Jewish people don’t decorate more.”

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