View December as a season of diversity, not dilemma

December is upon us! I must admit that I love this 31-day excursion into a time when all of a sudden, everyone seems to love one another. Shopping malls are decked out with colorful holiday decorations. And I love the music too! "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire," "Joy to the World," etc.

Oh, wait a moment, it's my phone. "Hi Mrs. O'Cohen. Oh yes, I've already heard about that! Have you spoken to the teacher? OK, I'll see what I can do. I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

Gee, it seems that every year I receive the same phone calls. Math teachers asking students to create geometric designs, which will be used as ornaments on that seasonal pine tree.

Oh, the phone again. "Yes, Mrs. O'Bromovitz, I know about that! Well, why don't you speak with the choral director and request that Amber not have to sing `Silent Night.'"

Oh, to be a rabbi in the month of December is no easy task. It feels as if we Jews have been forever confronted with the issues of relating to Christmas. It usually starts right around Thanksgiving. Many Jews try holding their breath during this month, hoping that they or their children won't be placed in an uncomfortable position. Well, let's face it. Jews are a minority living in a Christian world. Maybe it's a good thing that we feel a bit uncomfortable. Maybe our discomfort will make us more appreciative of our rich Jewish heritage. And while we can appreciate our Christian neighbors' holidays, we don't have to feel bad about not celebrating them.

"But rabbi," congregants tell me. "I don't want my son or daughter singing Christmas carols or making decorations." I understand. And I'm not suggesting that we just sit back and allow our children to be subjected to such religious activities in the milieu of the public or private school. Contact the school and calmly, unemotionally, express your concerns that such activities do violate the separation of church and state. Contact your local Jewish Community Relations Council or your rabbi. In my encounters with school principals over the years, most are receptive to such calls, although there are some principals and teachers who will not be so responsive.

We Jews have coined a term for this time of year: the "December Dilemma," suggesting that Christmas is a problem for us. We need to get away from looking at this holiday season as a "dilemma" and see it as just another celebration of diversity. We should actually feel some pride, for had it not been for us, there would be no holiday called Christmas. And while we all enjoy Chanukah, which coincidentally usually falls around the same time, let us remember that Chanukah is just a minor Jewish holiday. Let's not allow Chanukah or any other Jewish holiday to "compete" with the religious traditions and celebrations of our neighbors.

Allow me to conclude with a true story. I remember when our oldest son was 3. My wife had taken him to a local shopping mall on a Friday afternoon (incidentally, it was called Chris-Town). As they were sitting on a bench in the mall eating their ice cream, Judy noticed our son Avi intently looking at the scene of children lined up to sit on the lap of Santa Claus. As they were leaving the mall, Judy felt a sense of relief that our son expressed no desire to join the line. Then, as they were exiting the mall, all of a sudden, Avi said, "Eema, I'll be right back."

He immediately ran over to the display where Santa Claus was sitting, and as Judy ran after him, she heard him yell at the top of his lungs, "Santa, Santa." Everyone in line stopped to look at this 3-year-old — and then he yelled: "Santa, Santa! Shabbat shalom, Santa!"

Let us resolve to continue to teach our children the beauty of our Jewish heritage. If we are successful, they will indeed find the right balance in relating to the non-Jewish world in which we live.