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Letter to the Editor: Globe and Mail

Do "letters to the editor" count as published writing??? :-)

Well, just in case they do, here's a letter I wrote which appeared in the Globe and Mail, protesting an article (article text below) insisting that Jews by choice can still celebrate Xmas.


December 18, 2000

Ms Smith's approach insults both Judaism and Christianity. Her insistence that Christmas is not about Jesus belittles the holiday, reducing it to a season of unfocused consumerism.

More importantly, all Jewish converts must consciously decide to join the Jewish people. Responsible leaders inform students not to convert if it would be too painful. Yet Ms Smith never considered the potential discomfort.

Now, with conversion behind her, Ms Smith is having difficulty "coming out" as a Jew. Even non-Jewish friends can't understand why, as a Jew, she still wants Christmas. They realize that becoming a Jew involves more than studying Jewish history; it involves choosing to leave one's previous religion.

Perhaps her husband's apathy has convinced her that conversion need not affect her life in any meaningful way. But religious commitment is a "for better or worse" deal. Sometimes, it feels good; sometimes, it hurts.

As a practicing Jew, I'm sorry her husband can't help give Judaism meaning through the inevitable hurtful times. "Losing" Christmas is a painful part of conversion to any religion, not just Judaism. Ms Smith should have thought of that before embarking on what most people believe is a life-altering course.

Jennifer M. Paquette


Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush? Who says you have to make a choice? by Marlane Smith

Since my conversion to Judaism earlier this year, I've been both eagerly anticipating and slightly dreading December and its Hebrew counterpart, Kislev. I'm apprehensive about the possibility of religious questions and doubts from my Catholic side of the family and my husband's Jewish side. I'm grappling with some inner confusion (Can I celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas? Should I?), and wondering if the extra pounds that we all tend to gain around this time will result in double-gainingfor me. It's enough to make me want to board a Mexico-bound airplane and get away from everything and everyone for the holidays. With my very secular, Jewish husband, of course.

I've always loved the Christmas season. The get-togethers, the dressing up, visiting the friends and family you only see once a year -- not to mention the great excuse it provides for during-the-week cocktails.

Sorry, Rabbi, I simply can't give it up.

In fact, some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around Christmas time. In my family, the December holiday was not about prayer, the birth of Jesus Christ or attending church services. Instead, our focus was on family gatherings, playing games, singing and listening to music, exchanging gifts and gorging on chocolates and Granny's home baking. Year after year, when the adults weren't looking, my sister and I would sneak two of Granny's potent rum balls. The taste almost made us gag, butknowing we were doing something naughty gave us a secret thrill.

As Hanukkah approaches, I feel nostalgic about my memories of Christmas past. I know that Dec. 25 will always be a special day for me and I want it to be special for my husband and, in future, for my children. One of my greatest distractions during my year-long conversion process was the fear that our children would be raised solely in their father's customs. My childhood traditions are an important part of who I am, and something I want to pass on to my children. Of course, they will be raisedJewish but they have to be aware of both their parents' upbringings. Jewish and non-religious; Christmas and Hanukkah. "Is that allowed?" ask my incredulous non-Jewish friends. "Can you really do Christmas now that you've converted?"

Kosher or not, I am doing it, I tell them. I simply can't renounce the spirit of Christmas. I think I might even be able to justify this through analogy, with a Jewish twist.

Part of my to-do list for converting to Judaism involved volumes of reading. As I brushed up on Hanukkah, I read that it is, according to at least one author, one of the most home-based and family-centred of the Jewish holidays. I also discovered that there is a conflict surrounding the tradition of Hanukkah. From the standpoint of certain ancient rabbis, Hanukkah celebrates God's saving spirit, neither by might nor power. This spiritual enlightenment requires an inner contemplation that wascontradictory to the revolutionary tactics of the Maccabees. (The Maccabees were leaders of the Jewish guerrilla rebellion against Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria, who ordered the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem. Basically, the Maccabees defeated the Syrian forces, rededicated the Temple, and lit a lamp with only enough oil for one day. The lamp burned, however, for eight days.)

From the standpoint of the Maccabees, Hanukkah celebrates human courage, and the ability to make history bend and change. The need to organize and to fight seems to contradict study, prayer and the rabbis' need for inner contemplation. If Judaism can integrate these conflicting perspectives to the holiday so that it may become a time for accepting both the Maccabee and the rabbi within us, surely I can throw in a dash of my Christmas joy to the recipe without losing a Jewish feel to the holiday.

Actually, I don't believe Hanukkah and my non-religious Christmas celebrations are at complete odds. Even the Jewish custom of giving Hanukkah gelt -- gold coins or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil -- was a custom in my family. When I dug deep into the toe of my Christmas stocking, there they were, mandarin oranges and chocolate coins.

I didn't realize my family's gelt tradition dates back to 17th-century Poland. My paternal great-great grandmother was Jewish and I just recently discovered that she was Polish. No one in my family can recall when the tradition of giving the children chocolate coins originated, but I'm gambling with my gelt and betting that it dates back generations to this great-great grandmother.

I love discovering connections like this one to my Jewish past. However, I won't abandon my secular, non-Jewish childhood traditions like Christmas because I know that a balance can be struck between Hanukkah and a Christmas that is grounded on the values of family and exceptionally rich and fattening food.

And, really, what goes better with potato latkes than a thick glass of eggnog and one of Granny's rum balls? Okay, maybe a cranberry knish.

Marlane Smith is a Vancouver freelance journalist.

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