Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By David Bornstein
The Good Word 

A child's Jewish Christmas


Two stories were told to me recently by community members, both distinctly different on the one hand, and similar on the other.  In both cases the stories are told from the perspective of an elementary school child who was one of the only—if not the only—Jew in his/her class.

A mother was trying to explain to her young son why he would be staying home during the High Holy Days.  “It’s because we’re Jews and these are very important holidays,” she told him.  “We’ll go to synagogue for services and have special meals with family and friends, and God will write our names in the Book of Life for another year.”

He mulled this information over. “Is anyone else in my class skipping school and going to services?” he asked.

“No,” she replied. “You’re the only Jewish child in your class.” At that he burst into tears.

“What’s wrong, honey?” she asked, trying to console him. “What’s upsetting you?”

He choked out his words. “That means I’ll be the only kid in school on Christmas!”

In the second story a young girl was feeling the peer pressure exerted on her by her close friends.  They all wanted to ride their bikes downtown to see Santa after school.  This was old Orlando, when it was safe to ride to the drugstore for a sundae or be out of your parents’ attention for hours at a time. It was Friday, and the holidays were approaching, and all the other girls in the neighborhood were planning to ride to see Santa and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. But she was Jewish, and had never sat in Santa’s lap before, and didn’t feel quite right about it.  What would she say? Would she ask for anything, even though she didn’t celebrate Christmas? Or would she just stand on the sidelines while her girlfriends chatted with Santa, feeling once more like an outcast, part of the group but not? She wanted to be part of things. She wanted to belong. And they were relentless. Come on, they cajoled her. Come with us. It’ll be fun. We’re all going. And finally she gave in, and rode downtown with her friends.

In this case, she decided, she wasn’t going to be left out just because she was Jewish.  She would go the whole way.  She would sit in Santa’s lap and ask for what she wanted. She didn’t have to say it would be for Chanukah instead of Christmas. She’d just ask. So she waited her turn, and when it came she dutifully approached the man who looked like all the pictures she’d ever seen of Santa Claus. She climbed into his lap, but before she could say anything he noticed the Jewish star—the Mogen David—hanging around her neck.

“Little girl,” he said. “What are you doing here? It’s Shabbos!”

She rode home, exhilarated. “Mommy!” she cried when she opened the front door and raced inside. “Santa’s Jewish!”

In both instances an innocent child honestly misinterpreted some basic information about themselves and the holidays.  In both cases they wanted to fit in, to be part of the crowd.  But where one ended in tears and one in laughter, where one felt more apart and one more together ultimately, as their parents sat down with them and explained in greater detail how and why they were different, they came to a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Jew in a Christian world.

And that is the lesson to us as parents in both these tales.  It’s not about competing with a Christian world. It’s about recognizing our children’s needs to both be part of the world and to acknowledge what sets us apart. It’s not about the gifts, or the lights, or the trees, or being the only kid in school on Christmas, or whether or not Santa is a Jew. It’s about listening to our children’s view of the world, helping them to grasp it, and then to accept who they are. We all have our place, after all.  Sometimes we just need a little help figuring out where.

And that’s the good word.

The opinions in this column are those of the writer and not the Heritage or any other individual, agency or organization. Send your thoughts, comments, and critiques to the Heritage or email dsb328@gmail.com.


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