This article appeared in the “South Florida Jewish Journal”
Celebrating the Power of Love over the Love of Power
On Hanukah and Christmas 2019
As Hanukkah and Christmas coincide temporally in 2019, Jews experience the pleasure of celebrating Hanukkah, and the ambiguities surrounding Christmas. Due to horrors committed against Jews by misguided Christians, from the Crusades, the Inquisition, pogroms and other atrocities, culminating in the holocaust, some Jews understandably don’t feel the “Christmas spirit”. While I share these concerns, I suggest a new paradigm for relating to our Christian neighbors. As Santayana observed, “If we do not learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it”, and the last thing we want to do is to repeat the last 2000 years of Christian/Jewish relations.
Perhaps as we enter a new year, the Jewish community can adopt a more nuanced approach to Christianity, which neither condemns nor commends all Christian doctrine, and makes common ground on issues where we agree and engages in constructive dialogue in areas where we diverge.
Today, Mel Gibson’s outrageously anti-Semitic “Passion of the Christ” is being shown to millions of Christian youth in churches throughout the nation, raising a new generation to believe that their version of God, as reflected in Jesus, told “the Jews” that they are of their father the devil. This is precisely what Jews who perished in the holocaust heard before they were slaughtered and is what the deranged killer shouted before he murdered innocent worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Can we forget political correctness and at last denounce fabrications, blood libels and anti-Semitic lies embedded in Christian Scripture with no basis in reality, that have resulted in millions of Jewish deaths, no matter where they are found, so that the words “Never again” will not be a meaningless slogan?
On the other hand, instead of rejecting all of Christianity, perhaps Jews can rejoice in the legend of the birth of a nice Jewish boy, who became a Rabbi, and is considered by many Christians to be divine. Shorn of pagan influence, and focusing on the life, rather than the death of Jesus, Jews can join Christians in celebrating the legend of one of many Jewish martyrs, who defied tyranny, and gave his life for Jewish ideals such as love, compassion, justice and peace.
Hanukkah and Christmas share a common theme. The Seleucid Greeks sought to destroy Judaism for the same reason that the Romans martyred Jesus, both empires believed in the love of power. Jews and Christians reject the “love of power” and at their best, embrace the “power of love”. The empires of the Seleucid Greeks and the Romans boasted the most powerful military forces of their time, but have disappeared off the face of the earth, because when their power ran out, so did they. The survival of the Jewish people is based not on military, but on spiritual power, which is eternal, as is our mission to serve as a Hanukkah candle in a world plagued by darkness. Centuries after the Romans destroyed the Temple and murdered Jesus, the Roman Emperor Constantine, adopted Christianity, and used his might to spread Jewish ideals throughout the world, albeit in an altered form. Both holidays demonstrate the truth of Victor Hugo’s assertion that “More powerful than all the armies on earth is an idea whose time has come”, and the time has come for Jews and Christians to help lead the way towards a world of harmony not conflict, environmental sanity not greed, and love, not hate, in order to save us from ourselves. Lost in all the pageantry, gift-giving and commercialization of Christmas is the fact that Christians worship a Jewish rabbi as part of their Godhead and thus should feel deeply indebted to Judaism as the source of their religion and should join in celebrating Hanukah, which commemorates the heroism of the Jewish people that kept the religion of Jesus alive over a century before his birth, and thus, made Christianity possible.
Christmas carols, such as “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas”, reflect the influence of its Jewish composer Irving Berlin. While the dream of a white Christmas may be a forlorn hope in Florida, the dream of Jews and Christians celebrating together in a spirit of love and unity as our holidays coincide, and working together to protect our planet and all its inhabitants in the year 2020 and beyond, should be the goal of all Christians and Jews. All are welcome to join the celebration of Hanukah at L’Dor Va-Dor at 9804 South Military Trail in Boynton Beach on Friday night, December 27 at 7:30 with joyous Hanukah music and a rational, ecumenical approach to our rich Jewish heritage.
For more information or to discuss this article, contact Rabbi Barry Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org