Since my weekly column appears on Friday, I was not planning on writing about the Seattle International Airport menorah/Christmas tree fiasco which took place on Monday and Tuesday.
However, while I was driving in my car something happened that made me change my mind. Although I do not usually listen to her show, for some reason the radio in my car was tuned to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio program.
For those who are unfamiliar with Dr. Laura Schlessinger, she is a pop radio therapist who offers instant diagnoses and solutions to the problems of those who call in for advice.
Although she converted to Judaism through Orthodoxy in 1996, she publicly renounced her connection with Orthodox Judaism in 2003. Nonetheless, from the little I have heard of her program in the past, she always seems to be standing up for family values, morality and common sense.
I was therefore shocked when I heard her describe how outraged she was that an “Orthodox rabbi” demanded that a menorah be put up at Seattle International Airport. What she said next shocked me even more. In solidarity with the airport that had lost their Christmas trees, Dr Laura announced that she, “a Jew,” was buying a Christmas tree to put in the middle of her living room this holiday season.
Danger of mixed messagesNow, of course I have nothing against people deciding to put a Christmas tree up in their home – on the contrary, I fully support the idea for Christians. I can even understand mixed-faith couples having both a menorah and a Christmas tree in their homes to celebrate both holidays.
And if Schlessinger was just a regular person I would not be writing this: many people do counter-intuitive things that I disagree with and I ignore them. Dr. Schlessinger’s radio program, however, attracts millions of listeners and her words influence the lives of many, so her words warrant a response.
As a person who preaches the importance of bringing up stable children, Dr. Schlessinger must know the dangers of sending mixed messages to children. Diaspora Jews are subjected to an insidious pressure to conform to the majority.
Thus, for a Jewish child growing up in North America or Europe, Christmas decorations that appear outside the home are challenging enough to his or her Jewish identity. To bring them into the home serves to challenge their identity even further.
It is precisely the children who suffer most from duality and confusion of mixed messages. They are left unsure about their identity: are they primarily Jewish, Christian, American, British, or an amalgamation of all the above?
Extra efforts neededThe fact is that one can be patriotic and at the same time not conform to national customs and norms. Not so when it comes to our Jewish identities. As members of a minority group, Jews have to make an extra effort to ensure a strong Jewish identity.
If we do not reinforce it, it will inevitably start to fade. By celebrating Christmas, in any form, we are offering up our own and our children’s Jewish identity on the altar of conformity. Making a point not to celebrate Christmas is a powerful way of emphasizing our Jewish identity and saving our children from identity issues in the future.
Indeed, one of the most compelling arguments for the placing of menorahs in public is for the sake of Jewish children. It was with great pride that I took my children to place menorahs in supermarkets, banks, and public areas.
I want my children and other local Jewish children to see that their traditions are also represented during the holiday season. Jewish kids should be able to feel the same pride about their traditions as Christian kids can feel about theirs.
Yes, the lighting of the menorah is a religious ritual, but the symbol is festive and traditional as well and, when placed alongside Christmas decorations, allows Jews also to feel special during the holiday season.
In light of all of this, that a Jewish family therapist of the caliber and influence of Dr. Schlessinger should object to a demand to put up a menorah at an international airport, which already had many Christmas decorations on display, is staggering.
Worse, the fact that she thinks it a good idea to announce on national radio that she, a Jew, is placing a Christmas tree in her home this year is entirely beyond belief. I wonder if she realizes or cares about the potential identity crises she may be creating for Jewish children across the United States whose parents follow her mistaken lead?