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Why Santa is My Hero

Posted by: Guest

November 29, 2013

This post continues our Chanukah series exploring the idea that: “Jews stand for light in the darkness, and every Jew can rekindle the flame of another.” We are pleased to feature a range of respondents discussing how this concept “illuminates” their perspectives and work. Visit here to read the introduction to this series – and share your favorite educational practice that lights Jewish “sparks” in the next generation!
By: Maccabee Avishur
I don’t particularly want to sound like Sarah Palin, but the term “holiday season” irks me.  It smacks of a pernicious movement to homogenize society that hearkens from a time in my youth when America was a melting pot rather than a salad bowl. “We’re all really the same because we all celebrate holidays in December,” the phrase seems to suggest.
I don’t celebrate “the holidays.” I celebrate Chanukah. The irony of the typical coincidence of Chanukah and Christmas (and Kwanza, even more profoundly, I think) is that Chanukah is a holiday of separation, of standing out, of not blending in with the SDC (Surrounding Dominant Culture). When Hallmark tells us it’s time for the holidays, we should protest.
Chanukah is a holiday of “otherness” that celebrates an ancient victory of Jewishness over assimilation.  It’s an idea that we should seek to promote in the holiday today.
And that’s why I love Santa.  Although he looks like a Chassidic rebbe, nobody mistakes Santa for a universal symbol of the holidays—he’s all Christmas all the time.
Santa wears red, the quintessential non-Jewish color.  With the exception of an Amora or two from the era of the Talmud, Jews didn’t wear red.  It’s what cardinals (the Catholic kind, not the baseball kind) wear, and it’s Santa’s signature color.  Of course, Santa’s sartorial color wheel is a product of Coca Cola marketing, but that’s beside the point here.  The point is that Santa proudly stands out as a symbol of Christmas and Christianity during this time of year, from his elfish cap to his Cossack boots.
Why can’t we be just as proud of who we are?  What keeps us and our students from proudly displaying our Jewishness in public?
I am reminded of a story one of my rebbes in yeshiva told. An acquaintance of his, with full beard, black hat, suit and tie, was walking down the road in an American city.  A car full of teenagers drove by.  Two of them stuck their heads out the window and yelled at him, “You Jew!”  The rabbi looked at the car as it sped off, grinned, straightened his tie, and said to no one in particular, “Thank you for noticing.”
There is no better time than Chanukah for us Jews to more closely adopt that rabbi’s disposition.  Being a Jew is a great privilege and a great responsibility.  I wear my kippah proudly wherever I go because I want the world to know that I am Jewish.  At the same time, I am hyper-conscious of the way people might perceive my behavior and scrutinize it, especially because I am a public Jew.  And because of that, I often act “Lifnim MiShurat HaDin,” better than I might be required to by strict rules of Jewish and American law or etiquette.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m no tzadik (I didn’t want to say “saint” for obvious reasons).  But the weight of my kippah on my head reminds me that I must always strive to be.
I firmly believe that Chanukah is a time to highlight that attitude, and we can do so, counter-intuitively, by pointing out how awesome Santa is as a role model for Jewish adults and kids.  He is unabashed about his Christian-ness—we should be equally proud of our Jewishness so that we can fulfill our mission of being an Ohr LaGoyim (Light onto Nations) and continue to honor the sacrifice of the Maccabees and their allies over 2000 years ago.
Rabbi Maccabee Avishur serves as the Associate Director for Teaching and Learning at the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University.

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