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Christmas is not everybody’s favorite holiday. Historically, Jews in America, whether participating in or refraining from recognizing Christmas, have devised a multitude of unique strategies to respond to the holiday season. Their response is a mixed one: do we participate, try to ignore the holiday entirely, or create our own traditions and make the season an enjoyable time? This book, the first on the subject of Jews and Christmas in the United States, portrays how Jews are shaping the public and private character of Christmas by transforming December into a joyous holiday season belonging to all Americans.
Creative and innovative in approaching the holiday season, these responses range from composing America’s most beloved Christmas songs, transforming Hanukkah into the Jewish Christmas, creating a national Jewish tradition of patronizing Chinese restaurants and comedy shows on Christmas Eve, volunteering at shelters and soup kitchens on Christmas Day, dressing up as Santa Claus to spread good cheer, campaigning to institute Hanukkah postal stamps, and blending holiday traditions into an interfaith hybrid celebration called “Chrismukkah” or creating a secularized holiday such as Festivus.
Through these venerated traditions and alternative Christmastime rituals, Jews publicly assert and proudly proclaim their Jewish and American identities to fashion a universally shared message of joy and hope for the holiday season.
Foreword by Jonathan D. Sarna
Publisher: Rutgers University Press, October 2012
Vos iz dos — “A Kosher Christmas”? Might a reader expect a heartwarming hybrid, perhaps President Obama lighting candles with Rahm Emanuel? Not here, where there is no anecdoting of the Sedaris kind, but a scholarly examination of the December dilemma: How Jews cope with “the only American national holiday rooted in a specific religious tradition that a significant minority of Americans fail to share.”
In the book “A Kosher Christmas” (Rutgers University Press) subtitled “'Tis the Season to be Jewish,” Joshua Eli Plaut offers a richly detailed, page-turning read that draws on historical documents and ethnographic research sprinkled with often humorous images and photos.
“With humor and insight Rabbi Joshua Plaut, Ph.D., recounts the meaning of Christmas to American Jews. This ‘only in America’ account should be read by Jews and non-Jews alike but especially by those of us who have always felt a little bit guilty for enjoying Christmas.”
—Alan Dershowitz, professor of law, Harvard University
“A Kosher Christmas is a richly amusing, well-researched present to American Jews, allowing them to wear their new cashmere sweaters to Chinese restaurants on Christmas Day without being racked by religious guilt.”
—Robert Brustein, playwright, theater critic, and recipient of the 2010 National Medal of Arts
“Christmas is our only national holiday founded on religious beliefs, and Plaut, a rabbi and Jewish studies scholar, describes the multitude of creative rituals, activities, and responses Jews have developed to counteract feelings of marginalization and 'transform Christmastime into a holiday season belonging to all Americans.' Plaut offers a quirky, provocative, yet solid study of contemporary Jewish behavior and emerging new forms of popular culture.”