Joseph Comes Out

So many people hide their true identities. We must work for a day when everyone can say, "I am Joseph, your brother."

This Shabbat, the first in January, my friend Richard will conclude his own unique and somewhat odd annual Jewish ritual. He will unclasp a necklace with a Star of David almost the size of my fist from around his neck and recite the following prayer:

Baruch ata Adonai, Elohaynu Melech Ha-olam, she-asani yehudi

--Blessed are You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the Universe, Who made me a Jew."

This will be the fourth year I will watch him do this, and I still don't quite fully understand this rite. "Remind me why you do this," I requested last year. He looked at me with a patient, long-suffering gaze, "I put on the star every year on the Shabbat after Thanksgiving. I take it off on the Shabbat after New Year's Day. I wear it throughout December so that everyone sees that I am a Jew. It's my own personal statement of identity."

Alright, so maybe I do understand. December is a difficult month for Jews. It's not that we're grinches. Most of us like Christmas. It's nice to see the beautiful lights and festive shop windows. People in the streets and stores are so friendly. We're used to the ubiquitous trees, Santas, elves, and reindeers. They're cute in their own way. We're glad that most Jews live in countries in which it is possible for us to go to our Christian friends' (and relatives') Christmas celebrations, a world in which Jews and Christians live together in peace. But the seemingly universal "spirit of Christmas" renders Jews (and other non-Christians) painfully invisible.


The Jewish community breathes a collective sigh of relief every January. No more explanations to bewildered friends that Jews really truly do not celebrate Christmas. No more visits to our childrens' school to attempt to explain our own culture through token "equal time" Hanukah stories and latkes. No more daily barrage of smiling shop clerks wishing us, "Merry Christmas." What do we reply? "Thank you" sounds pretty phoney. "Uh, thanks, but I'm Jewish" seems a bit rude. The truth is that there is no perfect answer. Eleven months of the year Jews are spared the acute awareness of our minority status, but not during December.

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