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Thursday, December 25, 2008

My life before moving to Israel.

Well, pretty close, anyway.

Go read a well, written piece... and please try to feel what the writer is expressing, not what his words make you feel.  Consider it an exercise in empathy.  I'm sure you're up to the challenge.  :-)

Hat tip Christopher Naze (one of the very first blogs I started reading!)

Posted by David Bogner on December 25, 2008 | Permalink


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Good link, but I'm never going to forgive you for that picture... ;)

Posted by: Mike Miller | Dec 25, 2008 6:59:08 AM

oh, yes, i can totally understand that ... in fact, i can see my neighbor's death spike in her living room right from where i'm sitting now - complete with flashing entrails. here's another perspective on what it's like for all of us here in galut. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1uZ_W7atDE

Posted by: Debbie | Dec 25, 2008 7:43:59 AM

Sorry, I can have no sympathy or even empathy for this man.

Only disgust.

Not that I can't engage in excises in empathy, "putting one's foot in someone elses shoes" or what not.

The way I do that with the whole Jewish living through Christmas thing is imagine instead of living in America I live instead in say India.

Say it's Holi but I am a Christian. Would it bother me if everyone was throwing colored powder at me and wishing me the blessings of Krishna? Would I be outraged if someone said may Ram bless you? No. I would take it in the spirit it was given. I would understand that Hinduism is the majority religion in the country and respect that while practicing within my own family my Christian tradition.

The reason the blogger you linked to was so offensive is the example he gave was people wishing you evil. Satan isn't another religion. It is an anti-Christian "religion". It is worshiping evil.

So what in effect this guy is saying is that Christians are evil. And therefore giving a Christian greeting is giving a greeting promoting evil and harm.

Sorry, I don't see May Ram bless you in the same light as Hail Satan. And of course I don't see a Christian greeting as wishing one harm or saying that I want evil to prevail in the world.

This guy thinks Christians are evil. Well that's his problem. He is the bigot here, not I!

Posted by: Steve | Dec 25, 2008 9:47:54 AM

truth is, as i got older the "season" bothered me less and less. the only sticking point that remained with me was why this religious holiday was deemed federal in a country that proudly declared it's separation of church and state. december 25th was so da*n boring!

Posted by: nikki | Dec 25, 2008 9:48:03 AM

What annoys me most is the fact that everybody assumes you celebrate Xmas and wish you a happy one. It is even more annoying when people leave a comment on a Jewish blog, still wishing you the same It makes you wonder... Mind you I was once asked if I didn't celebrate it by a fellow teacher. When I said "No", certainly with a strange look on my face, she justified herself saying that "you know who" was a Jew so why not.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Dec 25, 2008 10:56:48 AM

I agree with Steve, though I'm a lot more mellow about it.

(partly from what I said over there)

I found it odd that he parodied Christmas as Satanic/death oriented. To me it seems more like a sugar sweet, perfect world, warm-fuzzy-spend-money-till-you-gag kind of phenomenon. “Your kids must have the latest whizbang toys. The bigger the diamond, the happier she’ll be.” Ugh.

As a Christian who celebrates only the religious aspect of the holiday, I empathize with your/his frustration. I mostly ignore the whole gifts-cards-money-stress-obligations mess, because all I want is to sing carols, go to church, and read the Bible story. I don't get much flak for ignoring the obligations, probably because I have little money and my social circle is very accepting of differences. My extended family is the opposite, but fortunately/unfortunately I don't see them much.

Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah, as appropriate.

Posted by: Kiwi the Geek | Dec 25, 2008 10:56:55 AM

Mike Miller... Sometimes you have to ignore the bad window dressing to get into the hip stores. :-)

Debbie... Glad you were able to take it in the ironic spirit in which it was written. Clearly others weren't up to the task.

Steve (or Scott or Kim or Gene or whatever name you are going by today)... let's talk about a couple of things that I had hoped would be clear: The point of this post was not Christianity vs other religions but rather the sense of 'otherness' that is prevalent for non-Christians during this season. Your choice of India is a poor one since India is a multi-cultural society where even such things as common language cannot be taken for granted, much less religion. I was afraid that some of my Christian readers would have a knee jerk reaction about the fact that he made Santa/Christ seem analogous to Satan (which you seem to have)... but you missed the point altogether. The point (as I understand it) was to try to get all the readers (not just some) to imagine a scenario where they had no connection whatsoever with a holiday that was being universally observed/celebrated in the most public of manners. Obviously, few if any of us know any satanists, so his choice was an apt one.

nikki ... The season never bothered me so much as it emphasized my otherness. I still get choked up at the seasonal music and miss the smell of wreaths on everyone's doors. But that was not my culture and I sort of resent having had it creep under my skin to the extent that it did.

Ilana-Davita ... Cultural insensitivity is something we are all guilty of at some point or another. Some just don't learn from their mistakes. :-)

Kiwi the Geek... Read my response to Steve. The blogger wasn't calling Christ/Santa 'Satan'. He was using a universal 'other' so that the maximum number of readers could experience the sense of otherness from his essay. The whole commercialism thing of the season is a side issue that is yours and yours alone to wrestle with. :-)

Posted by: David Bogner | Dec 25, 2008 11:27:10 AM

Just to clarify, I didn't think he was calling Christ Satan. It just seemed a very odd choice to me, as all the trappings of Christmas seem positive though misguided, and his analogs are all negative. His blog, his thought experiment, his choice.

What I agreed with (and should have made clear) is that Christmas wishes are intended as positive and friendly, so I don't get why people take it as negative. Of course, if I had any reason to believe a person was Jewish, I'd say Happy Hanukkah instead of Merry Christmas. That's just basic consideration. However, when people give me gifts even though I don't "do" gifts, I accept them as an expression of friendship/love, in the spirit in which they were given.

I'm not intending to start an argument, just wanted to clarify.

Posted by: Kiwi the Geek | Dec 25, 2008 12:14:01 PM

Kiwi the Geek... I got all that, and I agree for the most part. However, in his thought experiment, the people who are extending 'greetings' such as 'hail satan' seem to have the best of intentions... and are trying to be inclusive. the point is that if you aren't a Satanist, it can come off anywhere from awkward to downright scary. Look, when my cat used to bring me 'gifts' of dead sparrows and squirrels, I knew it was the highest form of tribute she could give me... but it still turned my stomach.

Posted by: David Bogner | Dec 25, 2008 12:33:03 PM

I have relatives who are Christian missionaries living in a Muslim country, so I'm sure they can sympathize. But because I'm a Christian living in America, I can't actually identify with your feeling of alienation. Still, I get it -- and I'm happy for you that you are finally home.

Posted by: Bob | Dec 25, 2008 4:14:16 PM

I used to have similar feelings, but I found that as I became more observant, it actually dispelled the feelings. I wrote about it last year: http://www.beyondbt.com/?p=878. Some thought I was putting down those who observed Christmas, but that wasn't the intent, I was focusing on the change in my own feelings on the situation.

Posted by: JDMDad | Dec 25, 2008 4:15:05 PM

Oh, I don't know. I'm a fairly observant Jew and I have a confession to make. I love Christmas. I love the goofy songs nonstop on the radio (I must hear "grandma got run over by a reindeer at least once"), I love that everyone is festive and joyful. Love the sales with absolutely no pressure to have to buy anything for anyone. So what if people wish me a merry Christmas. Do we stop and think about whether we should wish someone a chag sameach everytime we do it? I've never felt left out of anything--I grew up with muslim, hindu, jewish and christian friends and never had any "exclusion" issues.

Posted by: Naomi | Dec 25, 2008 8:14:23 PM

I went back to the USA 2 years ago in December, and it was such an alien experience.

As a young child, I went to public school, so I know all the words to the carols.

I find my senses filled with something that not only doesn't belong to me, but actually opposes my beliefs. It's very upsetting to me. I don't begrudge anyone their religious songs and symbols, but I must admit, I'm happy to live in Israel where the predominant religion is my own.

I strongly suggest to Jews who can manage it to come spend some of the "season" in Israel where they can experience something that does belong to them.

Posted by: triLcat | Dec 25, 2008 10:16:39 PM

Thanks for the link, David, and for commenting here far better than I could have. I'm glad you got what I was trying to say.

Like I said at the end, it was a rant, my response to the tsunami of bad xmas craziness we're all drowning in at the moment. The storm will pass, and soon, and we can all get back to life as normal until November 2009.

Posted by: Derek Powazek | Dec 25, 2008 11:07:08 PM

I live in Toronto, and so I am subjected to the standard galus chrismisification. It does not bother me one bit. The only reason I can see it bothering someone is if they are not secure in what they themself stand for. If I am a confident, proud Jew, and I know what it means to be a jew, then I dont feel threatened or bothered by what my neighbours are doing with confidence. I think it is nice to see them at least once a year grasp the ideas of giving that we try and live with every single day.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 26, 2008 4:35:20 AM

Oh! How I remember the feeling of "otherness" that the post-Thanksgiving thru Xmas season engendered....

I grew up in the sticks, where the demographics were much more homogeneous than I imagine you might find in more populated areas -- which, as you might imagine only served to make those of us who were different feel the contrast all the more strongly.

Which isn't to say that I felt angry per se -- more like exhausted. It is very tiring to exist with a permanent smile pasted to your face, accepting the world's amicably extended good cheer and wishes for a Merry Xmas, all the while gently responding with Happy Holidays as you subtly try to remind the flood of people with whom you must interact that not everyone celebrates as they do....

For the record: I completely get that the whole peace on earth, good will to men sentiment is genuine and sincere expression of the season, and not necessarily steeped in a religious or proselytizing approach. However, every year during the holiday season, a simple, seemingly obvious, question plagued me: If inclusion is really a part of the message, how hard is it to teach sales people (et al) to simply say, "Happy Holidays" in place of "Merry Xmas?!"

The lights, the music, the sales, the niceness of society -- loved watching/hearing it all. But. Having been imbibed (from an early age) on the all-American/northern-Yankee civic ideals of separation of Church and State and the knowledge that America represents the most diverse of all nations (at least vis-a-vis religious practices and tolerance), the en-masse willing suspension of these ideals for 6 weeks every year always left me feeling a like a very, very, tired outsider.

Posted by: zahava | Dec 26, 2008 8:51:18 AM

Notwithstanding my comments above, I do prefer a Jew who gets sick about Christmas over the other extreme:


"It’s a wonderful, glorious feeling for the Jew who celebrates Christmas. If you haven’t guessed already, that’s me."

The Jewish people really are in trouble.

Posted by: mike | Dec 26, 2008 7:40:44 PM

I hate "Happy Holidays." It has no more meaning than "Eat at Joe's" or "Your shoe's untied." It's like being asked "How are you?" by someone who couldn't care less how you are.

I'd much rather hear "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Hanukkah" (even though I celebrate neither) because at least I feel like someone's really wishing me something good, not just spouting words.

By the way, the Pratzel's on Olive closed. (Semi-related because that was the one place where I could always count on someone wishing me a happy Hanukkah.)

Posted by: Tanya | Dec 26, 2008 9:10:12 PM

This is not an apt comparison.

Satanists worship evil.

Now an apt comparison would be if America was a Wiccan society. Wiccans have nothing to do with Satan and in fact have a strong moral code. I am not a Wiccan but I do respect what they stand for.

So, lets say instead of Christians, Wiccans founded America. That would be impossible because Wiccans themselves would admit that although they try to hearken back to the old ways of Pre-Christian Paganism, the religion itself is pretty new going back only to 1954. But let's say for a moment they, instead of Christians, founded America. And now I am a Christian living in a Wiccan Society.

Would I go around trying to get "An it harm none, do what ye will" get erased from all the courtrooms in the land? Would I get upset if someone wished me a happy Yule?


No, I would appreciate that I do live in a Wiccan Society and I would not deny the right FOR THEM TO PRACTICE THEIR RELIGION nor would I on a personal level find it an attack on my religion. In fact it would probably make my religion all the more special because it was apart from that of the normal culture.

Now, an apt comparison to what the blogger did was instead of celebrating Christmas we celebrated Holocaust day. People go around with Nazi symbols put up everywhere wishing everyone a Happy Holocaust day with the traditional response "may all the Jews be wiped from the earth". And if you think Christmas is like "Holocaust Day" then that's a sign of your own Hate not mine.

Now you live in a society that practices Jewish culture, and I think it is great that you can live in a society like that (I do feel sad for the Wiccans who don't have a society of their own in which to practice their ways). Just one piece of advice. Watch out for those who want to destroy the cultural traditions of your society in the name of "separation of religion and state" or because of "diversity" or whatever. A majority has the right to practice its own ways. A minority has the right to practice their own religion but not force upon others a demand to stop their cultural ways.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 26, 2008 10:29:05 PM

It is sad that so many people have a misunderstanding of what "separation of Church and State" really means. Of course this misunderstanding is perpetrated on purpose.

Is it wrong that Israel is a Jewish society?

I have no problem with that. Well the only problem I have with that is when you criticize us for what you do yourselves.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 26, 2008 10:46:02 PM

Tanya, I can't believe Pratzel's closed! I loved that place when I was at Wash U! [sniff]

We'll just have agree-to-disagree with regards to "Happy Holidays," though. Considering the number of practices this time of year, it seems a nice (if not bland) way of being warm but still respectful....

Steve: you actually could have simply stopped at Sorry, I can have no sympathy or even empathy. You find Derek's analogy using Satan as distasteful. Fine. That is your right. But your diatribe goes way beyond that. First off, no one is suggesting that Christians shouldn't celebrate Xmas. Secondly, no one is suggesting that the 6-week period between Thanksgiving and Xmas is a State-sponsored affair. What people are discussing rationally -- with you as a notable exception -- is their feelings of isolation and "otherness."

Isolation and otherness are the topic.

The closest analogy that I can come up is the following: imagine you have a sibling who looks a lot like yourself. Your brother is a complete academic -- good grades, the whole lot. You -- you excel at the arts. Where ever you go, though, people confuse you with your brother. They constantly stop you and compliment you on your achievements and your brilliance. At first, you understand the confusion -- you even take it as a compliment -- after all, you like and admire your brother. He's a good guy.

But after a while, you kinda wish that folks would notice that as much as you look a little like your brother, you don't really look so much like him that people shouldn't be able to tell you apart.

You're not angry at your brother. Heck, you don't wish him ill. You just wish people stopped to look and see which brother they were talking to before they leaped to assumptions. You feel a bit invisible, and that twinges a bit.

It seems that we humans, for the most part, are a gregarious bunch who seek the acceptance and camaraderie of our peers. How we identify ourselves is an essential component of our own sense of "being." When how you identify yourself is discounted, or ignored, or misunderstood, it can hurt. That is part of the human condition. I don't think there is a person who has participated in this discussion who thinks for a second that there is any malice intended by the seasonal well-wishers -- rather, what I think you will find among the discussions is a bit of younger-sibling-styled, but I'm the other brother pouting.


Not really.

But human, none-the-less.

Posted by: zahava | Dec 27, 2008 7:41:12 PM

Do you think Israel should be a Jewish Society?

Obviously the answer is Yes. That is how it was founded. That is what its traditions are based upon.

Christmas isn't only a religious holiday but a cultural tradition as well. And there are people out there trying to destroy the cultural traditions of America knowing that when you destroy a society's cultural traditions then it weakens the foundation of the society itself.

I hope that the people of Israel fight to keep the Jewish nature of your society intact. And I will fight for the cultural traditions of America.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 27, 2008 9:10:53 PM

"Isolation and otherness are the topic." It would be if the blogger didn't make such a poor analogy. Your analogy, my analogies, were much better because it doesn't depend on ill intentions on the behalf of the "well (ill)" wisher.

Look at the title. "Wishing You A Grisly Death in the New Year". “Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we’ve no place to go, let it bleed from your head to your toes.”

Both sayings are ill-wishing saying. What he did was like my analogy to "Holocaust Day".

Now perhaps the holiday is like what people do in the Theater. In the Theater it is bad luck to wish an actor good luck so people wish them bad luck in hopes they have the reverse. That is why people say "break a leg". So if by the saying "Wishing You a Grisly Death in the New Year" the person is actually wishing that something so terrible won't happen to you but by wishing the opposite it actually ensures (by traditional superstition) that it wouldn't happen to you then you know what, I wouldn't be offended by someone wishing me a grisly death in the New Year because just like 'Break a Leg' I would know that in actually the wish means the exact opposite.

But I don't believe the blogger set it up that well. Obviously if one grew up in a particular society, one would understand the traditions of the society and if one of the traditions is that people go around saying at a particular part of the year that they wish the worst will happen to others in the belief that by saying this it actually wouldn't happen, then sure I would wish people a grisly death in the New Year.

So, may you and your family have a house-fire and burn to death this season (no I don't want that to happen, I am saying for that to happen so it won't just like 'break a leg').

Actually now that I think of it wishing people ill in order to prevent that ill from befalling them is a pretty cool tradition. I can't think of what holiday to attach it to but again if that was the cultural tradition in my society I wouldn't have any problem with it because I would understand the intent behind it.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 27, 2008 9:44:17 PM

Not to rehash what some other commenters said here, but I don't think the issue is the legitimacy of Christianity, or the right for Christians to celebrate their holiday any way they choose. Frankly, I am proud that America is, by and large, a religious nation. The issue here is the absolute saturation of Christmas-ness for an entire two-month period of the year. You can't turn on a radio, watch a TV, or walk into a store without being assaulted by sleigh bells (ching-ching-ching-ching-ching), Santas, and cheerful music about snow, chestnuts, red-nosed reindeer, and the like. For the first couple of days it's just kinda goofy, but after a few weeks of constant assault, you're looking in vain for someplace to hide. And if you don't want to join the party (because, let's say, you're Jewish or something), you're either a Scrooge or a Grinch.

Look - I don't take it personally, because there is no malice involved here. Quite the contrary. But for someone on the inside, I don't think it's possible to comprehend how profoundly *irritating* all the hoopla is to those of us who aren't. I think that's what the writer of this post was trying to convey. His imagery may have been a bit heavy-handed, but I hear where he's coming from.

Bah humbug.

Posted by: psachya | Dec 28, 2008 10:29:54 AM

Psachya is right, it is an assault. The problem is that most people on the other side really don't understand it. They just don't get it.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 28, 2008 10:43:05 AM

Psachya and Jack,

FWIW, those of us who care about the real meaning of Christmas aren't happy about the two month assault either. This year, I saw the first Christmas decorations around the third week in October and the Christmas music began not long after. I found it annoying and was called a Scrooge by a co-worked after I said I was tired of the non-stop Christmas music (most of which is secular crap).

Most of that is caused by commercialism, Christmas is the make-or-break time of the year for retailers. They must have a good Christmas sales season or they are in trouble. The problem is, they've taken was is supposed to be a holiday of peace and joy and turned it into something cheap and crass. What should be a fairly short and peaceful season has been strung out and rubbed in everyone's face, not just the Jews.


I for one understand your point, but the Satanic imagery you used was over the top. Surely there was a better way to make your point?


Ditto for my last sentence to Derek. This post has stirred up a lot of anger, was it necessary to make your point in the way you did? Most of the Christians who read your blog do so because they are interested in Israeli life, are friends of Israel and are concerned about the welfare of you and your people. How was this post constructive?

That brings me to another point. When I began reading Treppenwitz back in the Summer of '06, I did so because you offered a window into your world that was goy-friendly. You really were a good ambassador for Israel and Jewish people. That has changed. You have changed over the last few months. First it was the post about the homeowner's association in Chicago. Then it was the post about thrashing Christian missionaries. And now this. I understand your anger at the way your people and country have been treated, not just in recent times but over the ages. But do you think what you're doing here is productive? Do you think you will change anything for the better?

I don't know what happened to the old Dave, the gracious man who invited me to his home the next time I visited Israel. It would be nice to have him back.


Posted by: Karl Newman | Dec 28, 2008 1:15:05 PM

Karl... All I can say is what I wrote previously. The first line of his post makes it clear that it is a thought experiment. He then goes on to choose a scenario that is designed to place all of the readers on the same side of the issue. He could have just as easily called them Martians rather than Satanists, but there is no such thing as Martians and there are a few Satanists around. His goal was clearly not to compare Christianity to Satanism. It was to remove anyone's religion from the equation and substitute a 'religion' that absolutely everyone reading would feel left out of. Any hurt feelings are a result of not going along with the thought experiment... not any intent on his (or my) part.

Posted by: David Bogner | Dec 28, 2008 1:39:34 PM

You avoided the main part of my comments. I should have known and shouldn't have bothered.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Dec 28, 2008 3:32:33 PM

Karl... "I should have known and shouldn't have bothered" Ouch! Considering our extensive history here on this blog, I'm not sure which stings more... the first or last part of that sentence. Quite simply, the crux of your (and other's) objection to the essay is the mistaken idea that Christianity is being directly compared with Satanism. If that were so I would be the first to agree that it was objectionable (at very least). But the main point of my reply to you was to try to demonstrate that his use of Satanist imagery was specifically to get everyone on the same side of seasonal alienation. You don't buy that? Of course, that is cour choice. But it was (IMHO) pointless to address your other objections if they were rendered moot by my response. I have never and will never dismiss your comments out of hand (as you seem to have implied).

Posted by: David Bogner | Dec 28, 2008 3:44:58 PM

Karl -
I was going to mention the commercialism angle as well, but I thought I had made my point sufficiently. Actually, my favorite seasonal song is a ditty/rant on the subject by Stan Freberg called "Green Chri$ma$". My favorite line:

We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas
We wish you a Merry Christmas

On that note, a very happy New Year to you & yours. And please don't kill Trep over this. He's no racist, and you should know that by now.

Posted by: psachya | Dec 28, 2008 7:05:39 PM

Thank you, Psachya. May you have a Happy New Year as well. As for David, he gets under my skin at times (and I get under his), but if I didn't like him, I wouldn't be here. :)

Posted by: Karl Newman | Dec 28, 2008 8:19:10 PM

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