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Even the reason that the piece triggered such a deluge of commentary is up for debate, depending on your perspective. Over lunch at a kosher restaurant, an observant friend of mine said: “You know why people responded that way to your post? Because they know they’re doing the wrong thing by putting up a Christmas tree in their home, and they feel guilty about it, and ashamed of themselves.” But in an e-mail correspondence with someone opposed to the piece, I was told that I was to blame for the volcanic response, because my prescriptive posture of what people “should” or “shouldn’t” do was a hurtful one.
And what do I think now, with a few days removed? Well, I don’t think that I single-handedly divided the Jewish community as much as I highlighted a split within it — and it’s a Grand Canyon-sized rift that will not go away simply by us refusing to acknowledge it, and one whose dangers can be dealt with only by facing it full on.
All over modern America there are many, many intermarriages and many, many unaffiliated Jews. I was recently in Los Angeles, and while driving around Beverly Hills I saw many homes with Christmas wreaths on their doors just inches away from mezuzahs. To riff off Ben Franklin, I’m not entirely sure if those doors I saw are open doors or closed ones.
There are those who contend that those doors are wide open and that cultural fusion exemplifies a brighter future of tolerance and understanding. These people call me, in various words, the Hanukkah equivalent of a grinch, whose dissension is in active opposition to peace, love and all things good. Contrary to my detractors’ suppositions, though, I’m very much a proponent of tolerance, and believe that a pluralistic Judaism is a strong Judaism.
That being said, though, I do feel strongly that it is incumbent upon each of us to closely examine what he or she does — and does not do — Jewishly, what that means to each of us and why. My fear, and one that I expressed in my original piece, is that a Christmas-tree-in-the-living-room tolerance seems to stem from a lack of understanding of Judaism: that it’s evidence of confusion rather than of fusion. In efforts to be everything to everyone, I wonder if we, as Jews, risk dissolving into nothing.
I still feel strongly about this, but I was challenged by the responses to the piece and was forced to examine my own views — as were, I believe, its readers. In a way, the discussion the piece triggered was so much more valuable than the piece itself. People read it and responded — viscerally, passionately, defensively, eagerly — all in an effort to explain their viewpoint to others, and possibly, even to themselves. Just like in the time of the Maccabees, we all ended up asserting anew our boundaries and sacred spaces. And that was, although not in the same way as in days of old, its own rededication.
Jordana Horn is a lawyer, journalist, aspiring novelist, and many other things, but is not celebrating Christmas.