When Santa at the Mall Is Jewish

Red Suit, White Beard, No Yarmulke for Father Christmas

By Naomi Zeveloff

Published December 13, 2012, issue of December 21, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page
Video: Nate Lavey


Two years ago on Rosh Hashanah, Dana Friedman was dressed in his Santa Claus costume for a promotion in New York City’s Times Square, when a group of men in yarmulkes approached him and asked to have their photo taken with him. “Shana tova!” he told them. And then, registering the look of surprise on their faces, he added, “They couldn’t get a goy to play this part.”

Friedman, a 53-year-old Jewish civil attorney from Queens, has been playing Santa for 11 years. It all began after the September 11 attacks, when Friedman, whose law office is located just blocks from the World Trade Center site, wanted to find a way to give back to first responders. Instead of donating money, his secretary suggested that he don a Santa suit and make Christmastime visits to the families of firefighters and police officers affected by the attacks. What began as an act of “tzedakah,” in Friedman’s words, soon turned into a seasonal side job.

Today, with his gray hair bleached to a chalky white, and his beard groomed in kingly curls, he suits up in nine layers of red-and-white regalia and spends the month of December in malls and hospitals, hoisting children onto his knee for keepsake photographs. Only rarely does he divulge his own religious background, and usually just when the family in question is Jewish. But he always gets the same tickled response. “It’s something people don’t expect,” he said.

Friedman isn’t the only Jewish man to make the December transformation into Father Christmas. “The phenomenon is more widespread than one realizes,” said Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, author of “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish.” “You don’t know who is Jewish and who isn’t.”

Tim Connaghan, who runs a training course for aspiring commercial Santas, says he has worked with some 20 Jews over his years of coaching and outfitting Santas. At the behest of the Forward, Connaghan put out a call for Jews on his Kringle Group listserv of 2,200 real-bearded Santas. Around a half-dozen responded. Like Friedman, most of them took on the role after friends or family members asked them to play Santa in what they thought would be a one-off event — a Christmas party at an elementary school, or a fundraiser for disabled children — and became enamored of Santa’s magnanimous persona. But others came down with Santa fever at a young age.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.