Most Christmases, many Jews have their own inviolable traditions. For my family — and quite possibly yours — that means a movie (probably one that will be nominated for Oscars and be otherwise unmemorable) and Chinese food (a welcome consolation following dreck like “Benjamin Button”).
Obviously this isn’t most Christmases. Yes, I’ve heard tell of some mythical theaters out there, somewhere, willing to let you into a screening of “Mank” and sample two hours of pandemic-vintage recycled air. I am sure there are waivers involved; I won’t be looking into it further.
Chinese food is still part of my plans, with all due contactless arrangements and hefty tips. But what will I do while I tuck in to my moo shoo? Thankfully, if you’re looking for a welcome distraction, a good laugh or even a fellow mistletoe-averse life partner, Jewish organizations and artists have you covered this nittel.
Honor the outstanding Jewish musical contribution to Christmas
There wouldn’t be Christmas without Jewish input. The baby, the Bethlehem, the mother: We’re all over it. But even the pagan-derived solstice stuff has been enriched immeasurably by our efforts. As this recently-penned song attests, Jews wrote almost all the best Christmas music. The documentary “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas” — itself a nod to one of Irving Berlin’s many contributions to the seasonal canon — explains how Jewish songwriters like Mel “Velvet Fog” Tormé, Ray Evans and Johnny Marks came to dominate department store sound systems for three months out of every year. The fim is streaming online for free and, as the synopsis notes, is “set almost entirely in a Chinese restaurant.”
Laugh through your lo mein
This year, the Kung Pao Kosher Comedy show, which has celebrated Chinese food and Borscht Belt humor out of a San Francisco Chinese restaurant for 28 Christmases, has added yet another Jewish element: a retirement community in Florida. For three nights, Kung Pao’s creator, Lisa Geduldig will be broadcasting from her 89-year-old mother’s home (where she found herself in lockdown after a visit in March) over Zoom and YouTube Live. The lineup includes comedians Judy Gold and Alex Edelman and Geduldig herself. Guests are encouraged to order from their local Chinese spot while they schmooze in Zoom breakout rooms named for Jewish stars like Barbra Streisand and favorite Jewish pastimes, like kvetching.
Meet your bashert at the Matzo Ball
Single? Why not quiet the objections of your family by attending the preeminent Christmas-timed Jewish singles mixer? This year the Matzo Ball is hosting online speed dating with prescreened singles. The shadchans at this event have been in the business since 1987 and have since hosted “second generation” Matzo Ball attendees. Patriot MVP Julian Edelman was once spotted at the Boston event. As my mother’s fond of telling me, “You never know who you’ll meet.”
Watch one of the Jew-iest films of all time and then brine some cucumbers
A year before Meg Ryan made a spectacle of herself at Katz’s Deli, Amy Irving was a few blocks south, slowly but surely falling for a pickle shop proprietor. I’m referring of course to 1988’s classic romcom “Crossing Delancey,” which the Museum of Jewish Heritage is screening virtually with a post-film discussion featuring star Peter Riegert (the pickle guy) and screenwriter Susan Sandler. You’ll feel like a nosh after, surely. Not to worry: Chef David Teyf will lead a pickle-making demonstration to cap off the evening.
December 25 - 29
Hit the Jewish lecture circuit from your home
The Limmud Festival, that celebrated convocation of Jewish thought and culture, kicks off with a virtual Shabbat on Christmas Day before getting going with a slate of over 300 presenters. Socially distant, the festival — featuring talks by author and trans activist Abby Stein, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer and historian (and Forward contributing columnist) Deborah Lipstadt — is more accessible and easy to do a la carte than ever. You can sign up for concerts, lectures and Chavruta sessions touching on all aspects of Jewish life and thought. Be sure to catch our incoming News Director Benyamin Cohen, who’ll be speaking about his “Jesus Year” attending 52 different churches over 52 Sundays. How’s that for a Jewish Christmas?
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.