By Joshua Eli Plaut’79
Rutgers University Press
New Brunswick, N.J., and London 2012
Joshua Plaut, a scholar of Hebrew and Judaic studies and an ordained rabbi, presents a fascinating and insightful account of Judaism and Jewish-American culture in relation to the Christmas season in A Kosher Christmas: ’Tis the Season to Be Jewish. Plaut engages Jewish and non-Jewish readers in an outstanding and detailed description of the history of Hanukkah stateside following predominantly German-speaking Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century.
Presenting at length the ways in which “Hanukkah fast became the Jewish Christmas,” Plaut first illuminates the variety of reasons “Christmas was difficult to ignore.” The inclusion of cultural symbols like the Christmas tree, Santa, and even open-air Christmas concerts eventually gave way to Jewish cultures mimicking Christmas traditions for generations.
Plaut states “those who could not accept the Christian holiday coped with it as an ‘American reality’ but by the second and third generations, children and grandchildren learned to incorporate Christmas traditions—magnifying Hanukkah or adding child celebrations to mimic the excitement that surrounded Christmas.” He explains, further, that Jewish customs have evolved to include a dedication to service during the holidays: a Jewish employee filling in for a non-Jewish one, volunteering at soup kitchens on Dec. 25, dressing up as Santa for charity events.
Plaut’s comprehensive book is a must-read for all those interested in Jewish-American culture in relation to the Christmas holiday, what Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University, describes as the “only national holiday founded on religious beliefs.”