Guest Posting From Robot Costume - An Orthodox Jew's Christmas Story
It was back in the early 1970's, I was in kindergarten and we lived in a relatively small town. My parents were becoming frum and we davened in the Orthodox shul. There was a Jewish community – but most of them were not extremely frum. I was in a small private – but not a specifically Jewish – kindergarten. There were other Jewish kids there as well (not frum, of course), and my family & I definitely had a strong Jewish identity.
This preschool that I attended rented space in a Christian parochial school building (I don't know what denomination). As it happens, I was a popular kid, and all the teachers were friendly towards me, including the teachers from the parochial school. Sometime in November one of the parochial school faculty members asked me if I would like to be part of the play they put on every year; it seems they had a part that called for a robot, and they needed someone small to play it. As a 5 year old kid I was very excited, and got permission from my parents to be in the upcoming production.
The big night came, my father was in the crowd, the parochial school's parent body was all there. I was very excited. Maybe they should have realized… well, maybe they did realize, but saw that I was so excited about it… but as it turned out, I was in the Christmas play. I wore a robot costume and hung decorations on their Asheira – I mean Christmas tree – and I had 4 words: "Beep, Beep, Bop, Bop." But, I have no idea what the play was about. I didn't even know what Christmas was, and nobody bothered to tell me. To me, it was just exciting to be in that costume and part of a play. It wasn't a big deal to me, and I don't think anyone ever mentioned it again; but as I got older I realized what it was, and how ridiculous it was to have this Jewish kid in the play. I wonder how my parents allowed it (but for some reason, I never asked), and then I wonder what effect (if any) it may have had:
You see, I never was, and I'm still not, much of an anti-Christian. Intellectually, I realize that our Christian cousins have a long record of violence and atrocities against klal Yisroel. I know that many of my other relatives were regularly beaten-up by the Catholics in the neighborhood for being Jewish, and I've been faced with Catholics who called me "Christ-killer" during my life, but oddly I don't harbor all that much negativity for Christianity. Obviously, I don't accept their belief system, but I always felt that it's good for them; as a religious person, in a less and less religious world, I sort of feel some solidarity with the Christians. I tend to think that Christianity has something valuable to offer them, and growing up out of town, in a (nominally) Christian country, we have been influenced and share a certain amount of experiences, and a culture, with them – and that creates a common ground. So, I must admit that I don't mind, (actually I kinda like) the lights on the houses. The "holiday" songs? Well, my Latin is terrible, but I don't mind the songs. The reindeer and all that stuff – it's too commercialized, but it doesn't bother me from a religious perspective.
But my kids go to chareidi mosdos, and they have completely different sentiments. They have a palpable feeling that Christianity is something to fear – that at any moment there could be a pogrom, C"V, and that there is a powerful anti-Semitic message emanating from Christianity.
My kids and I were in different worlds, we have different relationships with our neighbors – and all these things play a role in how we react or respond to foreign religions or customs. I wonder what the appropriate, shall we say "correct" sentiments are?