What's a Jew to do on Christmas?
There's no work, the malls are closed and only the most die-hard football fan finds solace watching the Oahu Bowl.
It's the most awkward time of the year.
"Christmas is an uncomfortable day for Jews," says Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, director of the Chai Center.
"It is the only time that there is a sense that they are different."
Unlike other secular holidays on the calendar, Jews cannot escape the very non-Jewish message of Christmas. The sales, the snowmen and the lights often give way to the crèche.
"As assimilated as Jews are, Christmas is just not their holiday," says Schwartz, who jokingly adds that no other day touches the Jewish soul like Dec. 25, not even Yom Kippur.
The day also poses a problem for Jewish parents.
"It is a troubling time for kids," says Sherri Kadovitz, director of Zimmer Discovery Children's Museum. "They are bombarded with Christmas sales, the music at the malls, everything on TV is about Christmas. Parents are put in a difficult position. Yes, the kids know about Chanukah, but it is dwarfed by Christmas." Over the past few years, however, Jews are doing something other than going to the movies and eating Chinese food.
Throughout the Southland, Jewish organizations, cultural centers and synagogues are offering singles parties, concerts, cultural events and programming for children as an alternative to staying home.
"There is a Jewish energy that is not present at any other time," says Schwartz, whose organization, the Chai Center, holds an annual Not A Christmas Party on Dec. 25 for singles. "Here you can come to a place where there are hundreds of people just like you. These people are hanging out and having a good time. Suddenly you're not so different."
Schwartz says that of all his yearly programs, the party on Dec. 25 usually attracts the largest crowd. "People are genuinely happy; they are never so appreciative," says Rabbi Schwartz. "It is the only time people come, plop down their hard-earn money and later thank me for having a party, no matter how 'successful' their day was."
For the seventh year running, Stew and Lou Productions presents Schmooza-palooza, an evening of DJ dancing, Sun., Dec. 24, at The House of Blues.
"It is the most fun Jewish party of the year," says Lewis Weinger. "The House of Blues attracts the best people. There's great dancing, great schmoozing."
Some Jews are using their day off from the job to work with those who are in need and volunteer for social action work.
Tikkun L.A. is sponsoring a day of hands-on volunteering, working with seniors and with kids at shelters and preparing meals for AIDS patients. The project is sponsored by ACCESS, the young adult program of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
"For most Jews it is a day they don't celebrate the holiday, yet they have the day off," says Beth Raanan, director of Tikkun L.A. 2000, "The Jewish Federation provides an opportunity that they too can offer a gift of themselves to those who are in need."
With the kids home from school, The Zimmer Discovery Children's Museum is holding its annual PJ's and Pancakes Breakfast. Children and parents are encouraged to come to the museum in their pajamas for a morning of pancakes and Jewish programming.
"People feel so alienated on this day," says Sherri Kudovitz, director of the museum. "People want something that their kids can identify within a Jewish environment."
Along with breakfast, children will be able to play in the newly opened 10,000-square-foot museum and work on Chanukah-related projects. There will also be a holiday-themed puppet show by Puppetranz and a menorah-lighting ceremony. "I think it is important that we provide to the community a program such as this," says Kadovitz, who has been director of the museum for the past 10 years.
Kadovitz says that she often sees the children of interfaith marriages come with their Jewish grandparents to the Dec. 25 programs at the children's museum.
"Grandparents want the child to identify with something that is Jewish," says Kadovitz. "They feel that it is important that their grandchildren identify with something Jewish, with something equally as beautiful."