December 13, 2001
Jingle Bell Rock
A 27-year-old Jewish woman named Amy goes to see her grandmother.
"Bubbe," she says, "I'm getting married!"
"That's wonderful, darling. So, tell me ... what's he like? Is he Jewish?"
"Yes, Bubbe, he's Jewish. He keeps the Sabbath."
"What else? How old is he?"
"Well, Bubbe, he's a little older. He's 42."
"And he's got a darling little girl, 5 years old, named Sarah."
"He's a widower?"
"Actually, Bubbe, he's divorced. But he has a very good relationship with his ex-wife."
"You know, darling, Jewish isn't everything."
I'll say it's not.
I bring this up because I used to go out with a gentile girl when I was in college.
( My editors don't let me use the word shiksa. I guess they fear they'll offend the many female, non-Jewish readers of The Jewish Journal.) She took me home for Christmas, and I thought it was just about the most fantastic thing in the world. They spent hours wrapping presents and drinking eggnog. They decorated the tree, a 7-foot Douglas fir, with garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and boxes of ornaments they kept stowed away in the attic, all the while drinking something called a Hot Toddy.
Compare that with a Chanukah bush and a cup of Manischevitz. What the hell is a Chanukah bush anyway? We're trying to keep up with the Joneses by entering a shrubbery in the contest? Feh. With all due respect to the president, no matter how you dress up a bush, it still ain't a Christmas tree.
Frankly, I think Chanukah could use a little sprucing up, bring it up to date. Let's start with a ceremonial cocktail we can be proud of. Our production values are dreadful. It's called "The Festival of Lights" but there are only nine candles. We're suffering from a crisis of "scale." If you ask me, the old girl needs a face-lift. When exactly is Chanukah? It shows up on the 24th day of Kislev, but what does that mean to those of us who've been using the Roman calendar for the past 21 centuries? Only people with children know for certain, and most can only offer that it comes early this year.
I think we need a publicist. Get Warren Cowan on the phone and let's get to work. We ought to start branding this thing -- cut a sponsorship deal with the lamp-oil people for starters. Let's get the word out that we invented giving gifts before Jesus was in knee pants. Chanukah ("The Original Christmas!") was already on the calendar when a certain 10-year-old Jewish kid from Nazareth was pestering his mom for a magic kit (Turn water into wine! Amaze your friends!).
Christmas is so holly-jolly. They've got Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus, and we've got what, exactly? Sure, we can be proud that our ancestors didn't cave in to the idol-worshipping Syrians, that we kicked their butt. But we need something modern kids can identify with: Chanukah Claus. Maybe Judah Maccabee could also be a fireman -- give the whole thing a more contemporary feel. Mandy Patinkin could sing his part in the animated special on NBC. Bette Midler as his valiant wife, Jennifer. Spielberg to produce. A cast of thousands.
The way things have been going, I'm just thrilled we finally got a Rugrats special -- which included this noteworthy addition to the Jewish canon: The "miracle of Chanukah" is that latkes have been clogging our peoples' arteries for 2000 years, yet we survive.
I love Christmas music. Who can argue with Johnny Mathis that "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"? I'm one of the leading Jews-for-Christmas music. Bing Crosby, Nat "King" Cole, Phil Spector (Jewish), compilations, you name it -- I probably have 100 CDs of Christmas music.
I do not mention this in a boastful way. What I hope to get across is that Chanukah music stinks. Seriously. "I had a little dreidel, I made it out of clay." Come on. It's so sad. It's the best song we've got, and it's not even very good. It's certainly no "White Christmas," and that was written by a Jewish guy! Only Adam Sandler has even tried to get us into the game, remarkably rhyming harmonica with yarmulke and marijuan-ikah.
I have written in these pages in favor of Jewish girls over the competition, but Jewish isn't everything. Christmas is the sexier holiday, hands down. Curling up by the fire and listening to Dean Martin coo "Baby It's Cold Outside" sounds like a recipe for instant romance. Add partner and stir. Huddling around a menorah lacks a certain je ne sais what.
Let me close out a year of columns with the words of another great Jewish composer: "Although it's been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you."J.D. Smith is out caroling at www.lifesentence.net