I never expected the word “antisemitism” to rear its ugly head openly in America. But recent years have defied expectations, and we now see entertainers, professional athletes, and elected officials expressing Jew hatred with hardly any rhetorical camouflage. All of us should be outraged.
Growing up in Claremont, I remember a time when a kid called me a “dirty Jew.” Obviously he didn’t know my mother, who was a stickler for handwashing and good hygiene. Apart from that one instance, I did not experience antisemitism back then, nor so far as I am aware during my adult life.
My memory bank has a special place for Christmases in the 1940s. I knew we were Jewish, that Christmas wasn’t our holiday. But my sister wanted a Christmas tree, and our indulgent father let her have one in her bedroom, which, wouldn’t you know, had its own fireplace. I think he even went into the woods and brought back the tree.
We sang Christmas carols in school, and while I may have just mouthed a few words here and there, I liked them and the season.
In more recent years, I have watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve. I’m not alone. Rotten Tomatoes calls it “the holiday classic to define all holiday classics … one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.” It may have seemed like soupy sentimentality when it came out in 1946, but it has come to symbolize how goodness can prevail over meanness.
On December 24 this year, I will be in Jerusalem. Not a bad place to be on Christmas Eve, but to be on the safe side I should probably pay my annual visit to the fictional place called Bedford Falls before I leave. Whether in the original black and white or the more recent colorized version, the same familiar faces await me—George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), his wife Mary (Donna Reed), Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) and guardian angel second class trying to earn his wings Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers).
Christmas this year falls near the end of Hanukkah, so being in Israel on December 25 means we can partake of both holidays at once—or in my case “observe” Hanukkah and “celebrate” Christmas. Just as we did long ago in Claremont.
So, we’re talking three Christmases in three different places—one in a fictional town where Clarence rescues George from despair; the second a real town, where Christmas spirit and good will seemed real to my young eyes; and Jerusalem, where the gospels tell us Jesus preached and healed.
According to our planned trip itinerary, on Christmas Day we will visit Mount Zion, where King David, famous for slaying Goliath with a sling and a stone, is supposedly buried. He appears in both testaments, the Book of Samuel in the Old and the Gospel of Matthew in the New. He’s in the Quran as well—a man for all faiths, it seems.
Oskar Schindler, a Gentile who with his wife Emilie saved well over a thousand Jews during the Holocaust, is buried in Mount Zion’s Catholic cemetery. They are both honored as Righteous Among the Nations, a distinction reserved for non-Jews, at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust.
Today, both in our country and in Israel, hate is strong. Whether the wrong shall fail and the right prevail remains to be seen. Still, on this Hanukkah and this Christmas all of us can pray or hope for peace on earth, good will to women and men. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful life?