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Comments on the NY Times article: "Why Is This Christmas Different From All Others?"

Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times


Wow, I’m in the NY Times in an after-Christmas piece called: “Why Is This Christmas Different From All Others?”! The piece focuses on converts to Judaism and “the Christmas dilemma” and how they deal (or don’t) with their non-Jewish relatives at that particular time of year.

I was really worried about the piece, worried I would be terribly misquoted and for the most part, it went okay. Unfortunately, there were some glaring errors that I need to point out in the piece.

The most glaring error is this line: “She still calls her mother on Christmas Day, but neither of them mention the holiday. ” I haven’t spoken to my mother since I was 17 years old! If you don’t know why then you haven’t been reading this blog long enough.

“When Ms. Hausman used to call her Dominican grandmother in Washington Heights to wish her “Feliz Navidad,” she would inevitably be asked why she was not celebrating Christmas.”

My grandmother never asked me why I wasn’t celebrating Christmas, she would ask me HOW I was celebrating Christmas and I would have to explain again and again that I converted and Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. Also, my grandmother does not live in Washington Heights. She did but she hadn’t lived in Washington Heights for years when I made the decision to convert. (This year, by the way, I called my grandmother on Christmas Eve, along with other relatives in my extended family and not a word was said about Christmas.)

I really wish that the article had touched upon which movements within Judaism everyone was converting to but I can understand why it didn’t. Unfortunately, I think it will confuse a lot of people because I think people (outside of Judaism) will read this and not understand that Jewish fiances in the Conservative movement and Orthodox movement wouldn’t be making Christmas ham for their future in-laws. Also, that no one I know, as an Orthodox Jew, has a Hanukkah bush (though that the blue-and-silver decorations was a cute touch).

Like most articles on conversion, there is also the implication that everyone converted for marriage with the brief exception of me and another convert, Mr. Santamaria.

The article seemed to stress that converts somehow miss Christmas. I remember the reporter asking me, “But isn’t there anything you miss about Christmas?” There was this surprised tone in her voice. I thought about it and I said, “I guess I miss getting together with family the way we used to but then we’re doing that still, just in a different way.”

I wish she’d asked me WHY I didn’t miss Christmas! I would have told her that in Judaism, there seems to be a celebration of some holidy every second of every month. Shabbat is a weekly holiday! Sacrificing one holiday, however major to the Christian/secular calendar, for a whole year of endless Jewish holidays, well, it seemed like a good mathematical decision. 🙂

Now, since I’ve done freelance work, please don’t think that I disliked the article overall. I appreciate how hard it is to get all the details right and weave everything together. Already I’ve gotten lots of new lurkers on my blog though not so many seemed to understand the basics about Judaism. I guess I’ll just have to explain myself a little more when I write from now on so nobody gets lost.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled hiatus!

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8 thoughts on “Comments on the NY Times article: "Why Is This Christmas Different From All Others?"

  1. I guess they didn't tape the interview. I'm not sure. I always do when I do interviews but it's a pain to transcribe them later.

    I've actually never had Christmas ham. It wasn't until I started converting that I even heard of the tradition! My family never ate pork so we always had Christmas turkey (like a Thanksgiving redux!).

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  2. My family tradition was a wonderful (very trief) Christmas Eve Smorgasbord (Swedish food), and very very overcooked lamb for Christmas dinner.

    So now we do a (kosher dairy) Hanukkah smorgasbord instead, and reserve lamb for Sukkot.

    I'm not surprised that the reporter wanted to hear how much you missed Christmas. For most secular/Christians it's the biggest deal of the year, and the only real family gathering that has something for everyone. They really don't get that we have other meaningful holidays. It's like the Christians who want to know what we believe about Jesus! (Umm, not anything, really) 😉

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  3. Don't take it too personally, Aliza. Often reporters decide on an angle for their stories before they even talk to their interview subjects; then they get disappointed if what you say fails to confirm their pre-conceived notions. And Tzipporah is right that it makes sense that the reporter would think you missed Christmas. I try not to expect too much out of the press, and I hate to say that I am rarely pleasantly surprised.

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  4. I also saw the article earlier today and got really excited when I realized that they were quoting you. It was like “hey I sort of know that person in a post modern sense.”

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  5. Aliza,

    I also saw this article via JTA. I forwarded it to a friend of my wife's in Israel who had converted many years earlier (not for marriage reasons).

    My wife's friend did get some static from her family regarding her conversion, and so did another convert we know here in Memphis that my wife befriended. I suppose one would hope that one's family, if they did not approve of one's decisions, would at least respect them. It was really a pleasant surprise to see your name in print, both in the JTA article and the one I saw on the OU Web site.

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