For Lisa Kaplin, finding deeper roots to her Jewish faith gave her more faith in others and their practices – including Christmas.
Christmas for me as a child was always fraught with mixed messages that I could never quite figure out. This certainly didn’t endear me to one of America’s biggest holidays. Maybe it was the high school honey who gave me a crucifix on a chain only to be nicely told that I was Jewish and couldn’t accept it, all while he stared at the beautiful Christmas tree in my family room. Maybe it was the non-practicing Jewish mother combined with the non-practicing Lutheran father, both of who essentially refused to discuss the religious meaning of Christmas with my equally confused younger brother and me. Or maybe it was the materialism, neighborhood decorations that looked more like the landing strip lights at O’Hare than twinkling stars, or the crowded malls that turned off this religiously confused but ethnically-born Jewish woman.
When I actively sought a Jewish spouse, I felt comfortable in calling myself a Jew and raising my children as Jews, yet I felt little connection with the religion, history, or spirituality that can come with my rich religion. It just seemed to be where I belonged. Christmas remained a relatively annoying holiday in which I needed to explain to my children why a tree and lots of gifts weren’t to be part of their childhood. Frustrated, I avoided crowds and the endless Christmas wishes that had nothing to do with me.
Five years ago my family decided to make our first journey to Israel to celebrate the bat mitzvah of our daughter. We lined up a guide and a bat mitzvah celebration with our rabbi, local Israeli rabbis, and Israeli soldiers who were more than willing to help us celebrate our daughter’s right of passage. I looked forward to the trip as a historical and multi-religious learning experience for my family. I instructed our guide to show us the Christian and Muslim sites as well as the Jewish ones throughout Israel. Who knew that as I found my history and connected to my own faith, I would also find the joy that comes with Christmas?
It was Christmas week in Israel with essentially no mistletoe or garland to be found. There were no crowded malls or endless Christmas Carols but there were plenty of Christians throughout Israel. From baptisms in the Jordan River to the fervent praying we observed at the incredible Church of the Sepulchre where Jesus was laid after the crucifixion. We learned about the history of the three major religions while connecting with our own. I would have assumed that as I found Judaism I would care less for other religions, but the opposite is what occurred.
As I found peace in being surrounded by Jews, I understood how the vision of Christmas meant so much to my Christian friends. When I touched the Western Wall with my daughter by my side, I understood the need for Christians to be at church, closer to their G-d and their faith. I noticed the Muslim calls for prayer throughout the day and the beautiful Armenian dishes that held the symbols of their people. Finding my faith gave me faith in others and their practices. Religion has been the cause of great violence and heartache but it has also been responsible for some of the greatest love that our earth has known.
Now when my family and I sit in our PJ’s while ordering Chinese food on Christmas Day, I take great comfort in thinking of my Christian friends on such a meaningful holiday. I like to think of my beautiful Goddaughter and her parents at church, praying to Jesus and all that he means to them. I like to think of children opening their gifts, feeling gratitude, and talking about the story of Jesus with their family. The crowded malls don’t bother me anymore and I’m just fine with being wished a Merry Christmas. I’m happy for my Christian friends to find such joy at this time of year and I’m grateful to be able to share it with them . . . Chinese food and all.
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com. She is married and the proud Jewish mother of 3.