Posts Tagged ‘pogroms’

Chag Sameach, Bill O’Reilly!

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

Dear Bill O’Reilly,

I’m writing to wish you a chag sameach, which in case you didn’t know means “joyous holiday” in Hebrew. Oh, I know you celebrate Christmas this time of year and I hope you and your family have a joyous one. I also know you think people like me are waging a “war” on your beautiful holiday. We aren’t. Maybe no one has tried to explain this to you before because it’s easier to just get mad and assume you are being an ignoramus (not an unreasonable assumption considering some of the things you’ve said about other matters). But in the spirit of the season I prefer to give you the benefit of the doubt.

When I say “people like me” I include Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, persons of other non-Christian faiths or backgrounds, Wiccans, agnostics and atheists. There are a lot of us in this country, Bill, all with different ways of celebrating in a special way during this time of year. Over the past few decades, many Christians have become aware of this and are now more inclusive when extending holiday greetings to people other than family and friends they know are also Christians. I can’t speak for the broader “people like me” grouping but I appreciate this gesture of inclusiveness. From what I gather, it strikes me as a very “Christian” thing to do. At the same time, when a well-meaning stranger wishes me a Merry Christmas, I usually smile and say, “Same to you.”

But when I see you on TV complaining about the “war” on Christmas I’m struck by the anger in your voice. You sound mad sometimes even when you say, “Merry Christmas!” as though you’re uttering a defiant cry against tyranny: “Take that, you atheists!” Clearly you are missing the point; so maybe I can help.

Try to look at it this way: Suppose you as a Christian were a member of a small minority in the U.S. Suppose the majority were Jews of varying levels of observance and affiliation, but virtually all of whom celebrate Chanukah. Imagine yourself getting a haircut a month or so before Christmas and your barber says, “Are you getting ready for Chanukah yet?” Turn on the radio to listen to music and you hear “The Dreidel Song” on every station. (I guarantee you would soon be feeling like I do when I hear “The Little Drummer Boy.”) Even beautiful, spiritual Jewish holiday songs will get on your nerves after a couple of weeks. You would rather hear “Silent Night.” You go home and almost every house aside from yours has a menorah in the window. As Chanukah draws near, a group of neighbors and/or strangers stand in front of your home and sing Jewish songs, including the annoying “Dreidel.” You want to watch a movie on TV and they are showing “The Miracle of Chanukah” and “A Rugrats Chanukah,” or maybe a classic nostalgic film from the 1930s: “Yiddle With His Fiddle,” starring Molly Picon, or “Tevye the Dairyman,” starring the great Maurice Schwartz.

Now let’s add some hypothetical historical context: Suppose it had been the Christians who were forced to convert to Judaism or die during the Crusades and the Inquisition. Suppose the Holocaust had been the other way around. What if there had been pogroms against the few remaining Christians in Eastern Europe even after World War II was over. Perhaps I should add a few words about pogroms.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, pogrom is a Russian word designating “an attack, accompanied by destruction, looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by one section of the population against another.” During the 1980s one of my best friends at work was a young man who had graduated from Fordham University after attending Catholic schools as a child in New York. Before he met me he’d never heard of a pogrom. I explained that Jewish people in Eastern Europe were the frequent targets of murderous mob violence at the hands of Christians, and that these events often took place during the Christmas or Easter holidays.

Maybe you already knew about the pogroms, Bill. But a reminder certainly can’t hurt.  I’m only a generation or two away from family members who feared for their lives when Christmas and Easter came around. Please know that I don’t associate you or other Christian Americans with any of the events I’ve mentioned, just as you don’t hold me responsible for what happened to Jesus (or at least I hope you don’t). When I was growing up there were some kids who called me “Christ killer” and “dirty Jew.” But maybe now it will be clearer to you why some people may have a somewhat different perspective about the holidays than you do.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of things I enjoy about Christmas, especially the “peace on earth” and “goodwill” aspects. I like the festive lights. And I even enjoy some of the music: I never get tired of hearing Nat Cole sing “The Christmas Song.” And  I know it’s been said many times many ways, Bill, but I suspect it has never been said quite this way to you: CHAG SAMEACH, BILL O’REILLY. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Michael can be  reached at