The great 'Silent Night' debate

If Judy and her family made the effort to interact and cooperate with the substantial Jewish community at Penn State, they would find that they are not alone in combating ignorance in the region and its schools. The family's troubles are not indicative of a systematic problem in happy valley, but perhaps instead one irresponsible principal. Whenever we did the Holiday Sing back in the early '90s at PFE, we sang a minimum of three Jewish songs to counterbalance the mostly-Christian program, even though out of the 400 kids just 10 or so were Jewish. Also, our sing took place during regular school hours and there were absolutely no repercussions from choosing not to participate. This was only possible due to year-to-year collaboration between the Jewish and secular communities and the school board. I don't know why Judy didn't voice her problem at a school board meeting, which are public and take place monthly. Her attitude in her article is not endearing. Gabe, USA I was born in Israel and moved here when I was 7. There were lots of Jewish kids in my school, but we all sang Christmas songs, not really realizing what we were singing. But I do remember feeling proud when in the song "Noel Noel" we sang the lyric "born is the King of Israel." I thought they were praising Israel. LOL. I remember that at times the Jewish kids looked at each other, somehow intuitively thinking this was not for them. Moreover, we were also obliged to say the Lord's Prayer every morning. This occurred from 1960 to 1966, the year I finished grade school. All this [is] to say that it made no difference in my life. I knew I was Jewish and that was that. I would suggest that the best thing they [the Maltzes] could have done was to just advise their children not to get involved in the Christmas activities if they wanted to avoid this whole situation. I do not think it right for Jewish people to force Christians not to celebrate their [own] holidays. John Liebman, Canada There are non-Jews living as citizens in the wonderful State of Israel. Should the Jewish understanding of the Tanach be removed from Israeli public schools and legislative life so as to not offend the minority, tax-paying, non-Jewish population? The same reasoning ought to apply to all cases, not just to American public schools. David Honaker, USA I can well understand the parents' frustration, but cannot agree with the approach taken. Having raised four children who attended public school, since as a single income family we could not afford to send them to private Jewish schools, I chose simply to make sure that they did not participate in these activities. I felt I had no right to impose our beliefs on the majority. While my children did not take part in any Christmas event, I was invited each year by the teachers to give a talk on Hanukka in each of my children's classes, which was well received. Personally, I much prefer to live in a community with strong Judeo-Christian values than in one without religion. I should also mention that there was never any attempt to convert my children or us - outside of a couple of home visits by Jehovah's Witnesses, who were quickly sent on their way. Alain David Hashimoto, Canada A lot of folks here are not making a distinction between expressions of faith in public and public expressions of faith. The former is an unassailable right in America. No person is arrested by the police or harassed in school for personal prayer. [Public expressions of faith] involve spending public money on specifically religious expression that is allocated to a particular religion. This is generally against the law in America. The writer of this story is correct that having children sing "Christ, the Savior is born" (at a public school-sponsored event, on public school grounds, with the lights and other facilities paid for with taxpayer dollars) is wrong and conflicts with the federal constitution. America was founded by men and women who, for the most part, were adherents to Christian sects. Those very same Christians did everything they could to NOT create a country in which religion is supported by public tax dollars. Peter I am a religious Jew living in Israel and I am embarrassed for the views expressed in the article. No one has the right to demand that the majority cease its religious and traditional beliefs just because they feel uncomfortable. If they were being forced to participate that would be a different story, but they could have simply chosen to stay at home and not cause such a hillul hashem [desecration of God's name] for Jews in the area. Gil Remeny, Israel I humbly disagree. If a Christian majority wishes to sing their holiday songs in public schools, it is not a big surprise. Freedom of religion allows us to refrain from participating. Telling non-Jews that they should not sing non-Jewish songs seems a bit naive to me. Minky, USA The USA is 90% Christian. We cannot stop Christians from celebrating Xmas. All the author had to do was not permit her children to sing carols. I went to a Christian school in Britain and had to attend church. So what? I knew that I was Jewish and that Jesus is not the Messiah. It had no impact on me. My dad attended a Catholic school run by monks! My aunts attended a Catholic school run by nuns. It had no effect on us. We are 101% Jewish. Telling Christians that they should not celebrate Christmas could backfire on us and encourage anti-Semitism. I don't feel that we have a right to do so. Nobody is forcing us to sing Christmas carols or pray to Jesus. semsem, USA A colleague actually sent me an e-mail last year apologizing for wishing me a merry Christmas the night before. She assumed I was offended because I'm Jewish. How sad. A simple heartfelt holiday greeting is turning into an awkward moment and political statement. Judy Maltz is truly misguided. She probably feels guilty about leaving Israel and feels the need to lash out, but she picked the wrong target. I understand her need to protect herself from assimilation, but we should keep it to ourselves. We must not force our discomfort about being different on the rest of American society. They don't deserve that burden. We can expect this behavior from the leftist lunatic fringe which would abolish all religion, and common sense along with it, the way Communism did, but Jews must not take part in it. Merry Christmas / Happy Hanukkah. Ariel, USA/Israel The anti-religious in the US are using cases like this to destroy all form of religious expression. Christianity first...and then Judaism. My children were taught about the Jewish holidays in Israeli schools. Imagine if the [Israeli] High Court of Justice ruled that the large non-Jewish populations in Israel were offended and it was banned? They had a choice to move to Alabama. They had a choice to put their children in public school. Do not force all religion from public life. It is our religious underpinnings that make this country great. Brent, USA I cannot sympathize with the author of this article. She moves from Israel to State College, PA. Her only thought about putting her kids in an exclusively non-Jewish school was how enriching it would be for them to experience what it is like to be a minority. And then she's upset when it becomes clear that their religious beliefs are at odds with those of the majority! So she sets out to spoil the party for everyone, because she personally doesn't enjoy it. Well, I guess that's a lesson in how enriching it is to be part of a minority. Rachel, USA Are non-Jews in Israel expected to accept and respect Hatikva as national anthem even though its content is Jewish and Zionist? Axel I was very moved by Maltz's article, and am appalled by the response below in "talkback." As a Jew who grew up in a very small community revolving around the University of Illinois campus, I am very familiar with the idea of being a minority Jew in an overwhelmingly Christian community. Ms. Maltz hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately for those of less culture in my community, I entered my elementary school with four other Jews and my brother, all in the same year (the first Jews that school had ever seen). Also unfortunately for my school, all of our fathers were attorneys. After much negotiation and several threats of litigation from both sides (and a school board that was unusually sympathetic), the elementary school I went to now has a "fall concert" centered on the American tradition of Thanksgiving. There are no "holiday" songs, and the children are taught American ideals, not those of any particular faith. David, USA Historically, confrontation is not a preferred Jewish tactic. If the Maltz family feels strong enough to remain in a place where they are the minority, then I think they should take on the role of "good example" to the Gentiles: on the one hand never participating in questionably religious activities, but on the other remaining Jewish by showing decency, honesty, acceptance of differences, and steadfastness in our way of life. This will engender far more respect and educate people whose idea of [what a Jew is] has come from the media and their own ignorance. People who try to live in situations like this should have a Rabbi behind them (not necessarily a local one) who is always available for consultation and encouragement. They have the potential to be a real "kiddush hashem" [sanctification of God's name] or the opposite ["hillul hashem," desecration of God's name]. Rochel Israel The Maltzes show incredible cultural insensitivity and have the gall to demand of the majority that they rescind their traditions because of religious content. While these types of notions can be entertained in PC America, many other cultures and countries would be rightfully insulted by the thoroughly unlikable attitude displayed by the writer. Arnold, Singapore There is nothing wrong with the Christians celebrating Christmas and their holidays. Most American Christians do not hate Jews. As a Jew, I know how anti-Semitic Argentina, the country where I was born, was during the military dictatorship. I am proud to be a Jew and an American, and I have a daughter who has sung Silent Night and other songs. So what? That does not at all undermine her Jewish identity and she was free to sing it or not. Bach composed wonderful, inspired music, Christian in nature, which was played by the Israeli symphony. Ms. Maltz, you may be observant and Orthodox; I am too. But do not be narrow-minded. I encourage you to speak with the Lutheran minister who was kind to you. He cannot teach you Torah, but even a good goy can teach you tolerance and values. Hag sameah [happy holiday] and Happy Hanukka. Fernando Malamud, MD, USA We live in New Zealand. My children are almost the only Jewish ones in the city and the only Jews at their school. Yet we all feel comfortable to wish a Merry Christmas to Christians and a Happy Diwali to Hindus. We have received quite a few Hanukka wishes from friends and patients who know we are Jewish. It is called acceptance of others. And even though the schools are singing carols, we do not feel even a bit annoyed or demeaned or rejected or whatever negative feelings Americans and maybe Europeans have. We live in a country where the majority's culture is Christian and we have to accept it. That majority accepts that others are different, does not care about the difference, and on the contrary enjoys it and warms up to it. I guess Kiwis are the real enlightened people. Dr. Joe Rozencwajg, New Zealand We are Greek Orthodox of Palestinian descent, with many close relatives in Ramallah with whom we regularly speak and visit. Despite announcements by the Israeli Defense Forces in both 2003 and 2004 that travel restrictions would be relaxed for Palestinian-Christians wishing to attend Christmas services in Bethlehem, our relatives in Ramallah reported to us that they were turned back at IDF checkpoints each of these years when they attempted to reach the Church of the Nativity. Mrs. Maltz, get a grip! You have no problems. At least you live in the USA, where you can practice your religion freely. Our relatives are a minority who live in a place where your countrymen feel it is appropriate to keep us from worshipping at the Church of the Nativity - at Christmastime, no less! Final Note: We live in Alabama and take offense to your casting our state and the good people in it in a false light. Raja and Reem, USA While I understand well the objection to a public school acting as a religious Christian school, we Jews have to be realistic too. In this case, 99% of the school is Christian. Surely it is reasonable that they be able to celebrate Christmas as they want. How would we feel if an Israeli school, 99% Jewish, had to change its celebration of a Jewish holiday because the one Christian family with children enrolled objected? Moreover, offending Christians is a truly stupid thing to do when those on the right are our best allies in an age of growing anti-Semitism and Israel besieged by the international community. Steve, Canada Judy Maltz dismisses the Jewish community at Penn State because she wants to give her children "the experience of being a minority" and then blithely proceeds to attack the Christian community. What arrogance, what chutzpah! Jews of the local community, a very dedicated Chabad family, have spent many years establishing friendship and rapport with their Christian neighbors. And along comes Professor Maltz with her contempt of both Christians and other Jews and single-handedly trashes many years of good will and mutual respect. David Franks, Israel The article was pretty funny and I enjoyed it immensely. I have read about similar situations created by atheists. I suppose in every case they come as missionaries to convert the lost nation of the US from Christianity into something else. It is ironic, seeing as how the vast majority of Christians…sing those songs without attaching any particular religious meaning to any of it. They do it because it is a tradition. They are not trying to impose their religion on you. And besides, wasn't this supposed to be some safari adventure for you where the prime exhibit is American goys and how they live in their natural habitat? I hope you enjoy your time here. Peace be with you. P.S.: I have been curious about this for a while, but would people be so vitriolic about the songs if they were Buddhist or Hindu? Vin I long struggled to understand the words of the Jew of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul, who said that the Jews have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Being ignorant of God's righteousness, they seek to establish their own righteousness, said Paul (Romans 10:2-3). The "Silent Night" article attests to the truth of Paul's words. Jesus, Son of God, loves Judy Maltz and is now praying for her: "Father, forgive Judy, for she does not know what she is saying." Maddela Judson Kamalakar, India