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Op-eds

Merry Christmas and happy Boney M

  • Howard Feldman 2018
One of my favourite anecdotes was recounted to me by an American friend who lives in Israel. She was talking about her ultra-Orthodox grandmother who had lived in New York most of her life. As her “ommi” aged, she began to struggle with the weather, particularly the winter which resulted in her being apartment bound. As a solution, the family convinced her to retire, along with many of her friends, to Miami, Florida.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Nov 28, 2019

To begin with, ommi enjoyed the experience. But the honeymoon soon ended, and by the end of the year, she began to complain. Profusely. Nothing was right, and so my friend, in desperation said to her, “Ommi, tell me your biggest issue. Don’t tell me all of them. Give me your one biggest complaint.”

Ommi thought about it for a while, and then, when she had the answer, looked at her, adjusted her acrylic sheitel (wig) and said, “X-mas [pronounce X mass]! X-mas is so goyish in Florida!”

This week marks exactly a month until 25 December. This means that decorations will go up and Boney M will be played repeatedly over the sound systems of shopping malls throughout the country. I’m writing this piece at Starbucks with the sound of Jingle Bells in the background, having been served my flat-white by a barista in a red Santa Claus hat.

And I love it. Because Jewish or not, when we live in the diaspora, the ebbs and the flows of those around us have an impact on us. And whether we like it or not, that becomes part of our history, experience, and narrative.

Another favourite story was a family holiday to Muizenberg when I was five years old. My friend Carole, also five, and I were watching the kids show they put on each day at the back of the beach. That day was a talent competition. The entertainer asked the kids if they wanted to come up and sing a Christmas Carol. Carole, hearing her name, assumed they were calling her, and so she went up on stage to sing as loud and proud as she could. She belted out David Melech Yisrael at the top of her voice, to the confusion of just about everyone. She was so great, neither of us had any idea why she didn’t win.

Over the past few years, Christmas has come under fire. “Merry Christmas” has been replaced by “Happy Holidays” as we tiptoe around the fact that someone might be offended by the exclusion. Last year, I penned a column for News24 suggesting that it was time Christians took back the festival and celebrated it with pride, and that Christians, in this instance, focus on the celebration of their religion, and not worry about offending the rest of us.

This year, I would like to take that one step further. The Jewish community has come to rely on our friends in the Christian community, and has enormous expectations of support. Many Christians openly – and against popular opinion – support Israel. Many stand up vocally against anti-Semitism – to their detriment. This year I would like us to be aware that this is a season of celebration of a faith, that although not ours, is meaningful and special to our friends.

By no means do I suggest that we embrace the customs of that faith, as many in the United States have done. I abhor the idea of Chanukah trees, and the idea that we have to give our children Chanukah presents in case they feel left out. We give gifts because that’s what we’ve always done.

Let’s celebrate that which is ours, and let’s allow those celebrating Christmas to do the same. Let’s celebrate without trying to appropriate parts of it, and without creating a mess that we will never be able to get out of.

More than that, I believe that we should embrace the fact that we live in a country that celebrates diversity and freedom of religious practice. Whether we choose to or not, our experience becomes part of our history, and we will always know exactly what time of the year it is just by hearing Boney M. That, along with our Christian friends, along with Ommi – who is back in New York – and along with Carole, who still sings David Melech Yisrael at the top of her voice, is worth celebrating.

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