Everything I know about Christmas is complicated because I’m Jewish; an outsider looking in. It seems to me that every year America starts celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier. The Hallmark Channels which I frequently watch when I am trying to fall asleep, started its round of formulaic Christmas movies in October, blowing right past Halloween and Thanksgiving and not stopping to celebrate either.
In October 1996, I started working at Wing Memorial Hospital. Simultaneously with my hiring, the PA system began blaring Christmas music which lasted well into January. There was also a huge Christmas tree in the cafeteria. Wing Memorial Hospital is in Palmer, a semi-rural Western Massachusetts community. Many of the people who worked at the hospital were from Palmer or the surrounding towns. Several had never been to either New York or Boston.
Yesterday, because I didn’t want to watch a Christmas movie, I chose a Law and Order episode from 2009. The plot revolved around the murder of an evangelical Christian who was planning for the end of times as described in the Book of Revelations in the Christian Bible. One of the characters’ organizations moved Jews from Russia, transporting them to Israel. Evangelicals believe that one of the preconditions for the second coming of Christ is that there will be an ingathering of people in the Holy Land. Getting Jews there is an important part of the evangelical project.
The Law and Order episode reminded me of something that happened while I worked at Wing. One of the nurses, Julie, was an evangelical Christian who believed in the prophecies and stories contained in the Book of Revelations. She lived in terror of having her computer password be 666, which is “the number of the beast.” One day she was expounding on her understanding of the end times, claiming that everyone would have to accept Christ, or they would die.
I asked her what would happen to the Jews. She replied that they would face the same fate as all other non-believers, despite needing Jews to bring Christ back to Earth. After this conversation, Julie was apparently curious why I or anyone else would care about the Jews in the first place and inquired if I was Jewish. I replied yes. Someone else then asked me if I was really Jewish because Lori, another nurse, was married to a Jew. I replied, “I’m Jewish, my husband’s Jewish , my children are Jewish, my parents were Jewish.” That ended the conversation.
When I started working at Wing, I didn’t make a conscious decision to hide my Jewishness, but I didn’t advertise it either. Following the conversation, I was now outed as a Jew. With nothing to lose, I asked the dietitian who was responsible for holiday decorations, if it would be possible to have a menorah. She had an enthusiastic response and proceeded to decorate the cafeteria with Jewish ritual objects as well as the Christmas tree.
Once the menorah was up, I got an e-mail from one of the respiratory therapists. Mike, another Jew, told me that he had worked for the hospital for many years and had always felt like an outsider until that year when I convinced them to put up the menorah.
As 2022 ends, we are living in a moment in which anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic hate crimes have exponentially increased. Much of the media has been obsessed with Kanye West and his antisemitic rantings but there are more disturbing things that have gotten less attention. An article on AlterNet cites a “recently published survey showing that one in four hiring managers exhibited antisemitism.” Because American society considers Ashkenazi Jews white, antisemitism often flies under the radar. In 2016, Donald Trump brought it above ground, where it now remains.