By Rabbi Shalom Lewis
Many years ago, a popular winter topic to discuss from the bimah and at parental-shul gatherings was the December Dilemma.
Outnumbered by our neighbors, classmates and co-workers, how do we survive the tinseled avalanche of the Christmas season? The radio waves’ relentless pounding of “Little Drummer Boy” and “Silent Night.” The malls and Main Street with their jingle-belling Santas, ho-hoing every passer-by. The scent of fruitcake and eggnog filling our nostrils. TV specials hauntingly hosted by Perry Como and Andy Williams.
It is a tough time for some Jews who wish to hibernate from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, but I must state that only the weak of spirit and only the religiously insecure need fear this season of peace on Earth and good will to all.
Old and young alike have no reason to flee the beauty of December.
For the confident Jew, there is no dilemma. We admire. We observe. We share in the joy of our Christian friends but know that Christmas belongs to them and not to us.
Nativity scenes should not prompt calls to the ACLU. A towering Christmas tree in the village green should not be condemned by strict constitutionalists as an assault on American democracy. Equal Chanukah time should not be demanded nor expected in our thin-skinned, unwarranted indignation.
This is their party. Let them celebrate.
But my thoughts go beyond this frosty time on the calendar.
We focus on December and wonder “How will we get through?” when the question should be asked throughout the year. From January to November there are dilemmas that we must confront.
December is intense and overwhelming in its drama and appeal, but to ignore the rest of the year makes no sense. We have chosen not isolation, but to live in the midst of vibrant, withering seduction.
From dawn’s early light we are invited to join the crowd and hook up with the comfortable. Daily we are challenged to either fit in or step out.
It is not an easy place to be when juggling conscience of faith with Friday night lights and Big Ed’s Pig and Pit. December is in-your-face sexy and enthralling, but we cannot dismiss the ordinary and its power to entice and to test.
As loyal, committed Jews, we confront dilemmas every day of the year. College boards on Shabbos or Sunday? One day of shiva or a week? School or work on yontif? An indulgence or tzedakah? Israel or a cruise? Mohel or doctor? Hebrew National or Oscar Mayer?
Such tension in our lives is the stuff and price of freedom and acceptance. But the authentic danger is not the collision of values and the challenge of choice, but when we no longer feel the tug within. When spiritual dilemmas disappear from our lives, when our pintele yid has no vote, when our glorious history is forgotten, that will indeed be a day of sorrow.
In the meanwhile, G-d bless dilemmas. They stir our soul and keep us tethered to a majestic tradition.
Rabbi Shalom Lewis has served Congregation Etz Chaim for more than 40 years.