Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What "Jew York Times"?

The NYT Weddings pages are filled with page after page of couples getting married by rabbis. The paper's most-emailed articles are often on Jewish-related subjects. And the city in which the paper is based has maybe some Jews, not to mention non-Christians of other sects, and many of all atheistic bents. The Times is by no means a local paper, but its spiritual center is no more than a bagel's throw away from Zabars.

So answer me this: What's the point of today's leading editorial? Cited in full to reveal full ridiculousness:

When Christmas Morning Comes

This is a simple holiday. Ask any child, or, better yet, ask yourself what you recall from your own childhood Christmases. Presents, yes, and shopping and decorations and the return of familiar songs and the smells of baking and perhaps the cadence of a few verses from the early chapters of Matthew and Luke. What persists above all is the feeling of finally going to bed on a dark winter’s night full of hope for what the morning will bring. Even jaded adults can remember how that felt, and they remember it as viscerally as they remember anything. The emotional truth in that transition lies at the heart of Christmas. It captures the most basic rhythm of our lives — going to bed at night and getting up in the morning — and makes us keenly, happily aware of it. That rhythm is all the more stirring because the season is so penetrating, the winter darkness so long. Both of the basic stories we tell about Christmas, the shepherds in their fields by night and the peregrinations of Santa Claus, fill the darkness with life and possibility. A stranger, an extragalactic visitor wise enough to look past all the shopping, might be forgiven for thinking that this is the festival in which we celebrate the magic of sleep. After all, what other holiday do we attend in robes and pajamas? The optimism, the generosity, the charitable warmth of Christmas do stem, of course, from the pattern and the meaning of the biblical story. They have their source, too, in the sense of regeneration now that we’ve turned this darkest corner of the solar year. Christmas is imbued with a more everyday hope as well, a recognition that the transition from sleep to waking always carries with it the immeasurable gift of a new day. The very premise is hopeful. No one expects to wake every day as joyfully as a child at Christmas, or to sleep as badly the night before. The gift of possibility is there every morning.

For those who share my fascination with French-Jewish history, "regeneration" obviously jumps out, although the use--if not the context--here is quite different. But, um... "Ask any child" about "the cadence of a few verses from the early chapters of Matthew and Luke"? In New York City? Really?

The language of universality, of how "No one expects to wake every day as joyfully as a child at Christmas," and how Christmas "captures the most basic rhythm of our lives," is poetic but bizarre, along with the persistent use of the first person plural. What kind of horrible person's heart doesn't soften upon hearing the word "Christmas"?

Admittedly a good number of non-Christian New Yorkers go in for the tree-and-gifts celebration, and still more enjoy a day off from work whenever one's offered, but what this editorial evokes is something between a New England WASP fantasy and an Old Navy commercial, not Christmas as it is nondenominationally understood. This editorial is a story that takes place in a house, not an apartment, but quite possibly in an L.L. Bean catalog. The characters are a multigenerational family of Christmas adherents and, presumably, a golden retriever.

So why is any of this a problem? It's simple, just like Christmas: For Jews who are truly bothered by Christmas, and who want to live in a country where the inconvenient days when everything shuts down are at least our own holidays, there's Israel. For Jews who've fallen head-over-heels for the Ralph Lauren lifestyle of let's-overshoot-the-mark assimilation, there's nearly all of America. For those who can deal with the Christmas music and decorations for a couple months but would prefer to rest assured that they are not the only non-participants, there's New York City. What this editorial does is place the Times, a representative of the city, on the same side as Huckabee in the "War on Christmas." What I want to know is, why?


Anonymous said...

My apologies for putting an off-topic post here, Phoebe, but I just discovered your blog and I thought you might enjoy an article on my blog regarding why I, as a Zionist, love and envy the Alliance Francaise. Regards, GK

Anonymous said...

Google automatically linked your post to "German Holiday Traditions"--"You May Win a Free Trip to Germany!"
A yearning for over-the-top assimilation at this time of year may be a remnant of the NYT's own German-Jewish heritage. Jewish? Us? Must be a case of mistaken identity.

Anonymous said...

You always write interesting things - but I think your analysis misses the mark just a bit - NY Times editorials are , by and large, meaningless - That one smells like it was written by Gail Collins - It does not sound wasp - it sounds low church and/or Irish sentimentalism.

It's impossible to imagine anyone liking that editorial because strikes a few false notes.

But keep in mind, for those who wage the war on Christmas - The ones that think they are fighting for Christmas - The NY Times is the enemy.

Regeneration - makes on think of Whitman.

Withywindle said...

"For those who can deal with the Christmas music and decorations for a couple months but would prefer to rest assured that they are not the only non-participants, there's New York City."

This simplifies New York City--which, as much as America, contains multitudes.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

True,I have yet to write a blog post that covers the entire human experience, and I doubt such a post will ever surface. Note that I do not say NYC is only for secular/cultural Jews, but that for secular/cultural Jews there is in many ways only NYC.

Withywindle said...

An interestingly narrower point--but is it true? What do all those SCJs of Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami think of that claim? I dunno. What would Saul Bellow say? I can't help but think that it's a claim similar in structure to one I don't believe you care for, that you can only be properly Jewish in Israel. This doesn't affect the truth value of the claim. Still ...

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I mostly agree with the claim you say I don't care for... but as for the first point, I've never been to Los Angeles and only lived in New York and Chicago, and I would say that yes, there is something hugely different about being a secular/cultural Jew in Chicago and being one, say, on the Upper West Side.

Withywindle said...

"I mostly agree with the claim you say I don't care for."

You do? I thought I read some blogpost of yours a while back where you seemed to be annoyed with the contention--that you thought one could be equally fully a Jew in the Diaspora. Am I misremembering, misreading, or what?