Yom Rivii, 20 Av 5779
Wednesday, 21 August 2019
To tree or not to tree? That is the question

December 19th 2013
The JC

Celebrate, volunteer or avoid like the plague? Just what do Jews do over the Christmas holiday period?

Doing anything special on December 25? Christmas is a polarising time for UK Jews. Some enter enthusiastically into a secular celebration, sitting down with family and friends to a (kosher) turkey dinner, handing out presents and pulling crackers. Others get into the spirit of the season of goodwill by volunteering at a variety of charities. But, for many, it is a time to avoid — as much for the rampant commercialism as the religious connotations.

Among those who will be volunteering is Liberal Judaism chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich, who is maintaining his own Christmas tradition by chauffering the Kingston Mayor — this year Penny Shelton. “I’ve been driving the Mayor on Christmas Day for the past 15 years,” he explains. “It began when I was speaking to the Mayor’s driver, who told me that he couldn’t celebrate Christmas at home because he had to work. So I said I’d do it for him and have been doing it ever since.

“Every year, we visit a centre that gives lunch to the elderly. We sometimes go to the local radio station. This year, we’ll also be visiting the emergency services. It is what I’ve practised all my life. When I was a child, all my aunts got involved, doing whatever they could to make others’ lives easier.”

Born on December 25 — and with a mother named Mary — Kingston Liberal minister Rabbi Charley Baginsky can appreciate better than most the issues Jews face over Christmas, particularly in the smaller communities.

“In our shul in Surrey, most of our congregants’ children are the only Jewish kids in school. How do we deal with the reality that Christmas will permeate their lives? It’s a battle for people.

“How do you explain to your children that they are not going to get presents, or they can’t put lights up? We try as a synagogue to help parents articulate [their concerns] within the schools and remind them that not every child will be decorating their house or waiting for Father Christmas. It’s important that their child feels a part of his or her community, but also acknowledges that there is a difference.”  Read more