My boyfriend BG and I have been totally lackadaisical about every holiday this year. My birthday is July 4th, but instead of going into the city to see the Macy's Fourth of July fireworks spectacular, I fell asleep on the couch before they even showed it on TV. For BG's Halloween birthday, I had all sorts of ghoulish plans, but they all fell through because BG decided to just stay home and party. For Thanksgiving, we ordered up a turkey dinner of dubious quality from the local diner.
Likewise, this Christmas looks to be the most ascetic we've had yet. We didn't put up BG's small plastic tree this year, but instead went uber-minimal by turning on the fake bonsai with fiber optic lights that BG's brother gave him last spring when BG's whole family got together. Although at the time I thought it was way tacky, it is actually quite beautiful with different lights slowly changing colors and flowing into each other. I think of it as a Zen Christmas tree — simple and elegant.
As Christmas approaches, I find myself thinking about the connection between Christianity and Judaism, maybe because our little Zen bonsai looks more like a Hanukkah bush, if there really is such a thing. Not to mention the fact that my mother was Jewish, which makes me automatically one of the tribe by Jewish law.
From what I understand, Jesus was a learned Jew, and was likely referred to as a Rabbi in his day. In Judea, the Romans allowed the Jews to practice their faith and in essence govern themselves. In matters of civil and criminal law, the elders of the Temple prevailed above all. The emergence of Jesus was a threat to this authority, as well as an affront to their religious traditions and rituals.
Jesus was far from the first or last man claiming to be the Messiah, and I'm sure the elders saw him as just another false prophet. Although it may not be politically correct to say this, I have little trouble with the notion that the Jews, rather than the Romans, were ultimately responsible for killing Christ. However, it was his destiny to be betrayed by his own people, for he was the ultimate sacrificial lamb.
In the Jewish tradition of old, as in other ancient religions, offerings were made to the Lord, including animal sacrifices. The story of Abraham and Isaac demonstrates how crucial this ritual was for the Jews, and how seriously they took any edict from a demanding G-d, even if it meant (potentially) sacrificing their own son, as G-d did Jesus.
There is an old saying, profound in its simplicity: "It's hard to be a Jew." The Jews have been persecuted since time immemorial. They were slaves in Egypt and perpetually wandered the world trying to find a hospitable home. In modern times, the Holocaust and the rabid anti-Semitism of many Muslims proves that the most virulent and unreasoning hatred of the Jews is very much alive and well. Just as the Elders of the temple viewed Jesus as a dangerous blasphemer who mocked their traditions, so some gentiles still see Jews as an affront and a threat.
For me, Jesus was the ultimate Jew. He was persecuted and martyred, but by his own brethren. More ironic still is that, rather than follow his simple teachings during the centuries that followed, some Christians made it their mission to convert the Jews or kill them if they failed to comply. It is sad indeed that some forget the simple fact that Jesus was Jewish, and the sacrifice he endured was the logical culmination of what it meant and means to be a persecuted minority.
If the Jews were the Chosen People, they were, I believe, chosen to suffer as part of the price for being so because their G-d, like a demanding father, expected obedience and sacrifice from his most favored children. Jesus, to me, was the ultimate chosen one of the Chosen People — G-d's only begotten son — and those who adhere to their Jewish beliefs continue to be maligned and persecuted to this very day, much as Jesus was centuries ago.
One of the most moving films I've even seen is The Last Temptation of Christ, which explored the notion of Christ as half-human and half-divine. Because of his humanity, he suffered as any man would suffer, experiencing pain and doubt and fear. This is one reason his sacrifice is so meaningful. To me, this is why Christ represents the essence of what it means to be Jewish as well as Christian.
This week, Jews and Christians celebrate two miracles – the Miracle of the Oil, and the birth of Christ. So to all who celebrate one, or both, may you have a joyous Hanukkah and a very merry Christmas.