November has begun. Having attended a multi-faith school for 7 years, I know that this means, the start of the countdown to Christmas for my non-Jewish friends. As a traditional Jew, it always felt a little strange; my friends chatted and buzzed about what presents they wanted and deeply debated with watering mouths, the key elements to the ultimate Christmas dinner and I would sit back and watch. It was always interesting for me to listen to their excitement over a large meal and seeing their extended family after so long, and laughing about how seeing the family and grossly overeating was an annual event for them, and yet it was a weekly Friday night occurrence for most traditional Jews! It certainly made me think about the nature of my own Judaism, and how it centres so much on people coming together as a community (especially over a bowl of chicken soup). With that in mind, I wasn’t ever sure where to place myself as a Jew at this time of year; for most Jews attending Jewish schools, this situation was never a point of consideration. For me on the other hand, it was one of the times of the year in which I was actively aware of cultural diversity in my mixed faith school, and my own difference, almost like I stood out. One thing I do remember, that made this time of year feel inclusive, was how my school would run an annual charity donation event, in which each form group would organise family donation boxes to go to homeless and struggling families in the hardest time of the year. My form group was made up of a mixture of people who practiced all sorts of religions, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, a whole variety, and yet we all came together to do a good deed at the time of a national holiday that not all of us practiced.
So what does this all mean when I don’t practice Christmas myself, but live in an environment where it is such a big deal? Well, recently I have found myself questioning general attitudes towards this time of year, from an outside perspective. From what I gathered from my RE lessons in high school, Christmas is supposed to be a time of “good will and giving” – thinking of others before yourself right? Whilst I think it’s lovely that people put so much effort into giving each other gifts, I can’t help but think that Christmas has actually become just a commercialised and consumerist cesspool. People are so busy rushing into Argos to spend hundreds of pounds on presents that will most likely be stuffed into the back of the cupboard after a month, to notice the person wrapped up in a sleeping bag in the doorway. Now I’m not saying that people should stop buying presents and celebrating, we are human beings living in a capitalist world, but it’s almost like the Christmas hysteria turns people blind to harsh realities of life that are even more apparent when winter comes.
“But what does this have to do with me? I’m Jewish!” To me, a huge part of what makes me Jewish is my responsibility towards the world. To me, I feel my purpose as a Jew is to recognise my own privilege, and use it to help those who are less advantaged than me. To me, a fundamental value that lies within my religion is to put others before yourself, Tzedakah. That being said, I see Christmas as a great opportunity to do good, even when it’s not a holiday I celebrate, and I think that this should be an opportunity that we all take. It is easy to feel lost in something that we don’t connect to, but I see that as my place, that is what I can do. This could take shape in many forms, whether it be something like creating a food bank for families, or something as small as giving an extra blanket to someone who sleeps on the streets. Don’t be afraid to question your own privilege, it holds great potential for justice and social change! You also don’t have to feel alone in this, strength comes in numbers, and you could organise something with you course faculty or housemates. The possibilities are endless! It doesn’t matter what religion you are, you can still take part in the spirit of giving and social action. There’s no better time than now.