Nothing more than Christmas speaks to a time when we all want to feel good about the world and ourselves. Brotherly/sisterly love, peace on earth, goodwill towards all is a refrain that moves us, Jew and non-Jew alike.
As Canadian Jews we have both embraced this time of the year and having travelled similar paths have tried to find the universal themes of this holiday to help shape a better world.
In many ways Christmas embodies the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. How exciting it is to walk along the corridors of the city and hear "Merry Christmas" from complete strangers who typically, on the other 364 days of the year, stare off in another direction frightened or uncomfortable with eye contact.
Even as Jews we can embrace the wish of a "Merry Christmas" and urge those who may not celebrate the holiday to rejoice in the universal messages of peace that all faiths embody.
Indeed, on Christmas many of the day-to-day stereotypes drop away. The woman pushing the shopping cart filled with papers, bags and cans becomes someone's child in the eyes of the regular citizen, and the man sleeping on the Bay Street grating is recognized as a worthy person in need and someone the businessman will reach out to. The rich man and the poor child are one in the same during Christmas and the "stranger" or the "other" is frequently embraced.
The "season to be jolly" is a fantastic time for us all as the streets are illuminated with lights that brighten up the otherwise darkly lit crevices on our streets and avenues. Witnessing scenes of the Nativity during this festive season, one can't help but think about Israel, or more specifically Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and consider its universal quality as the only place in the world central to the three Abrahamic religions.
Yet, sadly, even during this time of eternal hope there remains much in this world that is simply not right. Stateless people who have been victimized by violent discrimination try desperately to enter our land of plenty. The pitiable few that are not turned away or manage to enter as refugees find themselves today without adequate health care in a country whose government does all it can to send them back from where they came. And so they seek refuge, sanctuary in the welcoming arms of a few places of worship that defy government decree and allow them to hide in safety.
A country so rich in natural resources and uncommon wealth hides a desolate truth -- that too many of its First Nations people live in squalor on reserves. Their education lacks even a modicum of the resources given to non-natives. Yet historically it was we who stole their land, kidnapped their children as a means of trying to destroy them and their cultural traditions.
And how can we during this time ignore the plight of children who go to sleep and awake with pangs of hunger? How is it possible that in this land of plenty there are still so many with so little?
To be a Jew this time of year, to be a Christian at Christmas-time, to be a part of the human race as one-billion citizens of the world celebrate with great gusto and light, the birth of Jesus, requires us to understand the complexities of the season. There are those who are blessed to join their family in a festive meal, and those who are not. There is vast wealth from the Atlantic to the Pacific and there is painful, horrible poverty within those same boundaries.
We are not a one-dimensional nation, nor is this a simple, easily understood moment in the calendar.
One thing we do know: it is this time of the year that we all hold a mirror to our souls. Virtually every faith tradition looks at itself with the symbolism of light and peace. Call it what you will -- Christmas, Kwanza, Chanukah, Diwali -- we still have much to do.
Let us all hope that the true spirit of the season is reflected in our collective mirrors every day of our lives as we continue trying to make this world a better place.
Merry Christmas and a peaceful festive season to all.
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