1545 Bushkill Street
Easton, PA 18042
Phone: (610) 258-5343
Fax: (610) 330-9100
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Thursday, 7:25 am
Minyan

Friday, 8:00 pm
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Saturday, 9:30 am
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Synagogue office is closed on Mondays and Fridays. Hours open: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

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BAS Religious School welcomes all children ages 1-8th grade to enrolll in 2009-2010 program. Everyone is welcome.
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BAS Rabbi's Message

Message from Rabbi Daniel Stein

December, 2011

I was always a little confused by the final scenes of A Christmas Story, the ubiquitous holiday film based on the tales of Chicago radio personality Jean Shepherd. The Parkers’ holiday turkey is consumed by their neighbors dogs, and, with no other option available, they go out for Chinese food. As a child, I always wondered why this Christian family was engaging in my Jewish family’s ritual. Now, as an adult (and a Rabbi!), I have to answer an even more complicated question: why do we, Jews, have the ritual of celebrating a non-Jewish holiday with Chinese food?

In a fascinating article, Marc Schapiro traces the early Jewish observances of Christmas Eve. For more than five hundred years, Jews referred to the evening as nittel—a corruption of the Latin Natale Dominus. As early as the sixteenth century, unique rituals were adopted for the evening: Torah study was suspended on the evening of December 24th, perhaps because of the Roman persecution of the Jews that took place in the name of Christianity, or perhaps—as Jewish folk religion asserted— because of particularly dangerous spiritual forces afoot on Christmas. With no other occupation to fill their time, Jews took up the custom of playing cards. This, of course, may not have been directly related to the prohibition of Torah study; Jews adapted many of the holiday rituals of their neighbors. Perhaps card playing was appropriated the same way that a spinning top became our dreydal.

No matter the reason, for centuries Christmas Eve became associated with a degree of jovial behavior, while not being a true “holiday” of the Jewish people. In America, new rituals have evolved over the past century. Jews living in New York’s Lower East Side developed an affinity for Chinese food. While foreign, elements of American Chinese food appealed to Jews: it did not mix dairy and meat and the non-kosher ingredients were often chopped beyond recognition (in my family, we have a saying “If it is in an eggroll, it is kosher.”) Fortuitously, it was these very restaurants that remained open on Christmas Eve, and so became the destination for America’s Jews looking for a night out while their Christian neighbors stayed in. At the same time, the card playing of Europe eventually was supplanted with the uniquely American pastime: a night at the movies.

The tension around Christmas is illustrative of the unique role of Jews in America. On the one hand, we are full participants in American society; on the other, because some of America’s rituals and customs will never fully speak to us or include us, we have created our own. This, I think, is something to be celebrated. Locally, we have learned that even though Christmas is not our holiday, it is nonetheless an appropriate occasion for helping our neighbors. It is admirable that members of our community take on administrative roles at Easton and Warren Hospitals on Christmas and that we help our neighbors rejoice through Project Hope.

This year, as Christmas coincides with Hanukkah, it is worthwhile to think about how Judaism has managed as a minority among its neighbors, both maintaining and shifting identities, preserving the religion while creating something wholly and entirely new. I hope that we can talk about these issues together on December 23rd when we will celebrate Hanukkah with our friends from Temple Covenant of Peace. I promise that all of the ingredients in the eggrolls will be kosher. Best wishes for a happy Hanukah and a happy new year,


Rabbi Daniel Stein