A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

By Joshua Eli Plaut | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
THE CHRISTMAS MITZVAH:
’TIS THE SEASON TO BE GIVING

One Christmas morning, Uzzi Raanan rose early from his Los Angeles home and put on his work clothes. Uzzi was not headed to his job. On this particular day, he intended to distribute food to the homeless and gifts to the needy. For Uzzi, a Jew who does not celebrate Christmas and who might otherwise stay at home, this day was an opportunity to contribute charitably to help non-Jews.1 Under the auspices of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles, Uzzi linked up with four hundred other Jewish volunteers to help the homeless in area shelters, to distribute food and toys, and to renovate old buildings.

Charity and gift-giving are integral parts of the Christmas holiday season. For more than 150 years, Americans have attached special significance to giving and volunteering on Christmas as ways of fulfilling the holiday’s spiritual mission.2 Whether gifts are earmarked for children, for friends, or for organizations supporting the needy, benefactors and recipients are mutually bound to each other through civic and religious obligation. Charitable agencies call on citizens to open their hearts and their checkbooks to help the disadvantaged during this period. Annually, the Salvation Army, one of the earliest proponents of charitable giving at Christmas, trumpets a need for volunteers to sort food, wrap presents, and ring bells. The United Way broadcasts a quest for volunteers to serve holiday dinners and spend time with those who are alone during the holiday season.

According to the Red Cross, the disparity between the rich and the poor across the United States is most glaring on the day before, the day of, and the day after Christmas.3 Newspapers throughout the country report on the myriad of social service efforts organized by large and small charitable agencies and often praise volunteers for exemplary services. One newspaper advertises: “Give a gift of yourself for a good cause, a few hours of your

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